on Use of Instructional Materials
Aims, Actions, Adaptations:
Improved Instruction and
CMSI Professional Development
One of the long-term goals of the CMSI was to improve instruction by enabling high quality math and science instruction in all CPS classrooms. This section describes how the professional development strategy contributed to that goal.
The assumption behind the Chicago Math & Science Initiative (CMSI) was that if teachers used the instructional materials supported by the district, and implemented these materials as their authors intended, then classroom instruction would improve. In addition to implementation of high quality instructional materials, the CMSI Logic Model also described essential features of high quality instruction including:
- interactive instructional approaches,
- intellectually demanding assignments,
- instruction sensitive to diverse needs of learners,
- appropriately paced introduction of new concepts, and
- more instructional time for math and science.
Although the selected instructional materials included most of these features, the professional development sessions made them even more explicit, and in some cases professional development leaders (PDLs) developed additional materials for this purpose.
Additionally, the district offered tools to help elementary teachers reflect on and monitor how they were using the CMSI materials and shaping their instruction to be responsive to student needs. Pacing guidelines were created specifically for the CPS calendar each year, so that a teacher at any grade level could gauge the pace required to cover the full year’s materials. More general Classroom Observation Guides were created for math and for science to foster discussion between teachers and others (coaches, for example) in order to improve instruction. These reflective tools did not refer to specific instructional materials, but rather posed questions about the teacher moves and student moves taking place during lessons. The pacing and classroom guides were created as tools for teachers; they have not been used for collecting data. Therefore, the district does not have data on how closely teachers’ instruction followed these guidelines. Resources were also provided for parents.
Determining if a given CPS elementary school was implementing a given math or science curricula was not a simple matter. In the local-control environment of CPS, each school made purchases directly through the supplier, and there were no records detailing which schools purchased CMSI-supported curricula, or whether sufficient materials were purchased to teach the curricula as intended. Teachers’ attendance at curriculum-specific professional development workshops was one way to approximate the extent of implementation.
The district commissioned various external evaluation studies to learn how elementary schools were using instructional materials. One strand of studies looked from 2003 to 2008 to understand how schools were “implementing.” The schools studied were Intensive Support Schools, or those that had purchased materials, or had staff attend professional development. These studies determined that in some schools the boxes of instructional materials were not even opened. Those teachers who had opened the boxes may or may not have used the materials. Those who used the materials may not have used them every day. Those using them every day may not have used them as the authors intended. Even in schools where there were many teachers using the materials regularly with most students, teachers were not using the materials to teach students with disabilities. Finally, the studies established that teachers’ use of the instructional materials depended on their levels of trust in the materials: trust that taught as intended, the materials would really help their students master material and perform well on standardized tests, and trust that the design was able to meet their students’ specific needs.
External evaluation reports consistently identified professional development as one of the key factors influencing teachers’ understanding and implementation of these instructional materials. By the end of the second year of the CMSI, external evaluations revealed some patterns of a positive relationship between professional development attendance and the nature of teachers’ implementation. These patterns also indicated that professional development alone was not sufficient to promote a schools’ success in using the CMSI curricula. Other factors, such as a low level of in-class coaching support, and delayed delivery of materials could interfere with putting into practice the lessons of professional development.
In a study conducted in year five of implementation, external evaluators looked at changes eight teachers made in their instructional practices due to implementation of CMSI instructional material. Evaluators reported that teachers received support for their math instruction from one or more of the following: professional development in the CMSI-supported materials (off-site), support of a specialist (either school-level or citywide), or support offered by the Area. When teachers were asked whether and how those supports contributed to the way they taught mathematics and used the CMSI-selected instructional materials, seven teachers commented positively on at least one of the supports. For example, five teachers spoke of how CMSI-provided professional development helped them understand how to use the CMSI materials or understand the process or content of lessons. When looking at CPS data on these eight teachers’ participation in professional development provided by the OMS, external evaluators found that attendance rates were highest during the summer sessions. All eight teachers completed at least one summer CMSI professional development series, attending at least 75% of the sessions, and all but one attended 100% of the sessions. Six teachers attended school-year CMSI professional development for one or two years. However, only one teacher attended 75% or more of the school-year sessions; the other five attended less than 75%. In other words, for these eight teachers, their average rate of attendance was higher during the summer.
In sum, CMSI professional development provided most teachers with both insight into what the curricula developers understood as good mathematics instruction and an understanding of how to enact lessons. Teachers tended to implement the materials using high quality instructional practices (per the CMSI Logic Model) if they had experienced five kinds of support. These supports were: (1) professional development specific to the instructional materials, (2) access to the instructional materials from the start of the school year, (3) in-class implementation support from an instructional specialist, (4) an administrator driving implementation, and (5) opportunities to discuss instruction and materials with colleagues (Fendt, 2010).