Hi everyone!

As we close out this first semester and gear up for the second, it is important to consider how far we have come, and how far we must still go as a cohort. Part of my role is defining what the trends are within our math cohort and providing support for teachers and coaches in alignment with these trends. The information that is used to define these trends comes from (but is not limited to)…

  • Classroom observations from me and your TLD Coach (aligned to Engagement with Rigorous Content and Culture of Achievement).
  • Student achievement data that you share with us.
  • Your responses on professional development exit forms.
  • Your First Eight Weeks Survey responses.
  • Feedback from our Math Subject Leaders and PLC Coordinators.
  • Anecdotal and qualitative data such as student work, responses in professional development experiences, and so on.

These data points provide a fairly holistic picture of where our cohort is in regards to our Vision of Mathematics in Mississippi, specifically in relation to our four outcomes of academic achievement, critical consciousness, cultural competency, and student leadership. So what does this data tell us?

(Note: I’ve taken some of the language about these metrics from Jacob Carroll’s great post to the Humanities cohort. If you haven’t taken a look at the Culture of Achievement and Engagement with Rigorous Content framework in a while, definitely take a quick look right now – some of the titles like “engaged and on-task,” “apathetic or unruly,” “passive and confused” and so on can actually be misnomers if they are read without the context of how the framework describes these bands).

Data Point #1: Progress Known

  • What is Progress Known (PK)?

PK is basically a “Yes” or “No” answer to the question: “do we have reliable and complete data on where students stand in this classroom?”

  • How do you collect reliable and complete data?

The reliable and complete data comes from you teachers sharing it with your TLD Coach and/or Content Specialist. As long as you have data for student progress on ALL your Metrics (you must have data on content mastery and performance tasks), and you have shared a reliable assessment with us, then your students are PK!

  • What does the PK data tell us?

PKQ2Almost half of our classrooms are assessing students not just on their mastery of content standards, but also on rich mathematical tasks that build their mathematical practices and prepare them for the PARCC PBA and college-level math courses. The single biggest determinant holding this number back is performance tasks. This makes sense given that performance tasks are relatively new for many of us (I know that my high school math classes often focused more on rote memorization than diverse application of math concepts), but is also alarming due to the rapidly approaching PARCC PBA. As a reminder, students will be assessed for their alignment to the mathematical practices, not just content standards, on the state-required PARCC PBA in April, which means that performance tasks aren’t a bonus; they are a necessity. On a more fundamental level performance tasks are a vital part of rigorous, transformational math teaching, but even on the immediate surface level they are part of important and high-stakes PARCC assessments that our students will be taking in just a few months. Students deserve an opportunity to experience rigorous tasks in 100% of our classrooms, and we need to make it happen as soon as possible.

Data Point #2: Culture of Achievement

  • What is Culture of Achievement (CoA)?

CoA is the quality of the classroom culture that your students enjoy as they are learning. Some people think immediately about “management” but CoA goes well beyond that: it’s the way in which your students actively maintain and foster a positive environment because of the way they care about their learning.

  • How do you collect data around CoA?

CoA is determined by the TLD Coach in collaboration with your thinking after an observation, using the Culture of Achievement Pathways rubric to inform our terminology. This then gets collected in our Program Tracker so we can analyze the data at different levels.

  • What does the CoA data tell us?


About ¼ of math classrooms have a majority of students who are not demonstrating effort or interest towards learning activities and are unclear or uninvested in classroom goals. I have some evidence I’ll share in a moment that leads me to believe that many of these classrooms are where students aren’t been challenged in supportive ways and where there may not be a vision of rigorous (beyond procedural) goals for their math experience. However, we also see that a majority (almost 60%) of our math classrooms are “engaged and on task”, meaning that students at least are doing the work they are presented with and see to understand some purpose for their math class experience. Only in 14% of our classrooms have students been observed being consistently fired up about their classroom experience and goals.

Data Point #3: Engagement with Rigorous Content (ERC)

  • What is Engagement with Rigorous Content (ERC)?

ERC is the level of rigor at which students are engaging with the content. Some people think immediately about “difficulty” of the questions being asked by the teacher, but this goes well beyond that: it’s the depth and sophistication with which students are thinking about and working within the content.

  • How do you collect data around ERC?

ERC is determined by the TLD Coach in collaboration with your thinking after an observation, using the Engagement with Rigorous Content rubric to inform our terminology. This then gets collected in our Program Tracker so we can analyze the data at different levels.

  • What does the ERC data tell us?


There are some classrooms where students are confused or are simply being asked to do rote procedures without context. A majority of our classes (nearly 60%) are factual, recall, or procedural in nature. This means we are often observing students who are given “steps” or “tricks” to solve procedural problems but are not being allowed to discover and explore the context, reasoning, or relevance of their work. This isn’t surprising given how prominent this traditional approach is in mathematics (heck, like I said, it’s how I was taught), but it is also worrying given that the “drill and kill” or “I do, we do, you do” approach to teaching is simply not a particularly impactful or inclusive way of teaching math and does not even meet the minimum expectations for the types of questions our students will see on high-stakes state tests. It is great to see the growing number of classrooms that are allowing students to analyze, apply, and explain, but we need to start matching the growth there with a decrease in procedural classrooms.

