7 ways to use MAP Growth–informed learning to challenge and engage students

Yesenia was one of those students a teacher always remembers. A bright, shy, inordinately kind third-grader, she was born in Ecuador, moved to Quebec—and learned French—during kindergarten, then moved to the US and began learning English in the middle of second grade. Yesenia enjoyed math; she had strong number sense and showed fluency in her computation. Her emerging English language skills made word problems challenging, however, and her frequent moves had left some gaps in her mathematical education: content that she had either never been exposed to due to differences in curriculum or hadn’t had enough opportunity to engage in.

Yesenia’s experience is hardly unique. Teachers know that while they may be teaching a class of third-graders, what they are really teaching is a group of children with highly varied strengths, interests, experiences, and opportunities. This is particularly true following COVID-19 closures, when data shows that gains have been slower in math and reading compared to pre-pandemic years and that BIPOC students and those in high-poverty schools have been most affected.

Trying to support the diverse experiences and understandings of a class of students is an ongoing, challenging, and time-consuming activity. But it’s work that can—and should—be done.

Understanding where students are on their learning journey is critical

Too often, students like Yesenia are given access primarily to below-grade texts and skills-focused activities, or, in the case of math, they are accelerated too quickly to support true conceptual understanding. As a result, students either rarely catch up to grade-level expectations or, if they do, they are working with a shaky foundation.

Regardless of where students are on their learning journey, they should be given access to rich, rigorous, worthwhile, and challenging materials.

The key to supporting and differentiating for students is learning what they know and what experiences and funds of knowledge they bring to the classroom. Formative assessments and rich classroom conversations can illuminate where students are within the progression of the standards. Knowing what students know, as well as where they have misconceptions or unfinished learning, can inform daily classroom decisions such as what scaffolds best support access to an on-grade text or when a student may need a step back in the standards to relearn key concepts.

Best practices for using MAP Growth data to inform supplemental content decisions

Many teachers rely on supplemental materials to support differentiation. An independent survey conducted for NWEA in 2019 revealed that nearly 50% of teachers use four or more resources to supplement their core curriculum. This is one reason why NWEA partners with instructional content providers to help teachers use their MAP® Growth™ data to plan instruction. MAP Growth–informed learning pathways help you use MAP Growth data and save valuable time.

These instructional content providers include well-known tools you’re likely already using, like Khan Academy, Newsela, and DreamBox. They use MAP Growth data to help students build knowledge and develop key precursor understanding by placing them in learning paths that may connect them to off-grade content. How can you be sure you’re using these tools strategically to support students in their learning journey? The following best practices can save you time while ensuring effective, valuable, and equitable experiences for students.

1. Create a culture of high expectations for all students

Regardless of where students are on their learning journey, they should be given access to rich, rigorous, worthwhile, and challenging materials. Often, such materials are reserved for students who are exceeding grade-level expectations, while those who need support, scaffolding, or reteaching are provided with low-level, skills-based content. Such an approach both prevents students from developing a rich, interconnected web of understanding and sends the message that they are less capable than their peers. Providing all students with access to challenging materials conveys your confidence in their ability to persist and grow in their learning. Use this lens when selecting supplemental content to support students. Not sure of how to evaluate potential content? Check out Achieve’s frameworks for evaluating cognitive complexity in math and reading.

2. Remember that MAP Growth is only one data point

MAP Growth reflects a single test event. When examining MAP Growth–informed content recommendations, consider other sources of high-quality, informed data, such as other formative assessments and classroom performance and discussion, and adjust content recommendations accordingly.

3. Consider whether a student’s most recent MAP Growth score is in line with past results

This practice is especially critical following COVID-19 school closures, when learning overall was deeply affected and not all students were able to learn or test as usual. If a child’s score is significantly lower than you expect, review other data and talk with the student to determine if the drop truly represents their current achievement level or if it was impacted by external factors.

