As mathematics director for Tennessee’s second largest school district, David Williams faced down several daunting tasks over the summer.
The Nashville educator had to figure out how to deal with the aftermath of the state’s cancellation of its end-of-year test, and the accompanying lack of data. He had to wade through Tennessee’s new math standards and how to train teachers on the differences. And then there’s the perennial challenge of making education equitable, with all kids having access to rigorous coursework.
Williams soon realized there was no reason to figure it out on his own. His counterparts across the state have the same challenges, he figured, so why not work together?
In August, Williams convened a group of math coordinators and instructional coaches from nearby districts to form the Mid-Cumberland Math Consortium, a kind of support group for educators working through common challenges with math instruction. Leaders from Cheatham, Dickson, Rutherford, Williamson and Wilson counties showed up to the first meeting.
“We’re all dealing with the same issues,” explained Williams, now interim director of curriculum and instruction for Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools.
But he didn’t want the group to be all talk. “There are a lot of groups that just talk. I wanted products,” he said.
So the group took on the task of creating grade-by-grade guides to help teachers tackle the state’s new math standards, which replace the Common Core State Standards and will go into effect next school year.
There are hundreds of standards that identify what students should know at the end of each grade. For any one district, highlighting the changes would have been a huge task. But consortium members divided them up and have spent the last few months collaborating via Google Docs to create a color coded guide: green for additional standards, red for those removed, and orange when the wording changed.
The guides are meant to save teachers time so they can focus on adjusting their teaching to the changes. They also will help district officials design professional development programs.
The State Department of Education isn’t developing similar guides, but enthusiastically supports the work of the consortium and similar collaborations, said spokeswoman Sara Gast.
Unlike the last time Tennessee switched math standards in 2011, the changes for next year aren’t drastic because the revision committee used the Common Core as a foundation rather than starting from scratch. That makes the differences in this transition more subtle, but no less substantive, according to Williams.
“Some of the revisions are so minute that if you don’t pay attention to the detail, you might miss it,” he said. “If you don’t have some document telling you (what’s) new, it won’t be in your curricular materials; it won’t be in your (professional development).”
Consortium members have brought different levels of grassroots expertise to the project. Joseph Jones, mathematics coordinator for Cheatham County Schools, chaired Tennessee’s standards review committee for math and brought a wealth of knowledge and documents to help create the guides. He’s also helping the state develop professional development opportunities around the new standards, which means he can help districts avoid redundancies. And Williams served as the math coordinator for the entire state for three years, until 2015.
“With this group, it’s a benefit to all of us, that we can have each other’s insights, that we have different information from each other … so we can all move forward more efficiently,” he said.
The consortium will meet again in November and plans to finalize its guides. But what’s next on their agenda, neither Williams or Jones can say.
“We’re just a bunch of like-minded math leaders discussing issues,” Jones said. “I can bounce ideas off of people I respect quite a bit.”