Spokane Public Schools Find a Clear Path to Math Achievement

Schools ensure consistency, student-centered learning, and worthwhile professional development with Carnegie Learning.

Spokane Public Schools math teachers at The National Institute.Challenges: 

  • Lack of instructional alignment or consistency across 
    five high school campuses
  •  Limited opportunities for problem-solving and critical thinking
  • Teachers needed support to implement student-centered learning


Populations Served: Grades 9-12


  • Increase in SBA scale scores for students who worked on MATHia
    • 14-28 SBA scale score points for every 10 points of MATHia’s APLSE score
    • Increases of 7-22 scale score points for each set of 10 MATHia workspaces completed
  • Better instructional alignment across five high school campuses
  • Increase in student-centered learning experiences
  • Higher teacher engagement in robust professional learning experiences

Spokane Public School District is the fourth largest in Washington state, serving nearly 6,000 students across five high school campuses. The student population encompasses a wide range of socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds, learning differences, and speaks nearly 80 languages.

This is the story of how Spokane high schools are developing a culture of every student finding their voice in math class and empowering teachers to help their students get there.

The search for a clear path forward

Josh Harrison, Secondary Math Coordinator and educator of 20 years, describes Spokane as a district of passionate educators who cared deeply about providing a comprehensive math education to their students but were teaching with different approaches, materials, and preferences.

“Everyone had such strong feelings about what math should look like in each building,” he shares. “We needed to find something everyone could stay on the same page with.”

With no consistent curriculum they agreed on, students were especially at a disadvantage if they transferred to another school in the district, creating larger and larger learning gaps.

“In recent years, the number of students switching schools has been increasing,” says third year Algebra 1 and 2 teacher Drake Zielske. “We need consistency for all students, even if they have to move buildings.”

Another challenge Spokane needed to address was the search for a math solution that would strike the right balance of student-centered learning while covering all standards—and having the right professional learning to support teachers' confidence in their practice. 

So, how did Spokane move forward in a way that addressed concerns about consistency and critical thinking while supporting each teacher’s unique implementation journey?

Enter the Carnegie Learning High School Math Solution (HSMS), a program the district has used since 2018. A core math solution that combines the write-in, consumable text MATHbook with the AI-driven, one-to-one software MATHia, the Carnegie Learning HSMS provided the stability students needed and an instructional approach teachers could agree on. 

“Now, even if a student moves from Rogers to North Central, they know the book and online program will be the same,” Zielske explains. “Using Carnegie Learning has guided us all in the same direction.”

“And my teachers have a curriculum they’re confident covers every standard they need to hit,” Harrison adds.

Developing problem-solvers and critical thinkers

Harrison and the adoption committee knew finding materials that promoted critical thinking and problem-solving for all students was paramount. “We want to be a place where all students find their voice and see themselves as problem solvers,” shares Harrison.

The Carnegie Learning HSMS met Spokane teachers and students where they were on that journey and partnered with them to move forward.

“Carnegie Learning presents problems that allow students to authentically engage in problem-solving and learn new math while they do it,” Harrison says. “And after all, how do you position your students as critical thinkers if they don’t get to problem-solve?”

“We’re working towards building thinking classrooms,” continues Zielske. “MATHbook is the best resource for that. Plus, the structure of the materials means I always know what we’ll be doing for the day, and I have a very clear idea of how it fits into the larger scope and sequence of Algebra 1 and 2.”

MATHia contributes to climbing SBA scores

Spokane’s progress hasn’t stopped at developing critical thinkers and problem-solvers—their math state tests, called the Smarter Balanced Assessments (SBA), have seen score improvements, too.

According to data compiled by the Carnegie Learning team, for every 10-point increase in MATHia’s Adaptive Personalized Learning Score (APLSE), Spokane students saw an increase of 14-28 SBA scale score points. Every ten MATHia workspaces completed was associated with an increase of 7-22 scale score points across grade levels.

Spokane leaders are also optimistic about the impact of MATHia on their diverse student populations, particularly among students with poor attendance. They’ve noted higher SBA pass rates in students who completed MATHia workspaces than in those who did not.

“It feels good to see that happen,” says Harrison. “And then you start thinking about what that can do for all kids across the system. To have that rising tide lift all the ships would be great.”

Supporting teachers leads to student-centered learning

In the quest for a clear, consistent, and comprehensive path forward, math leaders in Spokane knew that a worthwhile math solution would serve teachers just as much as students—and that students reap the benefits when teachers feel supported and confident in their practice.

The design of MATHbook fosters collaborative problem-solving and discourse, which can be a tricky—but ultimately worthwhile—change for some teachers.

“Before Carnegie Learning, my teaching style was very sit-and-get,” shares Will Johnson, high school math teacher of 16 years. “It definitely took some adjusting to get used to the students talking and sitting in groups instead of rows and columns. But it’s been worth it.”

Harrison has also noticed that teachers benefit from leading collaborative classrooms that center on student discourse rather than teacher lectures. “Now I see my teachers invigorated and empowered at the end of the day,” he shares. “Their buckets are filled, instead of feeling depleted and like they had to drag their students through every task.”

Professional learning that exceeds expectation

A key component to Spokane’s shift toward student-centered learning has been The National Institute (TNI), the annual math professional development event Carnegie Learning hosts each summer. 

“By far, TNI has been the best professional development I’ve ever been to,” says Johnson. 

Zielske agrees. “I learned so much at TNI. One of the best sessions I attended helped me understand how to personalize the kids' learning and focus the lesson on them. It was eye-opening to see how they can have fun, interact with each other, play games, and talk about math.”

“TNI sessions also showed me how to integrate the curriculum with my learning target for each day,” Zielske continues. “It’s been a big help for smoother implementation.”

Through their time at TNI, Spokane educators have felt empowered to shift from classrooms built on teacher-centered, traditional lectures to an environment of student-centered learning, critical thinking, and problem-solving. 

“I never want to stop facilitating an environment where students talk to each other about math and have their thinking elevated as they work with their peers,” states Harrison.

Optimism for the future state of Spokane math education

What is Spokane looking forward to as they continue their collaboration with Carnegie Learning?

“I want to keep trying new and progressive methods and to really build a thinking classroom,” shares Zielske. “I feel comfortable doing that because the Carnegie Learning High School Math Solution always provides a clear path forward, with strong resources and materials I can customize to fit my students.”

“I’m excited for the future,” Harrison adds. “We didn’t find a better resource than Carnegie Learning to put our students in the position of doing math successfully. I can’t wait to see where it leads.”