Friday, July 26, 2019

Data Analysis Matters: Teaching Math Better

I took a few moments to assess student informal and formal data points related to the math program recently. I am still a fan of a healthy combination of informal and formal assessment points to determine who is making progress and who, I believe, can make more or better progress. As I looked over the data, I have the following questions.

What is the best course of action for students who are consistently one to two years behind the class norms with regard to skills, concepts, and knowledge?
My reading points me in the direction of providing students like that with a consistent Response to Intervention (RTI) program five times a week with a same skilled educator who step-by-step works with a child or small group of children to help those children acquire the missing skills, concepts, and knowledge. I believe this should be in addition to a one hour a day scaffolded core program that integrates these children in deep, meaningful, and engaging project based learning and other types of learning experiences.

What is the best way to employ RTI for students who struggle, but are close to grade-level standards.
I believe that the best course of action is to match these students with skilled professional staff who work consistently several times a week to build these students perseverance, skill, concept, and knowledge in the areas where they need greater depth and understanding. I believe that these students should be taught with the premise that educators are leading them from dependence to independence and deep knowledge in all expected areas of the curriculum. This approach should include regular, quick, and targeted assessments to inform the educator in charge and support the child's progress.

How do we help students who are already meeting or exceeding grade-level standards?
These students are typically quite independent and motivated with their learning. Using a learning menu that includes a combination of online/real-time practice/learning opportunities as well as engaging, deep, and meaningful project based learning is an apt way to continually challenge and develop these students' interest, skill, and potential in math.

As I think about our past programming, I believe that we have been successful in the following ways:
  • Teaching all standards
  • Engaging students' interest
  • Providing thoughtful, engaging learning menus 
  • Integrating engaging project based learning
  • Providing substantial extra help opportunities
  • Providing helpful enrichment opportunities for students
  • Substantial time-on-task with math
  • Regular assessments to analyze progress and need, and to inform students' of their progress
  • Lots of one-to-one and small group math conferencing
Ways that I believe we can improve includes the following:
  • Matching our most challenged students whose formal and informal assessments demonstrate that they are one to two years below the grade-level expectations to the most qualified educators rather than teaching assistants on a regular basis
  • Providing more consistency of structure, educators, and time with regard to their service delivery
  • Fidelity to service delivery
  • Re-looking at their program schedule and making sure that the most challenged students are learning more than they are being tested. In some cases, due to the time it takes these students to complete a test, they are actually testing more than engaging in worthy learning opportunities
  • Re-looking at assessments and changing the way we assess some students to better inform our teaching program for those students
  • Finding ways to provide skilled extra support for students who do not have at-home academic support. For example, if families cannot provide transportation to extra help sessions, how can we ensure that students who would benefit can have access to extra help sessions?
A good analysis of multiple data points with a collaborative group can help you to see where your programming is strong and where it can be better. Last year I noticed that a small number of capable students did not perform well on multiple assessments. A hard look at those students pointed out to me that they did not have enough practice opportunities. This year I added a lot more practice opportunities and noticed that students like them did much better overall on multiple assessments including an informal assessment about focus and attention during class. This was a positive result of good informal and formal data analysis.

Next year, I hope to do the following:
  • Work with colleagues to rethink and reorganize the Response to Intervention (RTI) approach to provide an earlier start and more consistent, skilled support with a focus on individual student's areas of needs. I imagine the RTI revision to include some or all of the following:
    • Most skilled math teachers work with most challenged math students consistently 2-5 times a week for 30 minutes each to grow their math skill in consistent, developmental ways.
    • Other skilled math teachers work with small groups of students who are progressing towards meeting standards. This work involves a developmental approach to learning and solidifying essential skills, knowledge, and concept that is weak and expected for the grade level.
    • Remaining students work in homerooms with a scaffolded online learning menu that provides both online/offline learning practice opportunities to strengthen their grade-level and enrichment skill, concept, and knowledge. These sessions are managed by skilled teaching assistants. 
    • Students are placed in groups at the start of the year, and assessed at the mid-year point to determine whether there should be movement.
    • All students attend core math time and work w/a variety of standards-based learning experiences that are scaffolded so that everyone can access the learning and develop their knowledge, skill, concept. 
  • Rethink the way we assess students who are already one to two years behind the expected grade-level standards. Make sure we are teaching more than we are assessing.
  • Pay careful attention to scheduling to ensure that all students are getting enough time to study math with a goal of one hour a week plus at least two extra 30 minute periods a week. I'd like to add three more 30 minutes periods a week for our most challenged math students.
  • Continue to employ learning menus and craft those menus in order to give everyone a just right challenge and plenty of practice opportunities.
  • Develop the teaching program in specific areas where most students did not perform as expected. 
  • Embed more project-based, scaffolded learning opportunities.
  • Focus on the movement from dependence to independence in all we do.
  • Discuss and maintain good assessment protocols so we can relay on those formal and informal data points as accurate measures of student engagement, mindsets, and learning.
  • Make sure that staffing puts the most skilled math teachers with students who need the most help, and that those who are assisting the learning at the grade level are well versed in the math curriculum. 
There's always room for improvement. We can't rely on our subjective analysis alone as we improve our programs, but instead, a good mix of informal and formal assessments can help us to look deeply at the learning program's strengths and challenges. I enjoy using summer time to step back and take a big picture look at what we do well and how we can improve in the year ahead--that provides a good path for teaching well.

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