STEPSS is a five-year project designed to strengthen and enhance the mathematics content knowledge and instructional expertise of approximately 900 K-6 teachers, administrators, and preservice teachers in the Visalia Unified School District (VUSD). The specific goals of STEPSS are (a) to increase and support elementary teachers' knowledge and confidence in mathematical content, learning theory, assessment techniques, and instructional strategies; (b) to develop administrators and teachers to serve as mathematics curricular leaders and peer coaches at their respective sites, and (c) to increase the mathematics achievement of all of the district's students.
Each year, the entire faculty from four or five K-6 schools participate in STEPSS-related experiences. The initial experience in STEPSS is an intensive one-week Institute, "Teaching and Assessing for Understanding." During the Institute, teachers learn ways to search for evidence that each student is effectively developing the capacity for independent, powerful mathematical thinking. In addition to this Institute, a week-long "Institute for Teacher Leaders in Mathematics" is provided for administrators and for teachers desiring a greater leadership role at their school site. The institute provides an in-depth look into the theory of how children learn mathematics, effective instructional practices, and ways to provide peer support. The Teacher Leaders are looked upon as key mathematics resource teachers by others at their school site and supplement the support provided by the four full-time STEPSS Coaches. All STEPSS teachers also participate in Cognitive Peer Coaching training. Teachers learn how to assist colleagues in critically planning and assessing their lessons.
Teachers also participate in "Behind the Glass" (BG) demonstrations and a Practicum. The BG classroom is a large room that has been divided into an observation room and a classroom by a wall containing a one-way window. During each BG demonstration, a Math Coach facilitates a discussion of the math lesson that is being observed. At the conclusion of the demonstration, the two Math Coaches model a "reflective" conversation about the lesson. Teachers are then allowed time for collaboration on a lesson that each will present during their two-day Practicum.
During the year following a school's initial STEPSS experience, the four Math Coaches make monthly visits to the school for two days of coaching, support, collaborative lesson planning, and/or demonstration lessons. During subsequent years, Coaches visit school sites one day per month, and the site Teacher Leaders assume more responsibility for site leadership and support
Each teacher in the STEPSS program is required to participate in at least 30 hours of mathematics content courses, which many teachers satisfy by attending two series of five monthly half-day workshops offered by mathematics educators from the partnership universities. This requirement is waived for teachers who elect to pursue a master's degree with an emphasis in elementary mathematics education from either California State University, Fresno or Fresno Pacific University. Over 100 STEPSS teachers matriculated into one of these master's programs during the first two years of the grant; their tuition and fees are supported in part by grant monies.
In November, 1999, a team of fourteen Project PIs, Coaches, Teacher Leaders, and principals gave a presentation about the STEPSS project at the California Mathematics Council Conference in Palm Springs, CA; and in April, 2000, a half-day STEPSS workshop was presented at the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics' Conference in Chicago.