How data-driven math instruction improves outcomes measurably

Our comprehensive approach is based on being open to change and includes giving teachers access to engaging software, student data, coaches, consultants, PD—and, most importantly, more time to teach.
Barbara Haeffner
Barbara Haeffner
Barbara Haeffner is the assistant superintendent for teaching and innovation at Meriden Public Schools. She can be reached at [email protected].

At Meriden Public Schools, when we saw that many of our students were not performing on grade level when it came to math, we decided to shake up instruction. By adding time to their math block, ensuring teachers had access to data and the knowledge to put it to use, and deploying software that met their particular needs, we were able to turn things around.

We improved math outcomes by 18.7% from the 2021-22 to the 2022-2023 school years, compared to a 6.25% increase across the state. Here’s how it worked.

Making data accessible and actionable

We believe that data should drive instruction, and that means that teachers should not just have access to data, but also access to ideas and strategies for putting it to effective use.

More from DA: How one Texas superintendent makes the invisible visible to his community

We have a research department that provides data to all of our schools monthly. It includes information about behavior, such as suspensions and expulsions, results from “parent voice” surveys, and results from teacher surveys. We even conduct student “Getting to Know” You surveys so that, if a student is struggling, we can look at their interests to see how we can connect the material they need support with to whatever it is that gets them excited.

Our director of school leadership, Dan Crispino, oversees our eight elementary schools and ensures that instructional time is maximized and individual student needs are being addressed in a supportive timely manner.

Every Thursday, our professional learning community devotes time to discussing our data. From week to week, they may focus on assessment data from a content area, formative assessment data, benchmark data or whatever else they decide is important to dig into. Depending on the week’s goals, they may look at that data in aggregate or broken up by student subgroups to ensure that they are meeting the different needs of all students.

Some of those Thursday meetings are grade-level meetings, some focus on content and others are administrator meetings. Additional areas of focus are mapped throughout the year, and there is a specific person in charge of each one, so teachers know what data they need to review and come to the meeting prepared to discuss.

We also take minutes, which helps teachers put PLC recommendations into practice. As they come back week after week, they see the differences in their own practice and the results of those changes in their students’ growth. Over time, this has naturally led to very high buy-in among faculty.

Supporting teachers with coaches, consultants and PD

Instructional coaches also help our teachers look at the data and see where additional support and resources may be needed, but that’s just the beginning of their role. Coaches work with grade-level teachers on planning and then support them all the way through execution.

Our coaches spend a lot of time frontloading the curriculum for us. They look at the overarching curriculum to ensure it’s consistent and vertically aligned throughout the district, and then work with teachers on a regular basis. They may model lessons in the classroom, join in on a grade-level meeting or take some time in a Thursday PLC to reinforce areas in which teachers may need some extra help.

We also have a math consultant who comes in to work directly with the coaches. It’s nice to get an outside perspective on issues such as alignment, and they also provide feedback on progress and areas that need improvement.

We provide our teachers with continual professional development on a variety of topics, but when it comes to math, I think high expectations, accountability and support for experimentation are more important. Our teachers know what is expected of them, so they never wonder what they should be doing. We have a set structure for the math blocks, which helps a great deal with planning.

Our instructional coaches work in multiple grade-level classrooms, so they are able to flag issues that may be a challenge when teachers try out new techniques or strategies. It all comes together to allow our teachers to be effective, even as they are experimenting with new tools and practices.

Carving out more time for math instruction

Time is one area where we don’t have much flexibility. There are only so many minutes in the school day, so we had to get creative and look at our whole schedule to find an additional 30 minutes to add to our math block. We had a 30-minute success block for enrichment and intervention that we were able to cut down by pairing it with Tier I instruction. We also added more time by reducing transition time between classes, which required thoughtful planning to ensure students weren’t going to one class on an upper floor only to come back down for the very next class.

Our teachers really appreciated this effort. They feel the pressure of time as much as anyone else in our district, so they were happy that we were able to restructure the school day to give them additional time to work on math without having to give up much elsewhere.

Students who are not at grade level are all over the map. They each need support in different areas, but there’s only one teacher in a math class. While students are engaged in learning at their own level with the support of ST Math, our teachers are providing direct math instruction to small groups of students. To maximize the time they spend in math class, we wanted a program that would meet them where they were and allow them to work independently for part of the math block.

We chose ST Math because it allows students to work at their own pace, receive timely feedback, and make progress. It is aligned to our curriculum, so we use it as an opportunity to double-dip. We use a small group instruction model in our math blocks, so while a teacher is talking to one group of students, the rest of the class is moving through different rotations.

Teachers always want to do a good job. No one enters the field unless they believe it’s important work. Sometimes, just like students, they need additional support to meet their goals. Engaging software that meets students where they are and helps to stretch them toward grade level is helpful, but the best thing you can provide your teachers is an openness to change. Change always entails risk, but if you’re willing to take that risk, you’re likely to find some new elements that are effective and measurably improve the education of all your students.

Most Popular