Cindy Boyd is entering her 29th year of teaching middle and high school students. She chaired the Algebra Action Team for the Texas Statewide Systemic Initiative, and chaired the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills Committee for Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II. Ms. Boyd is an author-consultant with Glencoe/McGraw Hill, has produced two albums of math-related songs and related activities, and serves locally on her district-wide consultation committee and on the campus consultation committee at her school.
I understand that there’s good news in Texas with regards to math education.
Test scores are up. Not only that, but the tests have been getting harder—so, in effect, we have raised the bar several times and the students keep responding.
How did that happen?
It actually started back probably 1994 or 1995. The state was planning to revise the Texas Essential Elements. And then a decision was made that instead of just revising and updating them, we would rewrite them.
We began a multi-year task of writing what are known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). We all got together and wrote out the things that we felt were essential for all students to know. This was done for each grade level — not just in mathematics, but in all the subjects.
Once this became law, we selected objectives from the TEKS that that we would test. This is the first time that we can find in the history of education in the United States that there are objectives and the testing is on those objectives. Most of the time there’s just a general broad band of knowledge and they just pick from that, and it’s a hit and miss type of thing.
It’s a three-pronged approach: We have what is written, the TEKS. From that we get what is tested. And from those two things we also get what is taught. We have these three things working together instead of independently, and the outcome has to be good.
What made you decide to rewrite the TEKS in the first place?
We had done research that proved that kids who get through geometry had a better chance of succeeding in college. But the problem was getting them successfully through geometry.
In the old math curriculum, the amount of new material every year, especially grades 5-8, was around 50 percent. Then when they got to algebra I, 95 percent was brand new material. Then geometry had 95 percent new material.
It was just eating the kids alive. There was just no way that we could get everything covered and get enough done to give them a working knowledge of algebra I in that one year.
Now there is an algebra strand from kindergarten all the way through Algebra I and even Geometry. There’s a geometry strand all the way from kindergarten up through geometry. There’s a probability and statistics strand. Now we’re sure that kids have a well-balanced curriculum every year.
How do you get teachers to embrace new standards?
For one thing, the standards were developed in consultation with teachers. We did huge mailing of the TEKS when they were in progress and got feedback
For another, there has been a massive effort to educate all of the teachers in Texas on the standards. That’s a lot of teachers, so it’s a huge staff development program. It’s called Texteams: Texas Teachers Empowered for Achievement in Mathematics and Science.
Another thing we have done is once a year training for the college faculty who are in charge of preparing new teachers-to-be. Then when those new teachers they come out of the colleges, we don’t have someone who’s never heard of the standards.
Can you tell us more about what’s addressed in the staff development sessions?
The way I approach it is to tell teachers that for years there has been this argument. Some teachers would say it doesn’t matter what you teach, it matters how you teach it. Other people would say it doesn’t matter how you teach, it matters what you teach.
In the three-pronged approach – especially with our tests being tied to the objectives, it does matter what you teach. But also, it matters how you teach it. You have to in such a way that the kids understand the concepts.
So when I do staff development I try to help teachers get a good understanding of what they should be teaching, how they should be teaching it, and a third factor: how to motivate their students.
You see motivation as a vital element of teaching?
You can be the best teacher in the world, you can have more degrees and abbreviations behind your name than anybody else, but if you can’t get the kids engaged and focused and involved in what you’re doing, they’re not going to learn as much, and they’re not going to remember it and they’re going to forget it even quicker. Engagement of the kids, get them involved where they become a part of that lesson, they internalize it and take it with them–that’s so important.
More staff development. I don’t think we can do too much staff development.
Every time when there is low test scores, what is being taught does not match what is written and what is tested. Teachers may have an idea of what they think should be taught, and they’re teaching that and leaving out some important things that might be new in the TEKS and are not necessarily are part of what they think is important. So our challenge becomes this ongoing staff development.
And the objective of that staff development is to help teachers to teach smarter, not necessarily harder, because I don’t know if teachers can teach any harder than they are right now – I think they’re teaching as hard as they possibly can. But we have to teach smarter to survive. I don’t mean to keep from being fired, I mean to keep from burning out.
But it still all comes down to the three things I talked about earlier. As teachers, we need to know what we’re going to teach, how we’re going to teach it and what we’re going to do to motivate.
So that we’re able to reach every student.
You are welcome.