How Researchers Are Using the Data-Based Individualization Process to Increase Middle School Students’ Algebra Readiness

How Researchers Are Using the Data-Based Individualization Process to Increase Middle School Students’ Algebra Readiness

By Leanne Ketterlin Geller, Sarah Powell, Erica Lembke

In this Voices From The Field piece we hear from Dr. Leanne Ketterlin Geller, Dr. Erica Lembke, and Dr. Sarah Powell. Drs. Ketterlin Geller, Lembke, and Powell are the co-principal investigators of Project STAIR (Supporting Teaching of Algebra: Individual Readiness). Project STAIR is a model demonstration project funded through the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs. Project STAIR relies on the intersection of three theoretical and practical frameworks, including (1) the process of data-based individualization (DBI), (2) the principles of explicit and systematic instruction, and (3) key components of algebra readiness.

NCII: What is Project STAIR?

Erica Lembke: The goal of Project STAIR is to work with middle school teachers and their students who struggle in mathematics to help enhance their algebraic reasoning. We are hoping to provide strategies and assessments that teachers can use within a DBI [data-based individualization] process to help students be successful in Algebra I.

Within this project, we provide teachers with professional development and job-embedded coaching that focus on increasing evidence-based mathematics strategies. We are narrowing in on how to teach foundational concepts that students need for algebraic reasoning. Our professional development also emphasizes how assessments help guide teacher practices.

We have four project sites—two in Missouri and two in Texas. All four of the project sites are working on similar processes, implementing them in the same way, and collecting the same kinds of outcome data from students and teachers.

NCII: How are you using the DBI process in Project STAIR?

Sarah Powell: This entire project was designed using the DBI framework from the National Center on Intensive Intervention (NCII). We are encouraging all of our teachers to start with an intervention platform. That is, they need to have evidence-based strategies for their instruction. Then, we teach them how to progress monitor to see whether the instruction is adequate or inadequate. When students are not responding to the intervention, we are teaching our participants to give a diagnostic assessment. Through coaching, we encourage our participants to use that data to make decisions about what adaptations they will make to the students’ instructional programs. Next, we have our teachers continue to progress monitor to see whether those adaptations are enough. We really are implementing the DBI model that comes from NCII in middle schools with teachers.

NCII: What advice do you have for people who are engaging in the DBI process, especially at the middle school level?

Leanne Ketterlin Geller: First, we would recommend dedicating ample time within the school day to plan for instruction, implementation, and problem-solving to begin the DBI process. Another recommendation would be to get assessments selected and ready to implement at the beginning of the school year. The benefit in doing this is so you're ready, without a delay, to identify students for intervention—especially students who require intensive support.

Also, we recommend providing teachers with access and resources to identify evidence-based programs and interventions. This enables teachers to plan high-quality instruction and interventions from the outset.

Last, we found it’s important to engage administrators to get them thinking about systems-level supports. Administrators are critical in this process, and by engaging them early in the process, it can pave the way for systems-level success.

NCII: What resources have you found to be most helpful as you engage in this work?

Sarah Powell:We are pulling resources from all over the place, but we often point our teachers to the sample lesson plans on the NCII website. Specifically, we have used the resources related to fraction concepts and fraction computation because fractions are such a foundational skill when we think about algebraic readiness. We also are encouraging teachers to access the companion instructional videos, which illustrate the fraction concepts and procedures in action. In addition, we are relying on the innovative use of technology to supplement the professional development sessions by recording short, practitioner-friendly videos on the DBI process and prerequisite algebra readiness skills.

About the author

Leanne R. KetterlinGeller
Leanne Ketterlin Geller
/ Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas

Leanne R. Ketterlin Geller, Ph.D., is a Professor and Texas Instruments Endowed Chair in Education, Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. In addition to Dr. Ketterlin Geller’s faculty appointment, she serves as the director of the Research in Mathematics Education unit at SMU. Her research focuses on the development and validation of formative assessment systems in mathematics that provide instructionally relevant information to support students with diverse needs. She works nationally and internationally to support achievement and engagement in mathematics and other STEM disciplines for students in Kindergarten through Grade 8. Her research has been funded by international, national, state, and local funding agencies who are equally committed to supporting positive outcomes for all students. She has published numerous articles and book chapters, and presented original research findings at local, national, and international conferences. She works closely with teachers and administrators to understand the application of measurement and assessment principles for making decisions in school settings. Dr. Ketterlin Geller was a high school science teacher and trained as a K-12 administrator.

Sarah Powell
Sarah Powell
/ University of Texas at Austin

Sarah R. Powell, PhD, is an associate professor in the Department of Special Education at the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Powell's research interests include developing and testing interventions for students with mathematics difficulties, with a special emphasis on peer tutoring, word-problem solving, mathematics writing, and the symbols and vocabulary within mathematics.

Erica Lembke
Erica Lembke
/ University of Missouri

Erica Lembke, PhD, is a professor and chair of the Department of Special Education at the University of Missouri. Dr. Lembke’s research interests include developing strategies to improve special education students’ academic performance and progress monitoring in basic academic skills for elementary, middle, and secondary students. She provides numerous workshops and technical assistance related to intervention and data-based decision making. She has close to 40 peer-reviewed publications, serves on many editorial and advisory boards, is the immediate past editor for Assessment for Effective Intervention, and is past president of the Council for Exceptional Children’s Division for Learning Disabilities.