Low math scores on recent End-of-Course-Tests (EOCTs) have the Newton County School System considering hiring a consulting firm to train teachers of high school mathematics.

Richard Nyankori, executive vice president of Insight Education Group, presented a proposal at the Board of Education’s Tuesday work session. Nyankori said Insight would provide a combination of in-person and online coaching for 10 NCSS Algebra I teachers. The 10 teachers would receive two hours of in-person coaching per month and six 1-hour virtual coaching sessions during a six-month period from Oct. 1 through April 30, 2014.

The coaching sessions would provide real-time feedback to teachers, and follow-up on ideas and strategies discussed during the coaching sessions to help improve their instruction, he said.

The estimated cost of the professional learning program would be $95,950.

Shannon Buff, NCSS director of secondary curriculum, instruction and professional development, said Newton County Schools began teaching Common Core Georgia Performance Standards, which included new mathematics curriculum, last fall.

Spring 2013 marked the first year for the Coordinate Algebra EOCT test, replacing the Math I portion of the tests. In Coordinate Algebra, EOCT scores were extremely low for the state and the district, NCSS officials reported in July.

Coordinate Algebra, taken by ninth-graders, had a 19.4 percent pass rate in the school system, compared with the state pass rate of 37 percent. All three Newton high schools scored below the state score on the Coordinate Algebra test.

"The results that we got were not what we expected on the state level, and definitely not at the district level," Buff said to the Board Tuesday. "The curriculum was much more rigorous. It was different for the teachers. It was different for the students.

"It was difficult for all of them."

Buff said the school system was approached by Insight Education Group in the spring to conduct a pilot program that used the View Path system for online instructional coaching. Pilot teachers reported that program was very successful, Buff said.

Buff also said during the meeting that she has talked with teachers who were "very excited" to participate in the program.

"A partnership with Insight Education Group would be very beneficial to us to build capacity within our mathematics department," Buff said.

Nyankori said Insight Education Group has expertise in helping minority and low-income students achieve at the same level as their peers. The educational consulting firm has worked with Baltimore City Public Schools, Chicago Public Schools, District of Columbia Public Schools, the Tennessee Department of Education and several other school districts around the country.

Nyankori said Insight’s philosophy on professional learning for teachers "should be about growth and not about gotcha."

He explained that part of what makes Insight’s program successful is that its staff consists of educators who have taught the curriculum.

"Algebra I particularly is an important gateway course for many students. It’s so important that it has social justice implications about continuing on to college," Nyankori said. "We can trace achievement in Algebra I to many positive life outcomes and the exact opposite as well.

"We take Algebra I very, very seriously."

BOE member Eddie Johnson asked if adding another professional development program would add more to the plate of principals and teachers who are participating in other professional development programs.

However, Buff said teachers already have days for professional learning built into the school system calendar, and these would not be additional days.