What does it all mean together?

One of the most compelling pieces of evidence for the correlation between culture and content can be seen in the graph below.


This shows what types of content is taking place at different levels of classroom culture. Notice that every destructive classroom also has no challenge or learning happening. That makes sense. More compelling is when we get to apathetic or unruly – this is where we can see that most of those classrooms are where students aren’t getting a chance to really understand the content OR students are just being asked to work procedurally. But you can also see that many classrooms are also on-task and procedural. What is most striking is how the classrooms with interested, hard-working students are so clearly the ones dominated by analysis, application, and explanation. I hope this is turning on as many light bulbs for you as it did for me! When students are given more rigorous work, they demonstrate more interest. Many teachers revert to worksheets and busy work when they’re frustrated with classroom management (“If only students would behave then I would give more challenging work!”), but this data demonstrates that providing access to rigorous content is itself a powerful management tool.

“Nobody has ever risen to low expectations.”

That saying always resonates with me, and I feel that this data demonstrates that the best way to see the engagement we envision is to take risks and expect more not less from our students. Every. Single. Day.

So altogether our data shows that we have many teachers who are still teaching math procedurally, but also it shows that those who plan higher rigor mathematics see higher student engagement. We’re also seeing that some of us are not consistently collecting data (and potentially not assessing as well) in holistic ways that can give students meaningful feedback. No student should be left to guess what their progress, strengths, and needs are in our classrooms; data analysis and feedback is an issue of equity that every single one of our students deserves. We need to address both of these realities in Quarter 3.

How will we be supported based on these findings?

I have crafted two priorities for Quarter 3 based on these findings. The first priority aligns to cohort to being able to feel confident and have a “toolkit” for engaging in diverse, rigorous math lessons, and for students to recognize the value of math beyond the confines of arithmetic and procedure. The second priority focuses on the importance of data (content mastery and performance tasks aligned to broader mathematical thinking) in providing necessary feedback to students about their strengths, challenges, and progress towards tangible goals. The priorities (grouped by student and teacher outcome) are as follows:


Specifically, there are a ton of exciting professional development opportunities that align to each of these priorities (and some that extend beyond their scope. These are as follows (blue for priority 1, red for priority 2, and green for other):


Specifically note that there will be “specialized community days” next quarter. Rather than define in-person experiences ahead of time, I am instead devoting entire days to communities and allowing the teachers there to define thee development they want. It works like this: teachers in these communities choose from a menu of options for which development sessions they’d like, and I provide the sessions with the highest response. Prior to the evening development I will also observe classrooms in the community, allowing us to have a shared sense of purpose and be aligned in our focus for the evening. The following places will have specialized community days:

  • Clarksdale
  • Greenville
  • Greenwood
  • Holmes County/Canton
  • Humphreys County/Belzoni
  • Jackson
  • Marshall County/Holly Springs
  • Sunflower County/Bolivar County

You can up for these community days, as well as many other virtual PD options, at the course catalog now.

So what are your thoughts? What resonates with you about this data, these priorities, and these upcoming experiences? What else do you see in the data and in your own classroom? Fire off below!



16 thoughts on “Where we are and where we’re going (Quarter 2 Step-back)

  1. I notice a few things looking at the data presented in this blog:
    1) Greater rigor/application focus/analysis/explaining is correlated (and certainly causal) to students being interested/hard working.
    2) Many of us are doing decent on classroom management, having a level of ‘compliant and on-task’, and are working towards students being ‘interested/hard-working’ but aren’t quite there yet.
    3) Data collection/dissemination is not where it needs to be. I’ve noticed in my classes that students/families respond very strongly when presented with data (especially grades) that are lackluster along with a plan for improvement.

    1. There is obviously a significant correlation between the engagement of students in a math classroom with rigorous and meaningful content in deep ways and classroom management. The problem is making that transition from procedural learning to deeper thinking. Whenever I’ve made efforts to do so it has been met with extreme push-back from my kids. I know that this is the route that needs to be taken and is best for my kids, but am at a loss as to how to get there

  2. HI ETHAN! Great blog! Some of the things that really stick out to me are things that I already knew about – engagement is low! I really want my kids to be engaged learners. I feel as though my students are very often on task and compliant, but I really want to push thinking further with them. I can have a good time in my class, but oftentimes its not necessarily related to the content. Since the PBA’s were released, we are able to use them now in my district. After teaching questions that are more engaging and require deeper thinking, I have seen more engagement from my students. I was fearful that my lower-performing babies would shut down, but in fact, they were more engaged and kept saying how easy the math was – not because it was, but because they were able to talk about their thought process. Everyone has said it all along, but writing in math and discussion in math are VITAL to success, and I have seen that in my classroom. It opens up dialogue

