Teacher Collaboration to Support Algebra Readiness—Greiner Exploratory Arts Academy

Mathematics/Algebra Readiness

W.E. Greiner Exploratory Arts Academy (magnet)
Dallas Independent School District

Greiner Exploratory Arts Academy (GEAA) serves a student population (total = 1,689) that is approximately 10% African American, 87% Hispanic, 2% White, 0.4% Native American, 0.4% Asian/Pacific Islander, 86% economically disadvantaged, 22% limited English proficient (LEP), and 48% at risk. Approximately 30% of students participate in the campus’ fine arts magnet program.

The percentage of GEAA students passing mathematics TAKS increased from 74% passing in 2005–06 to 87% passing in 2009–10. The percentage of GEAA students performing at the Commended level on mathematics TAKS also increased from 12% in 2005–06 to 32% in 2009–10. Staff reported that the percentage of students participating in Pre-AP mathematics classes in Grades 6–7 increased from approximately 20% to 50% in recent years, and the percentage of Grade 8 students participating in Algebra I increased from approximately 20% to 45% (see Supporting Evidence for more information).

GEAA was identified as an Algebra Readiness Exemplar Campus by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to share best practices with campuses applying for TEA Algebra Readiness grants.

In this summary, find out how the campus:

  • Maximizes the benefits of collaborative planning time through grade-level and departmental teams with high standards for sharing expertise and resources, lesson planning, and cross-curricular instruction
  • Creates an annual master plan for mathematics instruction based on student data
  • Refines and extends the instructional plan continuously based on ongoing data review, including well-developed lessons that incorporate engaging learning and real-world application projects
  • Provides opportunities for teachers to share lesson demonstrations, ideas, and resources to vertically align instruction
  • Provides additional support to struggling students through multiple extended learning opportunities (e.g., tutoring, Saturday school, enrichment classes)
  • Develops student, teacher, and departmental profiles to target specific student and teacher needs
  • Implements new teacher support and a peer coaching model based on teacher strengths, pairing teachers who need to develop skills in an area with the campus’ master teacher in that area

Strategies that are aligned with research-based and TEA-identified key practices for Algebra Readiness programming include (see Research Base for more information):

  • Extended learning time for mathematics
  • Instructional coaching
  • Effective professional development
  • Common planning time
  • Effective supplemental resources
  • Administrator training
  • Appropriate technology
  • Active, ongoing student engagement
  • Guidance and communication for parents





  • GEAA is home to a Dallas ISD (DISD) fine arts magnet. Staff report that approximately 30% of enrolled students participate in the magnet program and that the magnet program has not significantly influenced campus performance. 
  • The campus initially served only Grades 7–8, adding Grade 6 in 2007–08.
  • More than half of GEAA students attend classes in portable buildings.
  • The campus does not have double-blocked scheduling for mathematics.
  • DISD uses the Principles of Learning model from the Institute of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh to guide instruction in the district. The Principles of Learning consist of nine research-based statements that provide a common language for analyzing and improving teaching and learning. Campus staff reported that the framework provided a background for best practices. For more information, see http://www.dallasisd.org/academics/pdf/principlesoflearning.pdf.
  • GEAA was identified as an Algebra Readiness Exemplar Campus by TEA and the Institute for Public School Initiatives (IPSI) at the University of Texas at Austin, a TEA Algebra Readiness technical assistance provider. Exemplar campuses were identified based on review of National Center for Educational Achievement data scores and growth measures as well as interviews and classroom observations conducted by IPSI. To support grantees of TEA’s Middle School Students in Texas: Algebra Ready Pilot (MSTAR) and Algebra Readiness programs, IPSI then documented best practices at exemplar campuses. Grantees were required as part of the planning stages of their grants to visit exemplar campuses and talk with staff about strategies and implementation. For more information about TEA Algebra Readiness initiatives, see http://www.tea.state.tx.us/index2.aspx?id=8373&menu_id=814

Demographics (2009–10)
Demographics 2009-10: Grade Levels Served 6-8; Campus/District Enrollment 1,689. Ethnic Distribution: African American 170, 10.1%; Hispanic 1,468, 86.9%; White 37, 2.2%; Native American 7, 0.4%; Asian/Pacific Islander 7, 0.4%; Economically Disadvantaged 1,449, 85.8%; Limited English Proficient (LEP) 370, 21.9%; At Risk 813, 48.1%; Mobility (2008-09) 202, 12.5%.
Source: Academic Excellence Indicator System

