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Changing the Odds: A Short-Cycle Approach to Improving StudentsLong-Term Mathematics Outcomes

A San Diego Unified School District/UC San Diego Partnership Project Funded by the US Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences (IES)


Continuous Improvement Partnership Project Work in San Diego

In June 2015, IES awarded the San Diego Education Research Alliance (SanDERA) at UC San Diego and San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) a new partnership grant, entitled Changing the Odds: A Short-Cycle Approach to Improving StudentsLong-Term Mathematics Outcomes.  The partners committed to using tools developed in their earlier Academic Trajectories project to design and implement mechanisms for identifying middle-school students who are “off track” with respect to progress toward a range of mathematics outcomes (e.g., successfully completing required mathematics courses in grade 9, passing the mathematics portion of the CAHSEE in grade 10, completing required a-g mathematics courses in high school), and then:

  • using diagnostic mathematics assessments to identify specific topics/concepts that students do not understand,
  • providing mathematics interventions targeted to students’ specific areas of need,
  • assessing students’ learning gains in those areas following intervention,
  • repeating the assessment-intervention-reassessment cycle until students are back on-track,
  • evaluating the efficacy of the continuous improvement model and interventions (overall and for particular groups of students) in improving student outcomes, and
  • refining and disseminating the model so that it, too, continually improves.

Math teachers at four SDUSD project schools use Data-Driven Decision Making (DDDM) strategies in their Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) to establish math goals for students, administer a range of appropriate formative and summative math assessments, diagnose students’ specific areas of difficulty, identify and use a range of curriculum materials and teaching strategies to address students’ learning needs, and monitor students’ progress in ongoing continuous improvement cycles over the four years of the grant period. 

Project schools are receiving support related to DDDM, PLCs, math pedagogy, differentiated instruction, and curriculum development from a full-time Project Resource Teacher, district central office staff, faculty and staff in the Economics and Education Studies Departments, and the Mathematics Diagnostic Testing Project (MDTP).


The Research Component of the Project

The project’s research goal is to determine the extent to which implementing a Continuous Improvement model – with diagnostic assessments, DDDM, PLCs, coaching, and curricular and pedagogical supports – impacts student achievement in math.  To inform the study, SDUSD and UCSD researchers are gathering student achievement data, administering two teacher surveys each year, interviewing project teachers and principals, as well as central office staff associated with the project, attending some of the schools’ PLC meetings, and reviewing documents related to project work.  Teachers are compensated for completing surveys and participating in project interviews. 

Via survey, researchers will determine 1) what project-based assessments teachers are using, 2) whether teachers are using the diagnostic features online reporting, 3) what site-developed curriculum materials teachers have used, 4) whether curriculum materials and assessments have been useful, 5) whether teachers are confident that they know how to use the tests and materials, and 6) if teachers think that differentiated instruction results in increased student engagement.

The annual interviews with teachers, principals, and central office staff will focus on 1) beliefs about data use and its role in improving instructional practice in math, 2) the types of data used in instructional planning and the role of the project in influencing the planning process, and 3) the successes and challenges interviewees have faced in using diagnostic assessment data to change the odds of student success.

Observations at PLCs and Summer Math Summits will document 1) how the use of diagnostic assessment data influences instructional planning and the identification of students in need, 2) the extent to which teachers rely on each other in making sense of data and planning for instruction, 3) the role of the project resource teacher in supporting the PLC, and 4) structures, norms, and expectations that shape data use discussions.


Project Leadership

Changing the Odds is a university-district partnership project that brings together staff from UCSD and SDUSD.  The Principal Investigator (PI) of the project is Julian Betts, Professor, Department of Economics at UCSD.  Co-PIs include Amanda Datnow (Professor, Department of Education Studies at UCSD) and Ronald Rode (Director of Research and Development for SDUSD).  Co-Investigators include Kimberly Samaniego (Statewide Director, MDTP), Ann Trescott (Outreach Coordinator, MDTP), Karen Volz Bachofer (Director, SanDERA), Wendy Ranck-Buhr (Instructional Support Officer, SDUSD), and Andrew Zau (Senior Statistician, SanDERA).  Kira Rua (SDUSD) is the Project Resource Teacher.


Project Timeline

July 1, 2015 through June 30, 2019


Contact Information

For additional information, please contact Julian Betts, Department of Economics, UC San Diego ( or Ron Rode, Office of Research and Development, San Diego Unified School District (