CAAASA Launches Professional Development Initiative for Black Student Achievement in Mathematics Based on Three Central Axioms
To Partner with CAAASA in this effort, please read below for details or click here to download a PDF overview
To promote better practices in a student-centered mathematics classroom in ways that will improve achievement for African American students as well as cultivating a better understanding of what mathematics is and how it operates in the real world -- their world. Educators will learn (1) instructional strategies for teaching math that work for all students, and especially African American students, and (2) about the science of mathematical understanding.
Mathematics is not about memorization or learning to perform routine procedures. Math is a way of thinking about quantities, patterns, and relationships where students engage in rigorous, relevant, and relatable math. When students learn the language of mathematics, and how to “think mathematically” rather than just committing algorithms to memory, (1) their attitude about mathematics improves, (2) their mathematics proficiency and potential is enhanced, (3) their assessment scores improve. Teachers who sincerely believe that all students can learn and achieve in mathematics, cultivate students who surely will perform well in math classrooms. When students recognize math as an invaluable tool that we all use to solve real-world and nonroutine problems, the students’ experience math as academically rich, extremely interesting, and personally relevant undertaking.
Our Math Consultants
Lybroan James and Kenneth Wesson are CAAASA Math Consultants with more than 60 years of combined experience in education including teaching (from the elementary grades to higher education), academic coaching, professional development, product development in education, workshops, and keynote addresses to educators and administrators worldwide.
Lybroan James is an accomplished and innovative educator with a remarkable track record of transforming mindsets and performance of teachers and students in K-12 mathematics. He spearheaded an unconventional approach for learning mathematics that resulted in a 26.4% increase in state math scores for African American students within a single year. Lybroan also created the “Math is Emotional” framework for coaching math teachers in Marion, Indiana, which produced remarkable improvements in math proficiency. After only one year of applying this methodology, their students achieved proficiency rates of 54% and 84%, marking a significant improvement from the previous decade where math proficiency scores for their students had remained below 10%. There is a learned emotional component that students learn when they grapple with solving problems in mathematics via a productive struggle in a supportive learning environment.
Kenneth Wesson is a former faculty member at administrator in higher education. He also served as the Product Manager in charge of developing the most widely used elementary mathematics program in the US. Wesson regularly delivers keynote addresses on the neuroscience of learning for educational organizations and institutions throughout the United States and overseas. His international audiences have included educators and administrative officers from six of the world’s seven continents. He has written articles on “Brain-considerate Learning,” Social-Emotional Learning, STEM and ST2REAM education. His research is frequently published and referenced in Parents Magazine, HealthNet, and the journal Brain World. Wesson is a contributing author to the Frog Street Press Early Childhood Education curriculum. He has been profiled in “Who's Who in Science and Engineering,” “Who’s Who in American Education,” and “Who's Who in America.” In 2017, Wesson was nominated to receive the Marquis Who’s Who Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to the field of education.
Today, there is a growing mountain of evidence indicating that African American students do not consistently respond favorably to many of the most prevalent teaching strategies taught in the colleges of education and deployed in the mainstream classroom. It is not uncommon for Black students to struggle in mathematics classes because of issues related to “treatment,” rather than difficulties with “content.” Teachers often view the African Americans as less competent learners of math, which produces that very same result. Subsequently, Black students develop negative beliefs about their own mathematical potential and competence by internalizing the negative stereotypes about who will succeed in math and who will not. They unconsciously begin to believe that only certain types of students are proficient in mathematics, and those students do not look like me.
Most importantly, high-quality mathematics is about engaging in meaningful, rich mathematical tasks and solving problems with relevant, real-world, culturally relevant contexts where students use curiosity, desire, imagination, perseverance, productive struggle, persistence, discourse, dialogue, and use oral and written language to co-construct viable mathematical ideas and arguments with their classmates. This is what we call “doing math” where “the math comes alive” in ways comparable to the hands-on, minds-on, and hearts-in learning experiences that engage students in active science classrooms were both thinking and concepts are made visible. When teachers create classrooms with these learning conditions for all students, mathematical learning, excitement, confidence, and achievement are the consistent results.