Accountability Rating:
Exemplary (2009–10)

Implementation Highlights:

Implementation Highlights. 2006-07: Identified goal of increasing Pre-AP/Algebra enrollment; collaborative planning period. 2007-08: more detailed data analysis; grade 8 SSI math course; Grade 6 introduced at campus. 2009-10: Remedial elective class in mathematics offered; emphasis on cross-curricular collaboration and vertical alignment


Providing enhanced access to rigorous coursework

  • In 2006–07, the campus mathematics department set a goal of increasing the number of students participating in Pre-AP mathematics in order to prepare more students for success in Grade 8 algebra. Historically, approximately 20% of students were enrolled in Pre-AP/Algebra, and staff noted that there were many more students who had the potential to succeed and were not being served.
  • Staff reviewed data to identify additional students who could be successful in Pre-AP/Algebra, and more sections of Pre-AP mathematics were offered. Pre-AP courses in Grades 6 and 7 were designed to strengthen basic skills for success in Algebra I, teach Grade 8 mathematics content tested on Grade 8 TAKS, and prepare students for success in rigorous classes.
  • In identifying students for participation in higher level mathematics courses, staff reported looking only at academics, noting that even if a student had attendance or discipline problems, he/she was not excluded from participation in Pre-AP/Algebra classes.
  • Teachers were also allowed to re-designate a grade-level mathematics course after the start of the school year as Pre-AP if a teacher felt that most students in the class were capable of success. Staff reported that including (rather than excluding) borderline students in a Pre-AP class often helped to motivate and raise the expectations of students who had not previously performed as well as they could.
  • The department tried to honor parent requests that students not identified by performance data for placement in Pre-AP/Algebra still be enrolled with the understanding that if the student did not meet performance criteria, he/she would be placed back in regular mathematics classes.
  • Staff emphasized that even with the increased enrollment, Pre-AP/Algebra courses were never “watered down.” Teachers incorporated Pre-AP strategies, lessons, and projects into regular mathematics classes, raising the rigor of mathematics instruction campuswide.
  • At the beginning of each year, in all classes, teachers provided a review of basic skills (e.g., number sense, multiplication and division, decimals, fractions, exponents, order of operations) to ensure that all students had a grasp of foundational skills that would enable them to complete more advanced higher-level critical thinking problems. Staff reported that the review was especially important for students in Grade 6 coming to the campus from various elementary schools. In Grade 6, teachers identified students who needed basic skills support based on elementary teacher recommendations, diagnostic tests, and GPA. The department then assigned these students to attend the classes of four teachers who, based on student performance data, were the best at teaching specific key review concepts. Identified students attended these teachers’ classes for a period of several weeks before returning to their regular assigned classes. In Grade 8, the beginning of year review was compacted and built into activities that combined review and practice with new skills and content.

Collaborative planning

  • In 200607, the district mandated that campus schedules include a daily collaborative period for teachers. Subsequently, GEAA teachers, who had previously met after school to plan collaboratively as grade-level teams, each taught five classes, with one planning period, and one collaborative group period.
  • Core content-area teachers met as grade-level teams 2-3 days per week during the collaborative period. Grade-level team members shared subject-area strategies, resources, and lessons based on identified learning needs, collaborated on projects, and incorporated activities to provide cross-curricular instruction and support. Grade-level teams also reviewed and discussed individual student needs, especially those of struggling students, developed academic and behavioral interventions, and conducted student and parent conferences as a team.
  • On the other two days per week during the collaborative meeting period, the mathematics department met to share and demonstrate grade-level lessons and resources to enhance coherence in instruction across grade levels and increase the rigor of instruction in Pre-AP and regular mathematics classes. The demonstration of grade-level “mini-lessons,” in particular, helped teachers to understand how key mathematical concepts had been and would be taught and to discuss the common vocabulary and approaches that should be presented consistently across grade levels with extensions to lay the foundations for the next grade level. This way, teachers were able to help students review concepts by referring specifically to and building from previous instruction.

