Success in Middle School Math

Becoming On-Track for High School


Name: Mary Davis
Role: K-12 Professional Learning Facilitator
Years with Dana Center and/or in this field:
6 years with the Dana Center; 30 years in education


Can you give a brief overview of TxNSI?

The Texas Network for School Improvement (TxNSI) consists of three Texas organizations: Educate Texas, Learning Forward, and the Dana Center. Together, we work to dismantle systemic barriers to ensure that all students in North Texas can succeed in college, career, and life.

The network aims to enhance opportunities for a better education in middle school. Our intention is to increase the percentages of 8th-grade students who are Black, Latinx, or who come from low-income backgrounds who are academically on-track for success in high school and beyond.

Though the first barrier that TxNSI is working to address is mastery of middle school math, we know from the research that that social emotional learning is also critical to student success. All students benefit when they have the agency and they know they have the abilities to influence their lives and the world around them. In summer 2020 we led a shared learning session on perseverance in the classroom and the mindsets necessary to keep trying—or engage in productive persistence.

Teachers, campus administrators, and district leaders are learning together by studying the eight teaching practices in the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics landmark 2014 publication Principles to Actions: Ensuring Mathematical Success for All, as well as reflecting on their own mindset, biases, and beliefs about equity.

What issues in education does TxNSI address?

When the TxNSI work began two years ago, it was focused on the mathematics classroom. Though we are still working with math teachers, our scope of work has shifted toward ensuring that our students meet all the on-track indicators put forth by the Texas Education Agency. We believe students can stay on track for graduation through better teaching and learning in the math classroom, as students engaged in an excellent mathematics education are learning how to ask purposeful questions, engage in discourse, harness a growth-oriented mindset, and more. These lessons result in raising their math achievement and are transferable to other disciplines.

What do you see as the biggest challenges to promoting adoption of TxNSI?

I have witnessed firsthand throughout my career that districts want to help their students succeed. However, sometimes that wanting to help leads to programs that are at odds with one another. Through TxNSI, we have learned the importance of asking questions like:

  • What other initiatives are being adopted/used at your schools?
  • How much of your teachers’ time is spent working on them?
  • Why–and how–do you think that our initiative’s aim fits with your district’s aim?

By understanding the many programs in place within each district, we are better able to champion their overall objectives and work with districts for the long-term.

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