3 ways to design virtual learning experiences that boost math scores

Todd Mahler
Todd Mahlerhttps://www.edmentum.com/
Todd Mahler is the chief product officer at Edmentum. For more than 25 years, Todd has led the development of educational technology products for the nation’s leading publishers.

Most teachers understand that recovering math scores depends on data-informed, student-centered instruction. But without the right technology to support teaching practices, it’s a methodology that’s difficult to deliver. Teachers and students deserve access to high-quality virtual learning environments that can scale personalized learning and boost student outcomes.

The need for data-informed, personalized plans to help students master math skills has never been more important. Low national test scores and the lingering impact of the pandemic on recovery rates have created an unprecedented math crisis.

The right virtual learning curriculum can help students progress in ways that put them in the driver’s seat of their own learning, enabling them to move quickly through content they comprehend and spend more time on elements that are challenging.

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Recently an ESSA tier 2 study conducted with a large, urban school district in Arizona found that students in grades 4-8 who used personalized learning pathways throughout the school year saw a sizable, positive, statistically significant increase in performance on state standardized tests across all grades in math. Results indicated that the average student accelerated their learning by 6 to 19 percentile points on the state assessment from one spring to the next.

Having partnered with thousands of school districts that have implemented virtual learning, I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. Understanding the key elements of high-quality virtual learning experiences can help districts support student learning recovery, including improvement in math scores.

Boosting math scores with engaging curriculum

Virtual learning gives teachers the opportunity to break away from modes of teaching where all students are learning the same content at the same time. By using technology, students follow an individualized plan mapped to specific skills they need to build. While this can happen without virtual learning, technology helps scale the effort.

However, virtual learning is more than watching an uploaded video or reading a PDF online. Just like high-quality offline curricula, digital content needs to be engaging, foster active learning, and challenge students with higher-order thinking.

Warm-up activities that activate prior knowledge, tasks that encourage productive struggle, and opportunities for voice and choice all enhance engagement. This results in motivated students who can stick with challenges and drive their own learning because they are interacting more deeply with the content.

For Nevada’s Clark County School District, the fifth largest district in the nation, this personalized approach proved critical after the pandemic, as educators strived to accelerate learning for a diverse student population, both in terms of geography and demographics. Data pinpointed each student’s learning gaps and academic strengths, allowing schools to tailor content to their specific needs. Early results showed that these learners demonstrated higher rates of growth on their NWEA MAP math scores, exceeding MAP growth norms.

Formative and mastery-based assessment

Virtual learning gives educators an easier opportunity to assess mastery for individual students, as well as classrooms. Instead of waiting for high-stakes test results, teachers can integrate state standards into online assessments to instantly measure how students are performing. Building in ongoing checks for understanding and on-demand scaffolds and supports can underpin this effort and provide teachers with more data to inform their instruction.

In districts like Cumberland Valley School District in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, educators use assessments in virtual learning to determine which standards most or all students are mastering, and which need more direct instruction. Teachers plan lessons accordingly until students master the skills they need.

Easy-to-access data

Data gathered from digital content can help educators plan for the future. Teachers who can access dashboards at any time can better understand which students need greater support—and what lesson content is too challenging—enabling educators to fine-tune their approach in the classroom. Data can even be used to set concrete, achievable goals to raise student math scores. It also can be incorporated into parent conferences to demonstrate where students are in their learning journey.

Beyond the classroom, data from virtual learning can be used at the school or district levels as well. Having access to data that shows student performance at any given time can help leaders understand how their district is performing overall. Through these diagnostic assessments, educators could predict student performance and provide just-in-time instruction long before standardized testing data was reported back to the district.

Supporting learning recovery and boosting student math scores continue to be priorities for districts. District leaders who choose to design or provide high-quality virtual learning environments where students have personalized paths informed by data can support those goals and enable greater student success.

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