Curriculum enhancement

  • Each summer, mathematics teachers met by grade level to modify and tailor the district-provided curriculum to create a comprehensive annual plan for campus mathematics instruction that improved the flow of instruction and highlighted opportunities to blend concepts, incorporated successful lessons and strategies already used at the campus, and reflected student needs as indicated by TAKS data. Teachers participating on grade-level teams were paid for 20-30 hours of summer meeting time, which was scheduled by individual teams over the course of the summer break. As part of the plan, teams created a schedule for instruction over the year, developed lessons, and created common assessments, including diagnostic tests and semester benchmarks that teachers would use as the year progressed. Staff emphasized that while the annual plan provided an outline for instruction on a weekly and day-to-day basis, it was flexible, and refinements and modifications were continuously added throughout the year.
  • Teachers met during the collaborative planning period to enhance and refine lessons to be used in the instructional plan based on ongoing classroom assessments and teacher research. Teachers were expected to conduct ongoing research by looking at materials, books, and manipulatives from other grade levels, other districts, online resources, publications, professional organizations, and professional development to identify additional tools and resources and/or approaches for refining lessons. Staff reported that these expectations helped teachers to really understand the lesson and material, rather than just printing off an existing lesson plan from the district curriculum. Ongoing refinements included creating lessons targeting specific identified student needs; incorporating real-world examples and applications; providing learning choices, cooperative learning, “discovery” and project-based lessons; integrating use of manipulatives to demonstrate all concepts; and choosing lessons that provided “entry points” for every level.
  • Staff reported that this ongoing refinement and improvement of lesson plans was expected, and the principal did not allow teachers to simply cut and paste the previous year’s lesson plans.  

Student engagement

  • In lesson development, staff emphasized “discovery” type activities and projects that demonstrated real-life applications of mathematics learning. An example of a discovery-based activity involved students measuring a variety of triangles to identify which one aligned with the Pythagorean Theorem, rather than the teacher just telling students how to identify a right triangle. An example of a real-world application project involved a lesson in which students conducted job and salary research and calculated income and expenses associated with career/lifestyle choices with cross-curricular extensions in other classes. These types of projects were designed and coordinated through grade-level teams during collaborative planning periods.
  • Staff also reported allowing students to choose topics around project-based activities included in the district curriculum, increasing student choice and interest in some mathematics projects, and extending the projects through cross-curricular instruction.
  • Teachers regularly brought ideas for projects to collaborative meetings to get other teachers’ input and ideas.

Increased instructional time

  • While the campus did not have double-blocked scheduling for mathematics, and typically had large classes (25-30+), the department developed a number of options to provide additional support for struggling students, including remedial electives for the lowest performing students, before- and after-school tutoring, Saturday school, and pull-out interventions.
  • Beginning in 2007–08, the campus targeted the lowest performing Grade 8 students who had a history of failure in mathematics for a special daily SSI (Student Success Initiative) mathematics course taught by master teachers. These classes focused on foundational skills, language barriers (as staff reported that this was a common issue for many students who were struggling with mathematics), and exposure to key concepts. The campus also began offering an additional remedial elective class for these students to provide additional instructional time. Teachers for both the SSI and remedial courses were trained in English as a second language (ESL) strategies.
  • Campus mathematics teachers also provided both daily individual and/or small-group tutoring for students in their classes before and after school. Teachers shared tutoring topics/schedules during collaborative periods, and if a teacher was going to offer tutoring in a specific concept area, other teachers in the department would send students from their classes needing support in that area to the tutoring session. Alternatively, if a teacher identified a need for his/her students, the teacher who taught the concept the best (as indicated by performance data) would teach a group tutoring session for those students. Tutoring topics were based on day-to-day classroom assessments and performance.
  • The principal emphasized that Title I funding was set aside for supplemental pay for teachers who worked extra hours to provide tutoring, though staff reported that many teachers did not “clock in” for the extra pay and provided the extra student support on their own time.
  • The campus also offered 10 Saturday school sessions for each core content area throughout the year. The focus of Saturday school was on improving student understanding of TAKS objectives based on data review.
  • In the spring, tutoring emphasis shifted toward the upcoming TAKS. In addition, the campus also provided pull-out sessions (during electives) for those struggling students who teachers felt needed extra support to pass TAKS.
  • For students who were struggling in Algebra I in Grade 8, the campus offered an elective support course. Students could participate for one or both semesters, and the course was designed to provide additional support to keep struggling students in Algebra I, rather than being placed back in a Grade 8 mathematics course. Students were identified for the course by teachers either the prior year or at the beginning of the year after a diagnostic assessment.  

