Agile Mind Partnership Spotlight – September 2022

Culberson County – Allamoore ISD, TX

Preparing Students for Their Best Future in Times of Uncertainty

Over the past few years, teachers and students in this rural district have tried a new approach to Algebra I. To boost students’ readiness for post-secondary college and careers, leaders at Culberson County ISD sought out curricula to address “the needs of the whole student,” particularly in light of the academic and emotional challenges brought on by the pandemic. This new approach – one that focuses on accelerating learning while attending to student mindset and classroom culture – is paying off for all of their students in new and surprising ways. 

Culberson County-Allamoore Independent School District, in Van Horn, Texas, serves all of Culberson County and eastern portions of Hudspeth County. The district’s minority enrollment is 90%, with 81.7% of students considered economically disadvantaged.

Their mission: “Every student graduating with a College Associate’s Degree and at least one STEM Industry Certification.” 

Their focus: providing cutting-edge academic programs aimed at the fields of Engineering, Medicine, and Technology. 

Seeking a Math Curriculum That Accelerates Learning

Marcia Crowley, Dean of High School Mathematics at Culberson ISD, first started looking for a better math curriculum when her district shifted the standard path for learning Algebra I to 8th grade. She wanted the proper support for students coming from 7th grade who were not quite ready to jump to Algebra I. At the same time, the district needed to serve students who were prepared for the rigor, but who may need help accelerating their transition from middle- to high-school mathematics.

Ms. Crowley attended a talk given by educators from The Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin, nationally recognized for research and practice on fostering high achievement at scale in K-12 math and science instruction. The discussion focused on preparing and supporting students transitioning from high school to college-level mathematics without needing costly remediation. As Ms. Crowley quickly learned, the Dana Center had over two decades of experience working with educators and developing programs (in partnership with Agile Mind) supporting middle and high-school mathematics.

Intensification Instead of Remediation in Mathematics

Their work on “intensification” – an approach focused on accelerating, rather than remediating, students who need to catch up to grade-level content, immediately caught Ms. Crowley’s attention. The program that seemed to fit their needs perfectly was Intensified Algebra I.

How Intensification Helps Fill Learning Gaps Left by COVID

With continued due diligence, Ms. Crowley gained support for giving this new and different program a try. Sondra McCoy, Director of Academic Programs for Culberson ISD, supported the decision, especially after The New Teacher Project reviewed the lesson content and agreed that it was a sound math curriculum and suitable for their district goals. “We want our students to leave here with the skills necessary to do what they want – to have the confidence to do the jobs that we can’t even imagine yet. This is our mission, and we have seen really good results so far,” said Ms. McCoy. Their EOC scores are so promising that district leaders have since adopted the Agile Mind Core Mathematics curriculum for all of their math in grades 6-12.

What’s So Different About Teaching Mathematics Intensified Algebra I?

Ms. McCoy and Ms. Crowley both praise the teacher who agreed to try the Agile Mind Intensified Algebra program, Mr. Sabian Baeza, for his “open-mindedness and fidelity” in delivering the program. “It is a different way to teach Algebra and it must be done the way it is designed. That’s non-negotiable,” Ms. Crowley observed. After three years, district leaders are happy that they trusted the research, the program design [which requires a 70-90 minute double-block Algebra class], and Agile MInd’s team of professional services coaches.

Introducing Algebra I on Day One

“The program offers all of the foundational skills needed for math transition, regardless of the pathway learners take in the future,” stressed Ms. Crowley. When asked what advice she’d have for teachers or districts new to this program, she said, “Trust the program!” She acknowledged reservations in the beginning, especially about pacing and the order and structure of the units. “For example, I wondered why we were teaching transformations in the second unit when they are usually taught in March,” but, sure enough, she soon knew that they were used in every unit afterward.

Tips for Teachers New to Intensified Algebra I

Ms. Crowley offers these tips for teachers who are just getting started with Agile Mind’s Intensified Algebra I program:

  • Don’t switch things around–just follow the curriculum as structured–and sure, add in things that you’ve grown to know and trust, as long as you don’t change the curriculum
  • Read the whole unit when preparing for a lesson
  • Use the real-world scenarios to tell students why they are learning and show them how it might apply to their real lives
  • Have students engage in the real-world projects first to understand the concepts and not just “do the math and then word problems”
  • The SEL (social and emotional academic development) principles in the program will change students’ mindsets about “I can’t do the math”, especially those who would rather not even try if they think they will fail

Student Mindset Shifts About Math and Their Future

The positive student mindset shift, along with the development of other key student success skills, is embedded throughout the curriculum in the form of proven SEL (social, emotional, learning) principles that have shaped this and other Dana Center/Agile Mind Academic Youth Development programs. After three years of using the Intensified Algebra program, Culberson leaders are confident. “We love the fact that students who, upon entering the program would have never imagined that they may one day work at Blue Origins (a respected corporation in our community), but now just a few years later, can see themselves as able to do this, and more. The Intensified Algebra I program is doing exactly what we wanted it to do and what our district goals intend us to do: instilling confidence in students’ futures.”