Exemplars Changes the Way Math Classrooms Create a Culture of Critical Thinking


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Campbell County Schools is a school district located in Rustburg, Virginia, serving 13 schools and one technical education center spread across four attendance zones.


At Campbell County School District, improving student learning outcomes to meet newly adopted state standards was crucial. District leaders recognized the need to provide teachers with a supplemental resource that emphasized the acquisition of deep thinking and problem-solving skills to enable students to tackle rigorous content at every grade level equitably. After establishing a need for a product that provides standards-aligned problems to build students’ abilities in problem-solving, a preference for an engaging and versatile program emerged.


Exemplars attention in encouraging students to solve and think about problems in multiple ways captured Campbell County School District’s attention through its ability to foster individualized approaches in solving problems. Exemplars was crucial to the district. Exemplars performance tasks are standards-based and the differentiated versions enable teachers to see how the program addresses each student’s individual learning needs.

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The Challenge

Leaders at Campbell County School District realized that students’ abilities to show their thinking and independently problem solve on grade-level rigorous questions did not match the state-standard expectations, becoming the district’s primary concern to address. Across the district, teachers struggled to find ways to engage students in activities requiring higher-order thinking skills. In addition, Campbell County School District needed to find a common resource that teachers could use to build up students’ ways of thinking through and solving multi-step problems.

Choosing Exemplars

With new standards guiding instruction in Virginia, Campbell County School District mobilized its efforts to find a program that would develop students’ problem solving, communication, and representational thinking skills through real-world and grade-level appropriate tasks. Exemplars’ extensive Library of standards-aligned assignments that require students to justify and show the reasoning for their work provided the district with an ideal platform to improve student learning outcomes across their schools. Teachers appreciated how Exemplars uses a differentiated approach to each task, allowing students at any entry point to access and work through the same rigorous grade-level appropriate questions, regardless of their independent reading level.

The Outcome

After implementing Exemplars, district leaders noticed a shift in how students approached thinking across the classrooms. Classroom cultures were changing to support higher-order thinking strategies when unpacking and addressing complex math tasks. As a result, students became invested in problem-solving processes and had the freedom to express their reasoning and solve each task in their own way. Teachers found value in both the instructional and practice portions of Exemplars, emphasizing students using their voice to justify their thinking. Elementary math teachers continued to be amazed at the confidence students have gained in articulating how they choose to approach and solve the complex problem-solving performance tasks.

Our students have become more confident in explaining their thinking and tackling problems!

Stephanie Belotte
Elementary Math Coach

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School Profile:

Population Density: Suburban-Rural*
Size: 3,400 K–5 Enrollment
Math Proficiency: 84%*
Free & Reduced Lunch: 42%*
*Source: niche.com