April 28, 2023
Improving Access and Representation in Crowley ISD
Say “summer school” to a group of seventh-grade boys, and you don’t expect dozens of hands to shoot in the air, fueled by shouts of, “Pick me! Pick me!”
But at the end of the 2020-2021 school year, Billy Hanz approached students struggling with math at H.F. Stevens Middle School in Crowley Independent School District, and something unexpected happened.
The students said yes to summer school. Not the parents – the students themselves.
Hanz is a Local Improvement Facilitator (LIF) with the Texas Network for School Improvement (TXNSI) and a math instructional support specialist for the Crowley ISD, 15 miles southwest of Fort Worth.
TXNSI is a collaborative launched and facilitated by the Communities Foundation of Texas’ Educate Texas, Learning Forward, and the Charles A. Dana Center. The networked improvement community consists of 12 middle and junior high schools across two school districts in North Texas. TXNSI aims to increase the percentage of students who are on track to college and career success by the end of eighth grade, with a focus on students who are Black, Latino, and experiencing poverty. In particular, the program uses math as the entry point due to its high correlation to predicting postsecondary success.
The network uses three primary strategies to achieve its goal: professional learning on evidence-based math practices, support in the use of rapid cycle continuous improvement to test evidence-based changes, and a community of practice to accelerate learning across peers in the network.
TXNSI facilitates one-to-one coaching throughout the school year at their network convenings. The convenings bring educators and coaches together to increase their ability to support their campuses. This includes the process of selecting change ideas in service of the network’s goal and testing those ideas through utilizing the Plan Do Study Act (PDSA) cycle.
To help build Hanz’s coaching capacity and implement a continuous improvement approach, TXNSI connected Hanz to Mary Davis, her Hub Improvement Facilitator (HIF). Davis is a math professional learning specialist at the Dana Center and regularly met with Hanz to support her in the improvement work at H.F. Stevens Middle School.
After analyzing campus data at the end of the 2020-2021 school year, Hanz recognized a barrier keeping male Black students from accessing pre-AP math courses in her middle school. The enrollment in higher-level math courses at H.F. Stevens was not representative of the broader student population. Success in mathematics at the transition from middle school to high school, more specifically passing Algebra I by the end of 9th grade, is pivotal to progressing through high school graduation and necessary for many postsecondary programs that lead to high-wage, high-demand jobs in the Texas economy. She knew all her students had the ability to succeed in higher-level math given the right support and that passing the state’s grade-level math assessments was the first barrier to overcome. So Hanz designed an improvement of her own.
With the support of her principal and HIF, she led a tailored summer bridge program called SOAR — Success Opportunity Access Representation —to increase the number of Black male students in pre-AP mathematics classes and to increase equitable representation, access, and opportunities in advanced math. Which supported the very goals of TXNSI.
Understanding the inequities at play, Hanz formulated a plan based on professional learning provided by Learning Forward during network convenings. Hanz recruited the students and planned the program. The students got the results.
Interestingly, though, Hanz points out that math was never her strongest subject.
“I’m your reading and writing person,” she said. “I would get so frustrated trying to teach reading to a student because, for me, I just got it. I would get frustrated because I didn’t understand their struggle.”
But math? Hanz said she struggled with math in school.
“I always needed help; I always had my hand up. And if it was not for my high school teacher, Mr. Larkin, I never would have survived high school,” she said. “Because of him, I was able to learn math and get myself through high school, and then through college algebra, and then business calculus.”
Hanz asked the team of seventh-grade math teachers to identify Black male students who were not passing grade-level math or district assessments but who had good attendance. She hypothesized these young men would likely benefit from the intensive, two-week summer program that required them to attend regularly.
She took that list of about 40 names and, rather than ask the parents if their students would participate in the summer program, went directly to the students.
“I met with the students because I wasn’t going to force anybody to be in the program,” she said. Hanz believed that if the students were "not 100% in it, “they would not be successful.
Once she had student buy-in, Hanz met with their parents.
“I wanted their parents to know the ‘why’,” she said. “And I wanted them to know what their son would get out of it – and that their son chose to be there.”
Ultimately, 20 students opted to participate in the summer program. Of the participants, less than 10% had passed the state’s math test the previous year.
Using her experience with data analysis and rapid-cycle continuous improvement learned through her involvement with TXNSI, Hanz began working with the students at the end of the school year during their advisory period to reinforce what they were learning and ensure proficiency in their seventh and eighth-grade TEKS (Texas standards) before attempting Algebra I. She reiterated the importance of their learning by introducing them to the Crowley ISD career center where they learned about careers available to local graduates, how much they pay, and the degrees and certifications needed.
“I started going over the work they were doing in their classes so they could get used to my style,” Hanz said. “They were excited. They couldn’t wait to get started.”
Hanz dug into teaching over the summer of 2021, utilizing the five practices of productive discourse by anticipating where the students might struggle, monitoring their work while asking advancing questions, selecting and sequencing the students’ work so that it told a story of what was learned, and finally made connections to other math or disciplines outside of the class.
By way of math professional learning led by the Charles A. Dana Center, Hanz knew productive discourse to be a high-leverage instructional strategy. Rather than standing in front of a class and showing students what they know and can do, facilitators of mathematics now influence what students know and their mathematical identities by allowing productive discourse in their classrooms (Smith & Stein, 2018). Improving students’ writing and discourse had been the focus of her campus team’s previous change ideas, and it was now informing her work with the SOAR students.
“I didn’t use any special curriculum, I just condensed it and organized it in a way that made sense to me,” Hanz said. “We mostly had discussions. I wanted them to see the math and make the connections.”
The methodologies Hanz brought to the SOAR program from her TXNSI learnings proved beneficial to the students, and it did not take long before word of the SOAR program began circulating around campus.
Hanz made it clear to her students that she would support them even beyond classroom hours.
“I could help them in the evening through Zoom if they needed me,” she said. “I think that helped them to be successful because they knew, no matter what, they weren’t going to just fall. They had someone there to catch them.”
While the once-struggling students had clearly improved from the year before, there was still one more hurdle for the students: the end-of-year algebra exam.
Every SOAR program student passed.
More importantly, they gained confidence in their abilities and increased their chances of postsecondary success. Based on survey feedback, 92% of the students reported that the program increased their skills and strengthened the skills they already had. The proof was in the numbers, and that empirical evidence reassures Hanz.
“I’m most proud of the fact that thestudents stuck with it, and they all saw the results in the end,” Hanz said.
Still, Hanz said part of SOAR’s success was that it wasn’t exclusively data-driven in its creation or execution. She said for her, it wasn’t about simply looking at numbers.
“To me, data is just one component of the student,” she said. “That is only their assessment on one day.”
Instead, she works with her teachers and department to pinpoint or anticipate problems and brainstorm potential solutions – and then adjust along the way as needed.
Despite the success of the SOAR program, there are external variables that have left its future unknown. However, Hanz remains resolute on the mission of increasing equitable representation of Black students in advanced mathematics classes.
Smith, M.S., & Stein, M.K. (2018). 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics
Discussions (Second). Corwin.