Dwight Bonds, Executive Director
California Association of African American Superintendents and Administrators (CAAASA)
All children can learn mathematics from teachers who have been properly trained in instructional strategies that can transform their students from “students at risk” to “students of promise” in mathematics. If educators (1) subscribe to the axioms that every African American student can and will succeed in mathematics, (2) approach instruction in mathematics using evidence-based research and the effective instructional strategies shared by Wesson and James, our students’ will succeed in math confirming all three of our central axioms concerning African American students.
The Three Central Axioms of Black Student Achievement in Mathematics
The term axiom refers to a statement or proposition that has been firmly established as wholly factual or self-evidently true (e.g., “The sun rises in the east” “Two parallel lines never intersect each other.” “The earth turns 360° every day.” Also, see The Seven Axioms of Euclid found in mathematics). Axioms require no additional evidence, further debate, or even a conversation. Once an axiom has been generally acknowledged, we can build an entire system of beliefs around the “foundational truth” of that axiom.
We propose to change many of the common narratives surrounding Black student achievement including subscribing to these three central Axioms:
All African American children can excel.
All African American students can show their brilliance.
Every African American student can excel in mathematics.
The dominant narrative in educational articles has not recognized the brilliance of African American children as axiomatic. The prevailing premise (the axiom) reflected in the literature on black student achievement in mathematics typically focuses on low test scores ignoring the myriad factors that contribute to low student achievement scores including chronic student absenteeism, recurrent teacher absenteeism, culturally irrelevant curriculum materials and assessment tests, teacher training in mathematics and instructional preparation a.k.a. “teacher quality,” tracking, disparities in student expectations, student and teacher mindsets, student math identity, neighborhood segregation, and poverty. With the exceptions of absenteeism, segregation, and poverty, the majority of the remaining factors can be reduced through effective professional development.
The Professional Development Partnership:
The California Association of African American Superintendents and Administrators (CAAASA) has entered into a professional development partnership with the San Diego County Office of Education to deliver teacher training that will address improving mathematics achievement for African American students in the San Diego Unified School District and the Sweetwater Union High School District.
The opening sentence in The Achievement Gap in Mathematics: A Significant Problem for African Americans Students asserts that the most significant problem facing African American students in America’s schools today is the wide achievement gap in mathematics. Today’s achievement scores suggest nothing short of a crisis in mathematics for African American students and the educators responsible for teaching them mathematics.
The Urgency That is Prompted by Disturbing Data
The US ranks 38th in math skills globally.
During the pandemic, African American students lost 13 points in mathematics, compared to 5 points among white students, widening the achievement gap between the two groups.
84% of Black eighth-graders in the U.S. did not perform at grade level in mathematics.
Only 4% of Schenectady, New York Black students passed the state test for mathematics.
Only 5% of African American eighth graders in Dallas, TX were proficient in math.
In 23 Baltimore City schools, there were zero students (not a single student) who tested proficient in math. Another 20 Baltimore schools had only one or two students test “proficient” in mathematics.
The Statewide Imperative for
This year, Black student proficiency in mathematics fell far below pre-pandemic levels.
In the Oakland Unified School District, 11.7% of black children are on this level in mathematics.
Only 9% of Black San Francisco Unified School District students were proficient in math. Only 2% of Black SFUSD 7th grade students were proficient in mathematics.
In 2019, 20.5% of CA Black students met or exceeded the state math standards. By 2022, only 15.9% of California’s Black students met or surpassed the math standards, a -22.5% decline.
84% of California Black students did not meet math standards in 2022.
CA Black students’ 4th grade math scores declined by nine points, expanding an already wide gap of more than 40 points (on a scale of 500 points).