As described in its official website, PRISM (Partnership for Reform in Mathematics and Science) "is an initiative of the University System of Georgia designed to increase science and mathematics achievement for all P-12 students in order to improve their readiness for post-secondary education and careers by enhancing teacher quality, raising expectations for all stakeholders, and closing achievement gaps." (http://www.gaprism.org) The initiative began in 2003, funded by a five-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).
In 2003-04, 2004-05, and 2005-06 one PRISM strategy to increase student achievement and reduce achievement gaps focused on encouraging elementary teachers to earn the University System of Georgia's P-5 mathematics endorsement. (For 2006-07 and 2007-08 that strategy has been rolled into the strategy to provide high quality professional development to P-12 mathematics and science teachers.) As described below, this course sequence grew out of a state-wide initiative to improve teacher content knowledge in mathematics, and is thus aligned with PRISM's goal of enhancing teacher quality.
Origins of the P-5 Endorsement
Convinced of a causal relationship between teacher content knowledge and student achievement, the University System of Georgia changed a certification requirement for Early Childhood Education majors in 2002. Since then, pre-service P-5 teachers have been required to complete four prescribed, rigorous mathematics courses. However, prior to 2002, P-5 teachers were able to earn certification having completed as few as one college-level mathematics course.
Georgia education leaders recognized the importance of increasing in-service P-5 teachers' mathematics content knowledge to improve student achievement and reduce achievement gaps in mathematics. As a result, faculty from the mathematics and mathematics education departments of University System of Georgia institutions of higher education (IHEs) joined members of the Georgia Department of Education and the Professional Standards Commission (PSC) to form the Georgia Mathematics Consortium in February 2003.
The Consortium developed a four-course, 12-credit hour sequence to provide in-service P-5 teachers with the knowledge and skills needed to competently teach the new Georgia Performance Standards (GPS) in mathematics. The four courses are Understanding Numbers and Operations, Understanding Geometry, Understanding Algebra, and Understanding Data Analysis and Probability.
Georgia IHEs and Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs) that provide professional development for teachers were invited to submit applications to the PSC to offer the P-5 mathematics endorsement.
PRISM P-5 Mathematics Endorsement Courses
PRISM functions in four Georgia regions. One region, Northeast Georgia, achieved greater success than other regions in recruiting and retaining teachers in its endorsement program.
The P-5 Mathematics Endorsement courses offered through Northeast Georgia PRISM are keyed to Professional Standards Commission standards. The course descriptions include purpose statements, learning outcomes, course objectives (both mathematical content and pedagogy), as well as resources and instructional details. The sequence consists of four courses: Numbers and Operations, Understanding Geometry, Understanding Algebra, and Data Analysis and Probability. Numbers and Operations serves as a pre-requisite for the other courses, which can be taken in any order after satisfying the pre-requisite.
It is worth noting that although the content focus varies by course, several high-level goals remain consistent throughout the sequence. Those goals are as follows:
Solve problems using multiple strategies, manipulatives, and technological tools; interpret solutions; and determine reasonableness of answers and efficiency of methods.
Nurture collaboration, critical thinking, hands-on exploration, manipulative use, problem-based inquiry, technology utilization, and activity implementation addressing various learning styles and multiple intelligences.
Select and use a variety of formative and summative assessment techniques to monitor student progress, gauge students' mathematical understanding, and interpret school-based progress.
Additional contextual factors
Another important contextual component is the State of Georgia's transition from content-coverage curriculum model to a standards-based model. From the 1980s to the early 2000s, K12 education in Georgia was governed by the curricula that resulted from the Quality Basic Education (QBE) Act of 1985. By the late 1990s, the QBE curricula were widely seen as too broad and too shallow to allow for the effective education of students in the 21st century. Reflecting national trends, the Georgia Department of Education (GDOE) began developing the Georgia Performance Standards (GPS) in 2002.
The shift from the QBE curriculum to the Georgia Performance Standards marked an increased focus on student achievement and learning.