With middle schoolers 11 weeks behind where they would be in a ‘normal year,” teachers should focus on the math skills that trip students up.

3 ways to prepare for rigorous math learning

With middle schoolers 11 weeks behind where they would be in a ‘normal year,” teachers should focus on the areas that trip students up

While students across all grades have shown growth during the pandemic-related learning disruptions, that growth hasn’t kept pace with what we’d expect to see in a typical year. According to the most recent data, students in grades 2–8 have fallen an average of 11 percentile points below typical year expectations in math.

In terms of instructional time, it will take approximately 11 weeks to make up that lost ground, though it varies widely from grade to grade. Recouping an 11-percentile point drop in 2nd grade, for example, will require an estimated five weeks, while covering a similar drop in 6th grade will take more like 15 weeks.

The issue is that the math skills we expect students to master do not always increase linearly in terms of difficulty. If math standards and skills are a staircase, most of them are short, relatively uniform steps up—but every once in a while, we expect students to take big leaps in understanding and ability.

Here are three ways to help teachers navigate this crucial time in their students’ education and help them prepare for the rigors ahead as efficiently as possible.

Identifying prerequisite skills

All skills and standards are important, but there is probably not a teacher in the nation who has managed to cover every single math standard for their grade in a single year. This year, students will have greater instructional needs than usual, and teachers will likely have to skip over a few more standards than they would in a typical year. So which math skills are must-haves and which are nice-to-haves that can be a lower priority in a pinch?

The truly essential skills are those that are both the most critical at grade level and prerequisites for future learning. Take, for example, the 7th-grade standard “Multiply or divide integers to solve a problem.” This is a critical prerequisite for a deep understanding of numbers and how they’re used to solve real-world problems. It’s also crucial for success in algebra, geometry, and beyond.

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