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EARLY ADOPTION HELPS ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS GET A LEG UP: A FIELD REPORT FROM YUMA, AZ


Duane Sheppard is an Associate Superintendent at Yuma Elementary School District Once in Arizona. In recently released results, students in Yuma’s elementary schools performed very well on the state’s challenging new mathematics tests. Overall, eight of the district’s 12 elementary schools were above the state average, some significantly (see chart below). One school was tied and the three others were between three and seven points below the state average. Duane Sheppard explained the role that Eureka Math played in the district’s success.

How did you get started with Eureka Math?

We knew we had to do something ever since the Common Core State Standards, because all of our math series were no longer aligned. In Googling math curriculum, we came across EngageNY and were impressed (Great Minds originally developed the Eureka Math content for New York State). We were one of the first districts in the country to use it. Our teachers were downloading and using the EngageNY math modules as soon as they were posted in 2013. Actually, because our school year starts a month earlier than New York’s, we were actually rolling out many lessons before New York. And we were constantly checking in with them to find out when they’d be posting their next modules. We were begging them.

What were your early experiences like?

We expected bumps in year 1 and we got them. A lot of teachers were frustrated that each lesson was taking them 90 minutes to two hours. Some parents were concerned they couldn’t help their kids with homework, while others opposed Common Core generally on political grounds. But by October 1, two months in, the light bulbs started to go on. Teachers were better understanding the content themselves. And they were seeing their students thrive. By the end of that first year, our superintendent was hearing from lots of teachers, “We know Eureka is hard, and it can be frustrating, but please don’t get rid of it. It’s helping our students.”

How do you explain your elementary schools’ strong performance on last year’s tests?

We have put a lot of time into teaching math over the last few years and that hard work has paid off. We have instructional coaches in every school who help introduce each module. And they’re always on hand to troubleshoot challenges.

You’re now in year 3 of implementation. What are your priorities?

This fall, we gave every student an Apple iPad. So, a top priority is to help integrate Eureka into this major personalized learning initiative. Professional development is focused on helping teachers use Eureka’s growing amount of digital content and organize their classrooms to offer more small-group instruction.

And we have to continue working with our middle schools, where performance still is too low. A big part of the challenge is to fit the lessons into a traditional six-period day. Some principals are having some success changing their bell schedules, having two periods of math and two of English.