Data-based Decision Making in Math: Grade Level Core Review Meetings

 by Shelby DiFonzo

by Shelby DiFonzo

Using data effectively to drive instructional practices is a critical component of a well-functioning multi-tier system of support. It is vital to analyze student performance data at both the group and individual student levels. Core Data Review meetings are designed to analyze group data at a specific grade level and provide guidance for improving instructional practices for all students at that grade. This coaches Corner describes the math data review meeting process used in the Ontario school district. 

In order to learn more about the Core Data Review process for math, we spoke with Steve Wyborney, an award-wining math teacher and the District Math Coach in the Ontario school district. Mr. Wyborney is a life-long learner whose enthusiasm for teaching is unparalleled.  He received the Northwest Nazarene’s  Alumni Professional Achievement Award in the summer of 2016. When asked during the award ceremony what he loves about his job, Wyborney quickly replied, “Students! Students are stunning, incredible, awe-inspiring learners whose potential can never be contained. I come to work every day to learn, and I am deeply inspired by them.” (Retrieved from:

Mr. Wyborney facilitates grade-level Core Review Meetings at the elementary level. These meetings are conducted three times per year for each grade in each school. The meetings include all teachers at each grade level.  Teachers analyze student data and make decisions to enhance instruction for all students in mathematics.  

The following is a summary of key points from the interview that was conducted on a snowy January day in Eastern Oregon:  

Question #1:  What can you tell us about your grade-level meetings? 
Teachers administer a locally created Common Formative Assessment (CFA) three times a year to every student.  The CFA has a focus on number sense.  Teachers then gather after the CFA is given and work in grade level teams to analyze student work and make instructional decisions regarding student need. By looking at number sense and standards together we are able to detect how we are doing with math instruction.  

Another option would be to build CFAs based on units from the core program that correspond to standards.  However, the problem with that model is that units of study move from one standard to another and by the time you pull everyone together analyze the data, you have moved on to a different unit and standard. For example, if place value is something you cover at the beginning of the year, by the time you analyze that data you have missed the opportunity to improve instruction. In contrast, number sense is a common feature that is continuous across standards. Using a CFA based on number sense allow teachers to apply what they learn from the CFA to instruction as they move forward through units of study on other standards. 

Question #2: How is data-based decision making in math different than in reading?
If you analyze data for a concept that has gone by, a team has no opportunity to improve instruction, but if you analyze data for a concept that is “running through the currents, a teacher can impact those currents.” In reading, teachers address the Big 5 of reading and those skills naturally run through the currents of reading and spiral back throughout the year.  In math, this is not always the case.  The standards progress throughout the year, rather than spiral back throughout different units. Data analysis that includes a spiral review is how you impact student achievement. 

Another way to impact achievement is through student annotation.  This allows teachers to talk about a particular standard, but also talk about the process of student thinking.  In data team meetings, we look at student thinking from pictures.  This allows us to generalize strategies for students across the district horizontally and vertically.  In addition, pacing and professional learning are critical.   

Question #3: How do you react to student data? What decisions do you make in moving instruction forward?
When students are demonstrating instructional gaps, it creates potholes in the middle of a perfect system.  How are we going to react to it? I work with teachers and strongly encourage them to do an additional spiral review that isn’t review through the core, but rather looking at number sense. This is a way to fill those potholes of instruction.  In addition, strong instruction in number sense benefits everyone.  Lastly, students’ benefit instructionally from producing language while working with partners and teachers are able to gauge student understanding from conversations. 

Check out Steve’s blog at and his Twitter account @SteveWyborney. Steve will be offering several presentations on math instruction and educational practices at ORTIi’s Annual Conference, April 27 and 28, 2017, at the Eugene Hilton (

 Steve Wyborney

Steve Wyborney

Steve Wyborney is an award-winning teacher and instructional coach from the Ontario School District in Oregon. He is well known for his use of instructional technology, his work with mathematics and his passionate belief in the exceptional potential of every student.  In 2005, Steve was named the Oregon Teacher of the Year.  For more information about math instructional practices, check out Steve’s publications: The 25 Common Core Math Lessons for the Interactive Whiteboard; Week-by-Week Math Review for the Digital Classroom (grades 1-6); Long Division Made Easy; and The Writing on the Classroom Wall.