Identifying student and teacher needs

  • The campus conducted review of TAKS data to create student, teacher, and department profiles, highlighting areas of strength and areas for improvement. Individual student profiles identified content objective areas in which a student needed additional support and tutoring. Teacher profiles highlighted which classes were having problems and with what concepts. The department profile identified which teachers’ students were performing well, which teachers needed to improve instruction and in which areas, and which classes or grade levels needed interventions.
  • The teacher and department profiles were used to provide peer coaching and professional development. As an example, staff reported that the profile might show that 40% of teacher A’s students were passing a certain objective while 90% of teacher B’s students were passing. The department would then pair those teachers up to arrange observations, team teaching, and other ways for the teachers to share and observe effective practices in teaching the concept.
  • Peer coaching/pairing occurred both within and outside the department. For example, if a teacher needed support in classroom management, he/she might be paired with the best teacher on the campus in another department to observe exemplary classroom management practices. Staff reported that the goal was always to pair the best teacher possible, as indicated by student performance data, with a struggling teacher.
  • The campus also developed programming to provide systematic new teacher support and development to build new teachers’ skill sets quickly. New teacher support included starter materials, reflection tools, and growth plans; identification of mentors; regular communication from the department chair and administrators; and celebrations of accomplishments through small social gatherings. A series of meetings to introduce new teachers to the campus mathematics program were scheduled on a six-week basis. Details of the support schedule can be accessed at http://www.ipsi.utexas.edu/docs/alg_readiness_toolkit/greiner.pdf.
  • Staff reported that teachers who did not want to be helped did not remain at the campus.
  • Staff also reported that the high standards and expectations for mathematics teachers were communicated during the hiring process to ensure that new teachers were aware they would be expected to provide regular tutoring, teach Saturday school, collaborate intensively with peers, and conduct continuous research and planning to improve instruction.
  • Professional development included external training as well as campus- and district-initiated book studies and research reviews. External training included Laying the Foundation training, which, in the past, all mathematics teachers were encouraged to attend. Beginning in 2009–10, the campus began requiring that all mathematics teachers attend Laying the Foundation training with district funding. Staff also reported that approximately 75% of mathematics teachers participated in the state Conference for the Advancement of Mathematics Teaching (CAMT) each summer, redelivering lesson demonstrations and new ideas from different CAMT sessions to other teachers during the departmental collaborative planning period. 

Parent involvement

  • The campus offered a parent night at the beginning of the year to help parents understand student expectations in each core content area so they would be better able to support their children. At these presentations, teachers showed parents examples from each of the core subject areas of what student work should look like. In mathematics, for example, parents were shown that a mathematics homework assignment would not simply involve circling answers on a multiple-choice worksheet but would also require evidence of the student working out the problem and written explanations and definitions. Staff reported that this approach was received positively by parents.

Technology integration

  • Because more than half of the campus’ students attended classes in portable buildings, access to technology had been limited due to safety and security concerns. Because Grade 8 courses were held in the main building, most of the technology integration had occurred at this grade level. Limited district funding for technology had also been an issue until recently due to the district policy of allocating technology funding primarily to the lowest performing campuses. Staff reported, however, that the district mathematics department had been effective in providing calculators, projectors, and document cameras.
  • Staff reported that all Grade 8 mathematics teachers had Smartboards, digital visual presenters (ELMO) and document cameras, and calculators. Staff reported incorporating video presentations to introduce lessons and the use of Powerpoint and other applications in Grade 8.
  • In Grades 6–7, access to technology had increased recently, though security was still a concern. Technology was incorporated into instruction based on teacher preference. Teachers could request technology and training, and the campus tried to fund the request with support from a mixture of campus and district funds.  


  •  ESL strategies
  • Laying the Foundation training
  • CAMT summer training
  • District and campus book studies, training, and peer coaching
  • Campus new teacher support system

Resources, Cost Components, and Sources of Funding: 
The practice was supported primarily with campus and district funds. Staff reported that Title I funding was used to support supplemental pay for teachers offering extended learning opportunities but that most teachers did not apply for the funds. 

Cost components included the following:

  • Supplemental teacher pay for summer planning and tutoring
  • Laying the Foundation training, CAMT participation, and other professional development
  • Instructional resources, including manipulatives, TAKS prep books, lesson planning resources, paper and other tools for classroom activities, and technology

Lessons Learned


  • Before the district-mandated collaborative period was implemented, grade-level teacher teams met after school to plan collaboratively. Staff reported, however, that the inclusion of the collaborative period during the school day was critical to the improvements in performance the campus had experienced.
  • The mathematics department had created a dynamic culture based on high expectations and mutual support and enrichment. The principal reported that teachers were willing to perform extra duties without pay and were dedicated not just to the students in their own classes but to all students on campus. Staff reported that teachers regularly engaged in informal social activities, such as eating lunch together in the classroom, and that the department helped to support this relationship building.
  • Staff reported they believed that the quality of the teacher was the most significant factor in making a difference in student learning, not more instructional time, which was limited at the campus by both larger class sizes and the lack of a double-blocked schedule.
  • Staff reported that the size of the department (17 teachers) allowed for a broader, richer sharing of ideas.  
  • Teachers reported that the administration was very supportive of teacher requests and worked to provide extra supports/resources for instruction, training, and technology. The principal reported that the district allowed the campus a degree of flexibility in designing instructional approaches based on its success.

