Category Archives: Resources

My Favorite Thing

As a K-5 math coach, every day I utilize a variety of resources. However, for the last couple of years one continues to come up as my “favorite.” It’s the Mathematics Formative Assessment System (MFAS) which can be found here. The system consists of tasks for each standard and task-specific rubrics. For each level in the rubric there are:

  • Misconceptions/errors
  • Examples of student work
  • Questions to elicit thinking
  • Instructional implications
  • Videos of the task being implemented (for some levels of the rubric in some tasks)

The system is coded to the Math Florida Standards which varies slightly from the CCSSM, but it’s fairly easy to transcode, with 1.NBT.2 becoming 1.NBT.2.2 (the cluster is included in the Florida coding). Florida also added on some of there own standards and moved some of the MD domain around a bit (a topic for a completely different post), but rather than that the coding is similar.

So, why is this my favorite thing as of late?

1. It’s free, and it’s research tested. There was a field trial that demonstrated the effects of using the system which you can read about here. It was found that use of the system produced significant results in student learning. It’s not often that you find such a robust resource that’s free of charge.

2. The system blurs the line between instruction and assessment. Someone recently asked, “So, is the system used for instruction or for assessment?” to which I responded, “Yes.” In Principles to Actions, NCTM supports the practice of eliciting and using evidence of student thinking, which essentially blurs the lines between instruction and assessment. The MFAS system supports this practice with tasks that could be used as instructional tasks. The rubrics provides support in the work of anticipating student responses, questions that elicit student thinking, and sequencing the order in which student work could be shared during a class discussion (Smith & Stein, 2011). The tasks could also be administered as a more formal assessment, then used to drive small group differentiated instruction.

3. The system supports a growth mindset. The rubrics typically have 3 stages (Getting Started, Making Progress, Got It) or 4 stages (Getting Started, Moving Forward, Almost There, Got It) based on learning progressions. I love the idea that, at the beginning level of the rubric, you’re “getting started” vs. the idea that you just don’t know it. The language in the system assumes that the student possesses knowledge about the topic that can be used to move them forward. As well as promoting a growth mindset, there’s practical support for how to move students forward. I recently got to hear a 4th grade teacher use this language while differentiating instruction for her class. There was a transparency in the language that supported students’ understanding of where they were, and knowing that they were on their way to mastery of the grade level standard being taught.

This year we have focused heavily on the use of MFAS at my school. Our county has the luxury of a 25 minute math intervention block where we’ve been able to do this work. The exciting thing is that with consistent use we’ve begun to see large groups of students move toward proficiency in the standards. Below are links to some MFAS tasks that I’ve used recently, with correlating standards, if you’d like to check them out:

Kindergarten – Which Set Has One More (K.CC.2.4c)

1st Grade – Use Addition to Solve Subtraction (1.OA.2.4)

2nd Grade – Solving Two-Step Word Problems: Marbles in a Bag (2.OA.1.1)

3rd Grade – Rounding to the Nearest Hundred (3.NBT.1.1)

4th Grade – Seven Hundred Seventy Seven (4.NBT.1.1)

5th Grade – Dividing Using an Area Model With Larger Divisors (5.NBT.2.6)