The Critical Role of “Trip Steps” in Math Recovery


The following blog was contributed by Dr. Jan Bryan, Vice President and National Education Officer at Renaissance, and Julianne Robar, Educational Content Program Manager at Renaissance.

To view the full article on Math Trip Steps, click here. You can also learn more in the NCEA webinar, Mastering Challenging Reading and Math Skills.

If learning is a staircase, then all steps are not created equal. In math especially, some skills along the staircase are extraordinarily difficult for students to master. At Renaissance, we call these skills “Trip Steps“ because they can cause a stumble in learning, just as an extraordinarily tall step in a staircase can cause an awkward bit of climbing. Essentially, new skill + new process = potential for some students to “trip.” And Trip Steps have profound effects on future learning in math. Trip over one and you’re likely to trip over another.

Trip Steps and accelerated learning

The Focus Skills Resource Center, a free resource from Renaissance, identifies skills fundamental to student understanding at every grade level and across all domains of reading and mathematics, tied directly to each state’s learning standards. Some Focus Skills have also been identified as Trip Steps and can provide educators with a pathway to prioritize and plan more impactful learning experiences. This is especially important given the need to accelerate learning after academic disruptions. The challenge is illustrated by the Renaissance How Kids Are Performing report, which found that students across grades 2–8 ended the 2020–2021 school year 11 weeks behind expectations in math, on average.

Which skill area has the most Trip Steps?

Geometry & Measurement is the skill area with the most Trip Steps across grade levels, while Grades 4 and 5 have the most math Trip Steps. This reflects the shift in process complexity, as well as the transition in this grade range from Whole Numbers to Fractions. The table below shows the Trip Steps that exist in this critical transition, as well as provides further examples of important prerequisite relationships between skills.

Trip Steps and math recovery

Focus Skills and Trip Steps help educators focus on recovery and growth to accelerate learning. We suggest that teachers:

  • Review math Trip Steps for your grade level or course
  • Identify the prerequisite skills associated with each Trip Step
  • Plan with math colleagues and share resources, techniques, and expertise related to Trip Steps
  • Nurture positive mindsets by explaining to students that the skill may seem difficult, but, step-by-step, they can master it
  • Share strategic feedback with students
  • Assess student readiness for each Trip Step
  • Engage in just-in-time support as needed
  • Monitor developing mastery

Why research on Trip Steps continues

At Renaissance, we continue to look for relationships among Trip Steps, Focus Skills, how students are performing, and how they are really learning. There is always something more to learn, and there are always remarkable findings to share. To learn more about Focus Skills, and to see the most critical math and reading skills by grade level for each state, visit our Focus Skills Resource Center. To see a list of math Trip Steps that are also Focus Skills, click here. And to see the most urgent instructional needs this school year, download our report on How Kids Are Performing.


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