It's Not Only the Answer, It's How Students Solve the Problem that Counts in New Math Assessment for the Common Core

Developed by renowned math educator Marilyn Burns, the Math Reasoning Inventory (MRI) evaluates key conceptual math understandings and skills required in Common Core State Standards

SAUSALITO, CA — February 13, 2012 — A new math assessment tool developed by esteemed math educator Marilyn Burns, now available free to all teachers, not only cares about the answers students give, but also how they figured them out.

The new web-based formative assessment helps teachers assess students’ numerical reasoning and understanding of math principles—key skills the Common Core State Standards requires of students. The Math Reasoning Inventory™ (MRI), available online free of charge, is designed especially for incoming middle school students to examine their conceptual understanding and skills with whole numbers, fractions, and decimals. In the 10-minute, face-to-face interview, students not only solve math problems, but also explain how they figured out their answers, which math teaching experts say is the best indicator of deep understanding and readiness for algebra.

Created through a $2.2 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, MRI was developed with a team of master teachers and authors at Math Solutions, a leader in K–12 mathematics instruction and professional development for educators founded by Marilyn Burns and owned by Scholastic Inc. (NASDAQ: SCHL), the global children’s publishing, education and media company.

"After 50 years as an educator, I've learned that correct answers by themselves, without access to how students reason, can mask confusion and misconceptions," said Marilyn Burns. "The MRI assessment helps educators engage in one-on-one conversations with students where they can totally focus on what students are saying, probe their thinking, listen intently to their explanations, and gain essential insights into their reasoning strategies and understandings."

"Some of the very best classroom tools are those that give teachers a window into how a student is learning," said Vicki Phillips, director, College Ready Programs, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "I like MRI because it goes beyond simply solving a problem. It provides a way to drill down and be sure students fully understand the concepts. We are excited to support Scholastic on this project."

Available now at, the MRI website is packaged with information about how to use MRI, videos of actual MRI interviews, examples of MRI reports, information about the reasoning strategies that are essential to students' learning, and instructional resources to help teachers meet their students' needs.

How It Works:

At the core of the Math Reasoning Inventory is a face-to-face interview between a teacher and a student. A teacher accesses the MRI website, signs up for a free subscription to the assessment, and then logs into the tool. Sitting alongside a student, the teacher asks carefully-chosen questions that the Common Core expects all middle school students to answer successfully.

With only a few exceptions during the interview, students are expected to figure out answers in their heads. For all problems, they are asked to explain their reasoning strategies, whether or not their answers are correct.

Teachers give students time to think, listen to students’ explanations, and record how they reason. The interview experience is designed to model for students what is important about learning mathematics: that giving answers is important but not sufficient, and reflecting on thinking and communicating how they reason is integral to their math learning.

When the assessment is complete, teachers can generate, view, save, and print real-time reports that provide information about the reasoning skills and the understandings that the student did and did not demonstrate. The results, for an individual student and for an entire class, are meant to inform instruction and provide a more accurate picture of the strengths, weaknesses, and needs of students.

The assessment is supported by more than 80 video clips of teachers using the assessment, as well as introductory videos of Marilyn Burns explaining to educators about the benefits of MRI and how the assessment tool works.

About Math Solutions®

Founded in 1984 by Marilyn Burns, one of today’s preeminent math educators, Math Solutions is the foremost authority on transforming K–12 math instruction to ensure that all students achieve academic excellence. Math Solutions is dedicated to advancing the teaching and learning of mathematics by providing teachers with the highest quality professional development services, courses, and resources, and has served school districts in 48 states and Canada. For more information, please visit or phone 1-800-868-9092. For more information about Scholastic, visit our media room<


Tyler Reed
Scholastic Inc.