Ruth Von Blum
on January 12, 2000
Case Studies in SUMS
I'm the Lead Evaluator for the SUMS (Students Using Math Successfully)
project in Santa Ana, CA (Dr. David Pagni, Cal State Fullerton, PI). Over
its 5 years, SUMS is providing 100 hours of professional development in
mathematics to all K-9 teachers and administrators in the Santa Ana Unified
School District. SUMS offers Professional development over a two year
period, primarily through full-day sessions throughout the school year.
Site Support Providers give additional help to teachers at their schools.
The grant is now in its fourth full year.
We wanted to supplement the core evaluation by looking at what was actually
happening to math teaching at schools in the district. Our study grew out
of a small (really small!) documentation grant from NSF.
We decided to pick two schools for the case study, one elementary and one
middle school. We picked schools where we felt that the chances for some
progress were the best. The elementary school had a strong principal and
one of the teachers was a SUMS Instructor. The middle school was led by a
very strong chair, who was also a SUMS instructor, and all of the 5 teachers
had SUMS training.
The research questions underlying our study were designed to 1) get a grasp
of the mathematics "climate" at both schools and 2) to look at the status of
To determine the landscape and mathematics climate at the school, we asked
the following questions:
What are the basic parameters within which this school functions?
At what level of "professionalization" is the teaching and administrative
What are the main concerns of administrators and teachers with respect to
mathematics instruction? What is the interaction between them?
To determine the current status of mathematics practice at the school, we
were guided by the following questions:
How is mathematics taught in classrooms at this school? What kinds of work
in mathematics do students do? What curriculum materials are employed?
What are the major factors contributing to what teachers teach? Who makes
decisions about content and pedagogy in mathematics?
What types of assessment are used? What roles do standardized tests play?
Who are the leaders in mathematics teaching at the school? What kinds of
communication about teaching mathematics occur among and within grade
How do teachers think about mathematics? How comfortable are they teaching
Our data collection consisted of interviews and focus groups, observations
of classrooms, and analysis of an array of "artifacts," math lessons,
student work, lesson plans, etc.
What we found was very eye-opening. It supports what Mark St. John has
been saying for years; what goes on in professional development is a very
small part of what's happening at a school. At the elementary school, the
supportive principal was transferred in the Spring, and the new principal's
primary interests lie in directions other than math (half of the teaching
staff and the vice principal promptly also transferred). The strong math
chair in the middle school also left the school. So, the entire school
climate may have changed in both schools. It will be interesting to see
what impact this has on the teachers left from last year, and what happens
to the new teachers coming in.
We got lots of good insight into the classrooms also, from some teachers
who incorporates USMS strategies really well, to others whose teaching
reflected difficulty in a number of areas. The SUMS staff benefited from
knowing where they needed to give teachers more help. For example, we saw
teachers trying to use SUMS type hands-on activities, who never-the-less
couldn't relinquish control of their classrooms and give kids time and
opportunities to explore.
We hope to continue with these studies for the remainder of the grant.
Sorry this turned out to be so long. I look forward to talking with you
and hearing about what you are all doing.