Supporting Evidence

Evidence Type:
Established Best Practice

Overview of Evidence:
Since 2005–06, the percentage of GEAA students (all students) passing mathematics TAKS has improved. In 2005–06, 74% of GEAA students passed mathematics TAKS, compared to the state average of 72% and a peer campus group average of 59%.1,2 In 2009–10, 87% of GEAA students passed mathematics TAKS, compared to the state average of 81% and the peer campus group average of 81%. All comparisons were statistically significant (p<.05). Chart 1 shows trend data comparing the percentage of GEAA students passing mathematics TAKS to the state and peer campus group averages from 2005–06 to 2009–10. 

Since 2005–06, the percentage of GEAA students (all students) performing at the Commended level on mathematics TAKS also improved. In 2005–06, 12% of GEAA students performed at the Commended level, compared to the state average of 14% and a peer campus group average of 9%. In 2009–10, 32% of GEAA students performed at the Commended level on mathematics TAKS, compared to the state average of 26% and the peer campus group average of 20%. All comparisons were statistically significant (p<.05). Chart 2 shows trend data comparing the percentage of GEAA students performing at the Commended level on mathematics TAKS to the state and peer campus group averages from 2005–06 to 2009–10.

Staff also reported that the percentage of GEAA Grade 67 students participating in Pre-AP mathematics courses increased from approximately 20% in 2005–06 to approximately 50% in 2009–10. Similarly, the percentage of GEAA Grade 8 students participating in Algebra I increased from approximately 20% in 2005–06 to approximately 45% in 2009–10.

Greiner Chart 1: In 2005–06, 74% of GEAA students passed mathematics TAKS, compared to the peer average of 59%, and the state average of 72%. In 2006–07, 84% of GEAA students passed mathematics TAKS, compared to the peer average of 66%, and the state average of 75%. In 2007–08, 90% of GEAA students passed mathematics TAKS, compared to the peer average of 75%, and the state average of 77%. In 2008–09, 89% of GEAA students passed mathematics TAKS, compared to the peer average of 77%, and the state average of 79%. In 2009–10, 87% of GEAA students passed mathematics TAKS, compared to the peer average of 81%, and the state average of 81%.
Source: Texas Assessment Management System
Note: The campus served Grades 7–8 in 2005–06 and 2006–07 and Grades 6–8 in 2007–08, 2008–09, and 2009–10. Grade 8 data are from TAKS primary administration. 

Greiner Chart 2: In 2005–06, 12% of GEAA students passed mathematics TAKS at the commended level, compared to the peer average of 9%, and the state average of 14%. In 2006–07, 20% of GEAA students passed mathematics TAKS at the commended level, compared to the peer average of 11%, and the state average of 17%. In 2007–08, 40% of GEAA students passed mathematics TAKS at the commended level, compared to the peer average of 22%, and the state average of 28%. In 2008–09, 37% of GEAA students passed mathematics TAKS at the commended level, compared to the peer average of 21%, and the state average of 28%. In 2009–10, 32% of GEAA students passed mathematics TAKS at the commended level, compared to the peer average of 20%, and the state average of 26%.
Source: Texas Assessment Management System
Note: The campus served Grades 7–8 in 2005–06 and 2006–07 and Grades 6–8 in 2007–08, 2008–09, and 2009–10. Grade 8 data are from TAKS primary administration.

Research Base: 

A principal’s presentation on the GEAA approach to improving mathematics instruction can be accessed at http://www.ipsi.utexas.edu/docs/alg_readiness_toolkit/greiner.pdf

Contact Information

W.E. Greiner Exploratory Arts Academy
Dallas Independent School District
501 South Edgefield
Dallas, TX 75208
(972) 925-7100  


End Notes

1Peer campuses were identified using the campus groups used in Academic Excellence Indicator System (AEIS) reporting. For more information on how campus groups are identified, see the AEIS Glossary, http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/perfreport/aeis/2009/glossary.html.

2Averages are weighted averages including the number of test takers for the grade level(s) of the practice.