A realistic solution for closing the math achievement gap? Classwide intervention.

By Kelly Pinkerton, Director of Assessment and Innovative Learning at Vail School District, AZ

Students in the U.S. experience persistently low math achievement across all grades — as shown in the most recent iteration of  The Nation’s Report Card.

Roughly 17 years ago, our district realized the need for additional rigor in our mathematics curriculum, and decided to focus on math fluency, rather than rote memorization. With this in mind, we implemented classwide interventions across the district to help every student achieve mastery in math. 

Classroom full of students working on math

“The findings from the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Mathematics and Reading Assessments demonstrate that students must have more support. While the national high school graduation rate is at its all-time highest, we must provide students with a robust curriculum, high-quality teachers and comprehensive services that include safety and mental health supports to ensure their future success.”

– National School Boards Association

What is classwide math intervention?

Classwide interventions are built upon peer-to-peer tutoring model, which has been proven to help students build confidence in math. Similar to individual student interventions, classwide interventions are used to help a group of learners attain mastery. Progress is monitored from week to week to assess growth and provide individual interventions as needed. 

The active ingredients of classwide math intervention,  as defined by  the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP):

  • Guided practice with corrective feedback as needed 

  • Think aloud during problem solving 

  • High dosage of opportunities to respond at the correct level of task difficulty

  • Task difficulty is selected to reflect a skill that the student has acquired (e.g., the child can accurately complete the task, but the performance is labored) 

  • Independent practice with a goal to try to “beat one’s last best score” 

  • Delayed error correction and explanation to math partner how the error was corrected

  • Group contingency delivering a small privilege, reward, or celebration based on growth of the class as a whole

Why is classwide math intervention beneficial?

Classwide intervention is convenient for teachers, realistic for principals and provides tangible ROI for district-level leaders. 

  • Cost effective.  Recent research conducted by Dr. Courtenay Barrett and Dr. Amanda VanDerHeyden found that classwide intervention provided via SpringMath was not only more effective than making a curriculum change, but also more cost-effective.  

  • Time sensitive.  According to Barak V. Rosenshine’s notable study, the average second grader spends less than two hours per day engaged in academic time. When you consider the finite minutes in a typical school week, losses of instructional time are going to add up. Since classwide interventions take place during instruction, teachers don’t have to worry about finding additional hours in the day to provide support. 

  • Accurate.  Rather than relying on assessments that take place only a few times during the school year, classwide intervention encourages regular progress monitoring and consistent support to make sure no students are being left behind. Teachers can rely on regular assessments to pinpoint any specific areas of need for individual students, rather than hoping a universal screening will catch them later. 

  • Engaging.  Classwide interventions allow for valuable collaboration time between students, their peers and the teacher. 

How does classwide math intervention work?

Before implementing classwide interventions, universal screening must take place. The results of these assessments will help you identify which skills and areas students need to work on. 

Most often, the results of universal assessments will show that it’s not just one or two students who need extra help. Providing math interventions to an entire class ensures students are able to practice necessary skills – which reinforces our focus on math fluency. 

An example of classwide math intervention in action: 

First, the teacher will pair up a class of students – one higher performing student, and one lower performing student – and have them work through a short practice sheet. The “worker” will go first while the “helper” student observes. I recommend having the higher performing student go first. The helper’s job is to observe the worker and speak up if they notice an error or the worker student needs help. 

Math interventions will be built into class time throughout the year, and students who require additional support will receive it in the form of individual interventions. 

How can educators get started?

When schools fully reopen, learners are going to require additional support to make up for lost time – especially in math. And, with the pandemic adding pressure to already strained school budgets, district leaders need cost-efficient strategies for providing support.

If you’re interested in a dedicated math intervention tool, I recommend SpringMath — an interactive math intervention platform that combines tools for assessment, intervention and progress monitoring.  We use SpringMath at the district level to monitor students’ growth, and at the school level to provide classwide and individual math interventions.

Free resource: Classwide math intervention protocol (NASP)