Essential Solutions 6-MIN. READ

How Portland Public Schools Achieved Great Success

By: Hayley Browning 09/22/2023
Learn about a district’s success with a discourse-based math program.
Three students in a classroom smiling.

“There’s a magic that happens when you bring a group of adults who are fully committed to serving kids,” says Alma Velázquez, principal at Jason Lee Elementary in Portland Public Schools. That magic that Alma is seeing has translated to great success across Portland PS. Let’s take a look at how they were able to achieve such exceptional growth across the board: 

Encourage Discourse

“Student discourse is key,” says Traniece Brown-Warrens, a principal at Markham Elementary in Portland PS. “The i-Ready curriculum has a lot of student discourse strategies.” 

One of these strategies that focuses on encouraging discourse among students is the Try–Discuss–Connect framework. “When students are able to not just hear something from their teacher, but talk about it themselves . . . and question each other, and answer and ask questions of one another, it multiplies what they’re able to learn,” said Alma.

Portland PS has focused on incorporating this routine in their day-to-day math lessons to ensure that their students are having those important math conversations and building out their conceptual knowledge to a deeper level. 

Ensure Teachers Have Collaborative Planning Time

Collaboration among teachers has proven time and time again to be effective. Some schools within Portland PS have taken that collaboration a step further and used the expertise of the teachers within their buildings to support others.

Traniece recognized a strength in one of her special education team members, in which she was able to pull and analyze data effectively for her small groups. She then encouraged that teacher to share her expertise with the staff. This support, coming directly from a fellow staff member, provided more buy-in amongst the other staff members. “It got other people to say, ‘Yeah, we want to try to pull that data as well,’” said Traniece.

Alma also incorporated thought leaders amongst her staff. Two teachers piloted i-Ready Classroom Mathematics, then were tapped in as “experts” who helped support the rest of the staff.

Alma also looks at it from an angle of, “It’s not just ‘train me as a teacher who’s teaching this for the first year,’ but ‘Let’s continue those conversations so we can really deepen our understanding of how to teach this better each year.’” She found it powerful to see that her staff is always learning—and supporting that learning—along the way through collaboration. 

Use Data to Drive Instruction

To really understand what’s going on across schools and districts, we have to look at data. Traniece says, “. . . data tells us a story, and if we don’t like the story that data is telling us, then we might want to figure out why the data is telling us that.” So, what did schools in Portland PS do with the data that they were seeing? 

Alma started with what is the core of the data telling us that needs to be addressed. She states, “The first thing we have to know is where the problem is—where are the gaps.” From there, intentional planning and collaboration that ensures students are getting all supports that they need can successfully happen. 

Engage and Support All Students

Making sure that students feel supported and encouraged is a great way to engage them in their math work. Reminding them that it’s OK to make mistakes, and that, in fact, is how we learn best, is always helpful. 

In Portland PS, teachers recognized the importance of engagement with their students. They incorporated multiple means of engagement, especially considering what each and every student was interested in. Traniece even started seeing that she needed to involve entire families in this process. She incorporates “Markham Morning Meetups,” where families can come in, have breakfast with their kids, and do different activities—even including getting support with math. 

Alma also noticed that supporting students is very important to ensure that they are learning effectively. She says, “The learning—it means that we’re able to take risks . . . do things that are difficult, and all of us do that when we’re feeling safe and when we’re feeling supported.” She makes sure that all students at Jason Lee Elementary feel a strong sense of belonging at school. When students feel like they belong, they feel safer, which then helps them feel more encouraged to take risks—especially in the four walls of the math classroom. 

To learn more about Portland Public Schools’ growth featuring the use of i-Ready Classroom Mathematics, please visit this press release