5 Tips & Tools for Identifying Math Skill Gaps

Remote learning has thrown us all for a loop. Spring 2020 necessitated survival mode. We all did our very best as teachers. But we know it wasn’t the same. How could it be? We all experienced varying levels of trauma. Now many of us are regrouping to begin the school year with a new group of students. Whether you are remote learning, teaching in person, or some hybrid of the two, you will want to identify any math skill gaps that your students are arriving with. In this first post of a 3-part-series, we will focus on how to identify these skill gaps. Next week, we’ll discuss how to address the skill gaps identified. To wrap up the series, we’ll dive into differentiating skills practice.


Pre-tests have long been used for data collection – measuring growth at the beginning and again at the end of any given lesson, unit, or course. Students take the ungraded assessment before learning or reviewing material in order to provide a baseline for statistical analysis. After a couple of days of getting to know students and sharing expectations of your course, it’s time to give the pre-assessment. Take one class period for students to sit silently and treat the pre-test as an actual test. When you “score” the assessment, watch for trends within the class to see if there are any surprising skill gaps. If many or most students get particular review questions wrong, then plan to spend extra time reviewing those concepts. You can find my 8th Grade, 7th Grade, and 6th Grade Common Core-Aligned Pre-Assessments and Post-Assessments here.

Skill Drills

Math Skill Drills are weekly skill review assignments. They contain 20 practice problems with 20 different skills. Students measure their own skill gaps by tracking progress using a spreadsheet. With a quick tally, teachers can determine which skills their students need the most help with. The twenty skills stay the same every single week for easy tracking and skill development. The first week can provide a great baseline data point, and we’ll discuss in more depth next week how this tool can be used to address skills gaps. Check out the free samples for 8th grade, 7th grade, and 6th grade.

Review Task Cards

Using task cards to review previously learned material can help students self-assess their strengths and challenges. Task cards help students to focus on one problem at a time, and they can easily set aside or indicate which ones are the greatest challenge. For data collection purposes, have students use an organized workspace and collect at the end of the class period. This will allow you to look for trends in class skill gaps. I have sets for 8th grade, Algebra I, 7th grade, 6th grade, and 5th grade.

Mini Whiteboards

Using mini whiteboards involves a less formal approach. I highly recommend investing in a set of mini whiteboards, erasers and dry erase markers if you can. They are such an engaging tool. Write a math problem on the front board and have all students solve the problem on their own personal whiteboard. When students hold up the boards to show you, keep a mental note of which topics yield the most incorrect answers AND any students who struggle significantly.

Exit Tickets

Exit tickets are great for data collection. Assign and collect exit tickets at the end of the class period. You can get fancy and use a spreadsheet to track correct/incorrect answers each time. (I only did this when I taught alternative education with class sizes of 8 students or less.). OR – a time-sensitive approach with regular class sizes – quickly sort exit tickets as correct or incorrect. Lots of incorrects? Spend time reviewing as a class. I typically make a note of who struggled with the practice problems and pull them in for intervention – which I will get into next week in Part 2 of the series: Addressing Math Skill Gaps. You can get a free set of 8th grade math exit tickets when you subscribe and select 8th grade as the subject you teach.

Continue learning in this 3-part series here:

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