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Making Math Count in WHPS

Improving Student Outcomes by Improving Monitoring

We have been on a journey looking at the fundamental components of effective teaching. We began by focusing on the math goal. Then we looked at 7 highly effective research based instructional strategies. We will continue our series today exploring how to improve monitoring students in order to improve student outcomes.

More on Monitoring...

The dictionary defines the word monitor to mean observe and check the progress or quality of (something) over a period of time; keep under systematic review. We observe many different aspects of math learning and gather data in order to understand how students are developing over time. Teachers have the opportunity to monitor students in mathematics in several ways. We can use the data we gather to develop a story or picture of a student's understanding in math.


If you were asked by your principal right now, "Which of your students are succeeding in math and which are struggling?" you know because you are their teacher. If you are asked to prove it, the waters may become more muddy because our understanding comes from a broad series activities and events where we see student performance. We may not always formally gather the data. We can become better at monitoring by becoming more intentional gatherers of the data.

The Data We Have

We have access to many sources of data to assist us in developing the story of our students' progress over time.


  • AimswebPlus Fluency - This data helps us understand what our students can do efficiently. The focus is on automaticity and efficient use of strategies.
  • AimswebPlus Concepts and Applications - This data provides a snapshot of a students strengths and weaknesses with the learning domains and progressions of Grade Level Standards.
  • End of Unit Assessments - The data from these assessments inform us about what our students know and can do at the end of a learning unit. These assessments are directly tied to the standards and key concepts taught in a unit.
  • Common Formative Assessments (CFA) - The data we gather from CFA's lets us know the effectiveness of a mini-lesson or how a student is progressing as new learning occurs. The purpose of this data is to give the teacher the information needed to adjust instruction in a timely manner to meet the needs of diverse learners. This data can also be gathered over time to show trends.



In addition to these sources of data, you can gather your own data that will be useful in understanding the math story of your students.


  • Checklists are a great way to gather data on students. As you consider the goals of the lesson or series of lessons, determine what you should be able to see students do. Make a chart with student names and a checklist of the behaviors or indicators that will show you students have an understanding of the math. Bring the checklist with you during math instruction as you meet with groups, confer with individual students or guide students during whole group instruction, so you are ready to record observations of students and their understanding. This data can inform instruction or be a deciding factor in creating groupings for students. This data may help you know it is time for some students to extend learning and for others to participate in a reteaching group.
  • Questioning during classroom discussions lets you check for understanding and adjust instruction in real time.
  • Conferring gives you one-to-one time with a student to ask questions and develop a picture of the student's understanding.
  • Entrance/Exit Tickets give immediate feedback on understanding. This can be one quick problem at the end of a mini-lesson, and student answers are sorted on the spot in order to form a group of students that need more support today. It can also be a single problem at the end of a lesson that you review as you prepare for tomorrow's lesson. You might even use white boards so students can flash you their answers, and you can determine if students have a concept or need additional work. The advantage of using exit tickets is they give you immediate, actionable information. The drawback is it doesn't typically show comprehensive understanding.
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Systematic Review

According to Principles to Action: Ensuring Mathematical Success for All (2014) "Effective teaching of mathematics uses evidence of student thinking to assess progress toward mathematical understanding and to adjust instruction continually in ways that support and extend learning. " (p. 53) Therefore, it is not enough to gather the data, but in order to improve monitoring student progress, we must systematically use the data we have to impact instruction.


First, we must see evidence of student understanding of the mathematics. This is more than just a correct answer, but indicators of student thinking and how student understanding is developing over time. In addition to the data described above, evidence must be gathered purposefully, frequently, regularly, and based on high expectations. This will allow the teacher to monitor student growth over time and adjust instruction as needed. Some examples of how this data can be gathered include:


  • Assigning high-leverage tasks that reveal student thinking and understanding
  • Construct key questions, prior to teaching, to draw out specific understandings, gaps in understanding, or common errors.


Then, teachers must reflect on the evidence, or absence of evidence, in order to interpret and respond to what students say or do. Data alone will not improve student achievement. It is only when we use the data or evidence to change our instruction in order to help students deepen their conceptual understanding, while moving them toward procedural fluency and advanced mathematical reasoning, that we activate the power of monitoring progress to improve learning outcomes.

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From Principles to Actions: Ensuring Mathematical Success for All (2014) NCTM p. 56