From the 2015–16 to the 2016–17 school year, Beaumont Middle School in Lexington, KY saw a 14% increase in minority students, a 17% increase in students receiving free lunch, a 12% increase in special education students, and a 28%* increase in English Language Learners (ELL). This shift presented new challenges for teachers who were curating custom lesson plans and pulling from a host of professional and open educational resources (OER). This ad hoc approach resulted in glaring achievement gaps. Inspired to experiment, Beaumont’s math chair, Brooke Powers, began a pilot of the free Open Up Resources 6–8 Math curriculum.
A Hard Look in the Mirror
After reviewing the Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (K-PREP) testing data from the 2016–17 school year, it was clear to the math teams at Beaumont that they needed a new approach. Many teachers were skeptical that a full-course curriculum could provide the same high-quality experiences as their own creatively-assembled, homemade resources. After seeing some preliminary success in piloting elements of the Open Up Resources 6–8 Math curriculum, the 6th and 7th grade math teams decided to use the OER curriculum for the 2017–18 school year.
“Although we previously had the best of intentions and worked relentlessly to plan engaging and coherent lessons, we obviously fell short, especially when it came to coherence,” said Powers. “It’s near impossible to be a full-time teacher and a full-time curriculum writer, which is what I’d been trying to do for 12 years. For the first time, I could really focus on my teaching and the kids’ learning.”
All-In on Conceptual Understanding
The Open Up Resources 6–8 Math curriculum inspires a new way of teaching math by transforming classrooms into hives of activity focusing on discussion, inquiry, debate, and the deeper conceptual learning of mathematics. The curriculum focuses on discourse-driven conceptual understanding that requires teachers to adjust their expectations and pacing. In the beginning, the teachers were challenged by the pacing—struggling to get through one lesson per day—as well as the sequencing. Jumping right into some of the most rigorous content at the beginning of the year was a paradigm shift that contradicted the teams’ historical practices.
Despite the shifts, the teams continued to work through the program with fidelity in the first semester, finding a better rhythm with a gradual release of responsibility to students, and allowing students to work in pairs or groups for student-led critical thinking. Heading into winter break, most teachers were noticing students making more connections with the content than they’d seen in previous years. These observations were verified by the district’s required semester final exam.
This fall final exam showed the following results:
- The average score increased from 67% to 83%
- The average score in the collaborative class—a co-taught class for students who have IEPs that call for them to be in a push-in setting—was only 3% lower than the general ed class nearly eliminating the achievement gap between the two classes
- There were 0 novice students in the collaborative class for the first time in over 13 years
“The best part was the kids’ comments about the test,” explained Powers. “In years prior, students finished the assessment and said things like, ‘man that was so hard’ or ‘I know I failed.’ After implementing Open Up Resources 6–8 Math, they had comments like ‘do kids in other schools just take tests like that all the time? It was so easy.’ I believe that the traditional assessment felt easier for the students due to the depth of thinking required in each and every lesson, practice problem, and assessment within the curriculum.”
Closing the Gap
When the data came back from the first-semester exam, Beaumont teachers saw that, for the first time, students were making sense of math and encountering problems from a conceptual approach. With the pacing challenges during the first months of implementation, teachers were not able to get through all of the curriculum content that was presented in the final exam. However, all students came equipped with tools and endurance for problem-solving, enabling them to tackle test-item content to which they had not yet been exposed.
One year after the initial implementation, student growth was proven through a number of new data points. Student achievement data for the Beaumont 7th grade students comparing 2016–17 and 2017–18**: