The Power of the Learning Continuum: One Partner’s Journey in Data Analysis

The Power of the Learning Continuum: One Partner's Journey in Data AnalysisA few years ago, I was working with a district that was partnering with NWEA to help all kids grow and learn. This was a new experience for me. I had not experienced the power of MAP interim assessment data, previously. I remember that the district called upon me to help them establish an intervention program for math. They had thoroughly reviewed their MAP data, and realized that there was a significant problem with students’ math abilities in their district, especially in high school. It appeared from their data analysis that they had a pervasive problem that they needed to address.

Intervention Required

In an attempt to support student achievement in math, the leadership team determined that they should implement an intervention program in middle school to prepare students for high school math skills. They reviewed a number of programs and finally settled on a structured program that utilized manipulatives and visual strategies to address math concepts in grades K-8. Students participated in a readiness assessment to determine their entry levels into the program. Teachers implemented the program with fidelity and many students improved in their math abilities, based not only on their progress in the intervention program, but also on their MAP benchmark assessments. The problem was, not all students grew. Because the district was committed in their allegiance to all kids, they were not satisfied with their results.

As we began the journey of data analysis, we triangulated data for those students who continued to struggle, but results from all assessments provided us with the same information. They were struggling students. It was not until we began to look at the various goal strands in the MAP Learning Continuum that we were able to identify the areas that were truly an issue for these students. The Learning Continuum provided detailed information about what each student already knew, was ready to learn, and the skills that they were ready to have introduced. As we began to look at the Learning Continuum statements that each of these students had in common, we were able to identify some trends. Each of these students was struggling with Real and Complex Number Systems. This was easy to see on the Class Report, because each student had a very broad RIT band in this area, indicative of significant diversity in their skills.

Instructional Ladders Guide the Decision Making Process

With this realization, we determined that we needed to create instructional ladders for this strand. After creating the Complex Number Systems Ladders, we were able to see that each of these students struggled with three very basic concepts: vocabulary, describing numbers, and comparing numbers. We needed to dig a bit deeper to understand that the students were also struggling with sequencing word problems. Laddered instruction for vocabulary, describing numbers, and comparing numbers, helped to identify the word problem issue.

Now that all of the issues had been identified, the teachers were able to use the instructional ladders to form instructional groups that were targeted for remediating the identified gaps in vocabulary, describing numbers, comparing numbers, and sequencing word problems. Once students were receiving the appropriate instruction, the students began to show growth, not only on the MAP benchmark assessments, but also in their achievement on state outcome assessments. While many did not completely close the gap, they were making significant progress and this was a boost to their self-esteem, setting them on a positive cycle of learning in math.

Lessons Learned

Since this experience, I have joined the NWEA professional development team, and now help partners understand the power behind using MAP data and the Learning Continuum to help kids grow. I often call upon this experience to help partners understand how these tools can empower students, teachers, and administrators. As I continue my journey with NWEA partners, I am finding that there is great power for everyone when assessment identifies the “sweet spot” for instruction.  I see this as a true gift for students and teachers.