  3. I think that all teachers can benefit from using some of the ideas offered in this blog. I think there is a clear correlation between engaging students in rigorous tasks and getting more interested and hardworking students. I definitely admit there were times when I thought a solution to classroom management was printing out worksheets, but that is clearly not the best solution. I am concerned that many of the math classrooms are stuck on a procedural type of learning and wonder how to best make the leap to analytical and applicable learning. I love the community day pd idea and look forward to seeing it in person

  4. After reading this post, I am beginning to really reflect upon my classroom and question whether or not I am allowing my students to become creative and independent thinkers. Often times our students are looked upon for how far they are behind rather than how much room they have for growth. I really want to take this data and use it in order to make my classroom an empowering environment that exceeds expectations and sets high, challenging goals in order to overcome the current achievement gaps. I think I am still trying to coddle my kids too much. I have a quote hanging on my wall that says “People are like tea bags; they don’t show their strength until they are in hot water.” If I am looking for hard working, high achieving students, I need to hold my students to those very same standards. Factual recall is simple, but application and deeper thinking is where our students are really going to transform and become more invested in what they are learning. This is a challenge for sure because challenges are not universal. The meaning of rigor varies from student to student who have different strengths and abilities.

  5. During Quarter 3, I really focusing on tracking data more frequently through exit tickets, performance tasks and assessments. I am also making sure that I am sharing data with students and parents more frequently.

  6. I think it’s important for all teachers to change up their approach to rigor occasionally. I sometimes forget that having a lot of problems for them to work through isn’t necessarily rigorous. Making sure they persevere through tough questions without getting discouraged is the key to academic and future success. Showing students their growth can encourage them to push past their initial apathy.

  7. This post had me forming an incredible amount of parallels to my classroom, which left me concerned for myself and my students. I have become so engulfed in production and data that I have morphed my initial desire of confidence and understanding of the material to the ability to get the correct answer. With my harmful switch, retention is dismal and it is apparent through their end of term test grades. With the tough implementation of daily performance tasks this term, I have been slowly working on changing the gears of my students and myself. I sometimes forget the adage that I push on my student so teaching the way not the just the answer!

  8. From reading this, I notice how I’ve been focusing on pushing my students to achieve the class’s set goal but haven’t taken any time to motivate them by letting them know how far they have from since our first data and how fast they have been improving. The first semester was about students exploring through problems and not just memorizing some tricks to make problems easier to solve. It seems as the PARCC exam gets closer some teachers are focusing more on students being able to pass the exam than mastering content through exploration of context and reasoning.

  9. I think that this blog post really made me look at my classroom and how I am teaching my students versus how I want them to be learning. I really want my students to be able to look at a critical thinking problem and be able to persevere and solve it. I now that they can recall the information, but I very rarely give them the opportunity to show me and themselves that they know how to use that information to do a performance task. That is what I am really trying to focus on this quarter–using performance tasks to encourage students to use what they know and explain their thinking.

  10. This is a great article and had me reflect a lot about what goes on in my very own classroom. Particularly with the level of rigor that is in my class. My scholars tend to check out or give up when the material is too difficult. Specifically, when I use EngageNY material. What I have noticed is that I have a group of advanced students in each period and a group of lower students. These two groups respond very differently to rigor. My advanced students have shown more growth in terms of PBA assessments where as my lower group has shown growth, but not as much as I would like. Luckily, I am able to review each performance task and am able to show ALL of my students that it is not as bad as they think! A lot of the scholars can do the math, but reading directions and understanding what the question is asking is where they have the most difficulty. Data is very important so I can know what I need to focus on!

  11. I’ve read this before, but now going back through it and really focusing in on the data, I am driven to use this and show my students. I see some of my classrooms falling into these bars and it makes me wonder about everything. I’m excited to sit down with my kids and analyze where they think they are and use that information to drive my students vision for themselves and for this year, especially as it comes to a big close. Thank you so much for this, Ethan! As always, you’re the BEST!

  12. I am not surprised by the data given above and feel my classroom falls somewhere around the middle. I am not sure that I have communicated love or joy for math in my classroom and the engagement of my students definitely reflects that. As such, my students behavior also mirrors that. Like many of the people have mentioned above, this second semester has been a lot of me learning to slow the pace and make sure my kids are able to discuss math on a higher level as we push past factual recall.

  13. The data actually shows pretty encouraging statistics although when I do see that 25% of students are not engaged, it hits home because in my classroom it does seem that 1 out of every 4 students are unengaged in my lessons. I know that part of that reason is due to the fact that the relevancy of the lessons to them is not there and the articles touches on that a bit. I also need to use my data in order to further invest my students, which could also help to improve engagement as well.

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