COE professor lands $2.8M grant to improve elementary students' math proficiency
Author: Jillian Daley
Posted: November 20, 2019
Portland State University Prof. Nicole Rigelman recently received a four-year $2.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation to increase elementary students’ math proficiency through training teachers in Portland Public Schools (PPS).

The grant has made possible the Developing Leaders, Transforming Practice (DLTP) project, a K–5 intervention involving the professional development of 60 teachers, who, in turn, support about 126 colleagues.

DLTP unites three major organizations, the PSU College of Education (COE), the largest school of education in the state; PPS, the largest school district in the Pacific Northwest (with 49,000 students in 81 schools); and RMC Research Corporation, a national leader in areas including program research and evaluation.

The DLTP project features three goals: improving student math achievement/understanding, assessing the effectiveness of using Elementary Mathematics Specialists (EMSs), and testing four models that employ EMSs in different ways. An EMS is an educator with specialized training in math content, teaching methods, and leadership.

“It’s really exciting that this work is coming to fruition and that PPS is so willing to say, ‘We want to figure out which one of these models is best because we need to know for our students; our students deserve this,’” Rigelman said.

Rigelman said that the DLTP project encompasses 12 elementary schools in PPS (which has 39 elementary schools total), with three schools assigned to each one of the four EMS models. The project leaders—Rigelman, Chandra Lewis from RMC Research, and Sarah Davis and Rose Palmer from PPS—will compare student achievement in the participating schools with 12 other schools that are not involved in the DLTP project.

“The EMS models will include variations of all students receiving math instruction from an EMS,” Rigelman said, “to one teacher at each grade level becoming an EMS and teaching their students math and also supporting their colleagues as a grade level coach, to one teacher serving as a building-level coach, or a combination of the two.”

She said that the goal is to see which model “will make the biggest difference for teachers and students, so we can advise the district on what they can do to best serve their students.”

Rigelman said the seed for DLTP was planted in 2008 when the National Mathematics Advisory Panel advocated for improving elementary math education by using math specialists. In 2009, she started working with the Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators (AMTE) to develop standards for programs for math specialists.

Now, 22 states, including Oregon, have adopted those AMTE standards, and PSU is one of two institutions in the state that prepares and certifies math specialists in a licensure program similar to an endorsement. The DLTP project will help put those specialists in classrooms in the most effective way possible, Rigelman noted.

Rigelman has already had success using the EMS program. In 2017, the Oregon Department of Education provided a three-year $1.03 million grant for a project similar to DLTP. PSU executed that project at David Douglas and Centennial school districts in East Multnomah County, with instructional support from Multnomah Educational Service District and research assistance from RMC. This project showed great efficacy, with a 34 percent increase in math scores over the three-year period of the grant in grade levels 3 through 12.

“We know this professional development works,” Rigelman said. “Now, we need to see which of the four models works best.”

Rigelman said that she hopes that she can build upon those positive results with the DLTP project in PPS. The next step for that project is a kickoff event on January 8 at the PPS district office.

Top Photo: Prof. Nicole Rigelman recently received a $2.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation. Courtesy of PSU files

Bottom photo: A screenshot of a brochure about the DLTP project page offers an overview of how the professional development program will operate. Photo by Jillian Daley

To share stories on the College of Education, contact Jillian Daley.