Idaho Falls pushes a new math focus

The Idaho Falls School District is taking a new approach to math – one where teachers and administrators are looking for students to struggle.

In the past year, the state’s seventh-largest district has adopted a new math curriculum and is ramping up its partnership with an Idaho Regional Mathematics Center based on Idaho State University’s Pocatello campus.

Superintendent George Boland said educators aim to improve student performance by moving away from memorizing formulas and algorithms toward focusing on mastering skills and concepts.

George Boland

In 2012-13, 74 percent of Idaho Falls students scored proficient on their ISAT math tests, which was below the state average of 82 percent.

“One of the attributes we really want to work on with kids is that persistence that comes through that productive struggle where they continue to work on something until they develop some conceptual understanding,” Boland said.

To help teachers adapt to the changes, which coincide with the new Idaho Core Standards and the move to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium ISAT 2.0 tests, the district is focusing on professional development for teachers and administrators.

With the new school year set to begin Sept. 2, Idaho Falls has offered several training opportunities.

  • In June, all district administrators participated in a summer institute devoted to professional noticing, or what principals can observe about students’ understanding of math while they are in the middle of a class.
  • On Wednesday, all of the district’s secondary level math teachers participated in a daylong training session focusing on math design collaboratives and effective mathematics classrooms.
  • Additional training opportunities in math are being planned monthly, and teachers will be able to take what they learn and expand upon it during professional learning community groups that meet every Monday.

Jennifer Jackson, Idaho Falls’ curriculum and professional development director, said the Regional Math Center offers a convenient way for eastern Idaho teachers to receive targeted training, coaching and support. For a district located 280 miles from Boise, the regional partnership is often more accessible than asking teachers to travel to the Treasure Valley for state workshops, or waiting for trainers to come through town.

“All of the different districts are kind of working at a frantic pace to shift instruction and gather the resources necessary to really enact Common Core math well, but it is hard without a lot of extra support,” Jackson said

That’s where the math centers come into play. The four regional centers are funded by the Legislature and represent a partnership between the state’s colleges and universities, the State Department of Education and public K-12 schools. The centers sprouted from the state’s Mathematics Initiative, which was rolled out about six years ago.

Cory Bennett
Cory Bennett

Cory Bennett, director of the Regional Math Center at ISU, said the center’s regional math specialists can provide targeted professional development training for all teachers in a district, or focus on smaller groups or specific grade levels. They may even visit teachers in their own classrooms to provide immediate feedback and guidance.

“We can look at what is happening, connect it back to the classroom and say, “This is what this teacher is doing and and why they are doing it,’” Bennett said.

Bennett said most eastern Idaho districts have taken advantage of his 2-year-old center, but some use the resource more than others. He praised Idaho Falls for having high expectations and employing a forward-thinking approach to change.

“Different states have different kinds of support structures in place for teachers, but this really is unique in our nation, being able to provide support of this nature just in mathematics,” Bennett said.

Continued reading: Explore your school’s math scores and other data with Idaho Ed Trends, our K-12 education database.

Eastern Idaho educators looking for more information about Pocatello’s Regional Math Center may call 282-3674.


Clark Corbin

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