How Tucson Unified School District elevated math learning

Tucson, AZ | Submitted by Dr. Gabriel Trujillo

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With nearly 90 schools in the region, leaders at Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) oversee more than 47,000 students in preschool through twelfth grade. At that size, change isn’t easy, but it is necessary.

When the district set out to improve academic performance, they implemented a number of notable changes that have created a shift in culture and instruction. By examining what the most effective schools do to increase achievement, schools have changed:

  • Intervention opportunities: TUSD has implemented intervention opportunities for students who need extra assistance with English language arts or math. Working in cadres of 20 students, teachers provide guidance during the school day, eliminating transportation and non-compliance barriers common to after-school tutoring programs. For 90 days at a time, youth are removed from their elective period to attend enrichment seminars that are designed to assist their unique needs. These interventions have been the biggest game changer for students.
  • Professional development: By shifting teacher professional development opportunities to align with their contract time, TUSD leaders have boosted educator learning. This is common among high-performing districts, as it allows teachers to fully focus on their own growth.
  • Process for resource deployment: Utilizing technology for education has been a boon to both learning and administration. By making devices, such as tablets, available, students are better able to take advantage of online learning experiences and growth opportunities, while allowing teachers to monitor progress and performance in real time. The district has also been able to expand licensing agreements to make software available more broadly.

The changes are paying off in a big way. A quarter of TUSD schools moved up a letter grade during the last academic year and high schools have seen a substantial turnaround. Half are now A or B schools and the district was able to reduce the number of F schools by half. Math score gains have been especially pronounced, as the district has seen one-year gain in proficiency of 4-8 percent. This is a critical component to the Arizona Education Progress Meter, which has identified a goal of increasing eighth grade math proficiency to 69 from 41 percent by 2030.

As students progress along the continuum and the district continues to build on these early successes, there’s no doubt that the positive changes will compound and create even more impressive results. And beyond academic performance, school leaders have also noted decreased absentee rates and fewer disciplinary issues. Students are more engaged and excited about their success, and it’s showing.

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