4.Pay careful attention to students who are at the extremes of the RIT band or percentile range for a particular grouping or learning path

The example below shows the MAP® Accelerator™ placement screen for a third-grade class. MAP Accelerator automatically integrates MAP Growth scores, Clever class rosters, and Khan Academy content to create math learning pathways for grades 3–8.

Margarita, a third-grader, is currently placed below grade in the Numbers & Operations/The Real & Complex Number Systems learning pathway. However, she is only one RIT point away from the on-grade path. Her teacher should take other data into account and consider whether Margarita would benefit more from a review of grade 2 content or from reinforcement of grade 3 content.

Although each instructional content provider is different, most will show the RIT ranges associated with a learning pathway and whether the pathway recommendation is based on overall RIT or instructional area RIT. By comparing these placement pages to your class report, you can quickly identify students who are on the cusp of landing in another pathway.

5. Keep on-grade content in mind when assigning learning paths

Many platforms either automatically sequence learning paths based on area of greatest need or allow students to choose which learning path/content to work on next. Think carefully about which pathways and specific content will support the current or upcoming on-grade lessons.

When preparing for a unit on volume, for example, you might instruct students to focus on their Measurement & Data/Statistics & Probability pathway rather than their Operations & Algebraic Thinking one. In the case of students working below grade in that pathway, leverage the coherence and progressions built into the standards and assign the specific precursor content related to that skill; in this case, Area.

In reading, below-grade texts may be used to build knowledge or increase interest in support of an on-grade text. For example, if the class is reading John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, you may use Newsela to assign passages about migrant workers and the Great Depression at a student’s independent reading level to help them better engage with the novel.

Content area should also be taken into consideration when prioritizing learning pathways. While skills typically build sequentially in math, in reading a concept that seems mastered at one text level may require additional or different support in a more complex text.

6. Engage in regular discussions with students about the level of content they interact with in their learning paths

Most instructional content providers have reporting that shows students’ progress through each learning path. In the MAP Accelerator example below, you might observe that the student has not engaged much with the Numbers & Operations learning path. This would be a great opportunity to meet with them and learn more. Are they being challenged? Are they getting opportunities to engage in productive struggle? Are there areas where they think they are working above or below their level of understanding?

Develop a routine where students regularly reflect on the level of challenge that their learning path presents. This can be done either as a weekly check-in or a journal entry. Such practices can both help students build self-awareness and understand their strengths. It also provides you with data on whether a student needs additional teacher intervention on a particular concept or skill, or if you need to adjust their learning path in a particular area.

7. Have students actively connect the content in their learning path to the work they are doing in class

Students should be able to see and articulate the connection between the supplemental work they do in their learning path and the core work they do as part of the whole class. Assigning daily or weekly journaling exercises is a great way to help student make this connection. Ask them to reflect on how a reading from their learning path helped them understand a complex text or made that text more interesting. What skills or concepts were they able to transfer to tackling a complex problem or task in class? Finding these connections helps students develop a rich web of understanding rather than accumulate a collection of disconnected ideas and skills. Making this a regular practice also supports a classroom culture of dialogue and self-reflection.

Opportunities to stretch and grow

MAP Growth data is an invaluable resource for differentiation that can help raise the bar for all students. With careful use, MAP Growth­–informed supplemental resources can support students’ progress in their learning journey by meeting them where they are and providing the background understanding, scaffolding, and reteaching they may need to engage with rich, challenging content. It can also make your planning and instruction more effective, saving you time and effort in the long run.

The following discussion questions can support you in this work, whether you’re an administrator or classroom teacher.

Questions for leaders

  • How can I support teachers to create a culture of high expectations for all students?
  • What different data sources are available for my teachers to make instructional decisions?
  • How can I provide time in teachers’ schedules to regularly discuss data with each other and students?

Questions for teachers

  • In what ways am I creating a culture of high expectations for all students?
  • What do data chats with students look like in my classroom?
  • How can I provide support for students who are at the extremes of the RIT band or percentile range for a particular grouping?

To learn more, watch our webinar “All eyes on math: Choosing learning tools teachers love” on demand.


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