Reading choice and accurate assessments fuel reading and math growth in CA district

Life aboard a centuries-old pirate ship? Helping solve a crime that has a town on pins and needles? Exploring a dense jungle with dinosaurs roaming all around? It’s no secret that when students get to choose their own books, they spend more time reading—and learning. Dr. Donya Wheeler, deputy superintendent at Exeter Unified School District in Exeter, California, says that giving their K–8 students more choice via Renaissance myON Reader has promoted rapid reading growth. “Our students love the freedom to make their own literacy decisions. myON Reader enhances guided reading efforts, providing our educators with a wealth of supporting texts for use in their differentiated reading groups. Whether working independently, with a project partner, or in an instructional group, our students are excited about reading—and we know from experience that engagement boosts learning. This past year, we met all of our English Language Arts (ELA) goals and demonstrated growth in every grade level, 3–8, on the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) tests.”

Exeter educators also use Renaissance Star Math® assessments to measure student growth, inform instruction, predict SBAC results, and perform longitudinal cohort data analysis. “Teachers use Star Math data to form remedial groups and track progress against Common Core standards,” Wheeler explains. “We’ve found Star Math to be a highly accurate predictor of SBAC performance—within five to ten percent. This helps our teachers better prepare students for successful outcomes. Our objective is to achieve the same rapid growth in math that we’re already experiencing in reading.”

"Our students love the freedom to make their own literacy decisions.”

Dr. Donya Wheeler
Deputy Superintendent – Exeter Unified School District

The challenge: Fix flatlining reading scores

Exeter sits at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains, just 28 miles from the entrance to Sequoia National Park. The area boasts a rich agricultural heritage and its citrus growers produce some of the finest navel oranges in the world. The first school here was built in 1897. Today, the Exeter Unified School District serves some 3,000 pre-K–12 students in two elementary schools, one middle school, one high school, and one continuation school.

Responsible for the district’s curriculum and instruction, Wheeler says that meeting the needs of 21st-century graduates is a process of continual improvement in teaching/learning methods and technology. In 2015, the district successfully deployed a 1:1 technology model across grades K–12. “Just prior to that implementation, we had made literacy improvement a districtwide focus, in part because of flatlining reading scores. When we were able to put devices in the hands of all our students, it presented the perfect opportunity for also implementing myON Reader to augment our literacy efforts. myON Reader not only helps us better engage students, but it gives our ELA teachers valuable tools and information to support guided reading strategies.”

Today, some 1,800 Exeter K–8 students access myON Reader during and after school hours. The district also uses Star Math as the standard assessment tool across grades 1–8 and has recently implemented Renaissance Star Reading® assessments to screen and monitor the progress of middle school students.

"myON Reader not only helps us better engage students, but it gives our ELA teachers valuable tools and information to support guided reading strategies.”

Dr. Donya Wheeler
Deputy Superintendent – Exeter Unified School District

The results: Choice, flexibility, support for science, and goal achievement

Wheeler says the district selected myON Reader because: 1) the platform is literacy focused; 2) students can independently access more than 13,000 titles in the myON Reader content library from anywhere with Internet availability; 3) myON Reader lets students choose their own texts and gives teachers the flexibility to assign materials related to both individual and group instruction; and 4) leveled texts and personalized recommendations developed from the myON Reader Interest Inventory help steer students to high-interest books at just-right reading levels.

Wheeler says the heaviest usage of myON Reader typically occurs during K–8 guided reading and ELA blocks. During ELA sessions, teachers assign myON Reader texts that correspond to instruction of Common Core standards. “myON Reader dramatically expands our text options beyond the traditional language arts anthology,” she adds.

Exeter teachers also use myON Reader texts and interactive tools with their differentiated reading groups. While the teacher instructs some students in a small group, their classmates work independently. Wheeler says, “myON Reader has made a huge difference in the productivity of these sessions. If you had looked in on one of those sessions before we implemented myON Reader, you’d have seen a very different classroom—non-group students were busy but not necessarily engaged in activities that bolstered reading skills. Today, students are excited about reading, excited about making their own selections, and even excited to be able to continue reading outside the classroom. I have three children of my own in the district, and it’s awesome to see them regularly logging on to their myON Reader accounts from home.”

"Today, students are excited about reading, excited about making their own selections, and even excited to be able to continue reading outside the classroom.”

Dr. Donya Wheeler
Deputy Superintendent – Exeter Unified School District

True stories

Wheeler also touts the high volume of nonfiction titles available. “Like most districts, over the past several years, we’ve made an instructional shift to emphasize science and social studies. As our educators implement new science standards—such as those in Common Core and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)—more technical content is needed. To meet these requirements, we estimate that in grades K–2, at least 60 percent of the reading materials we provide students must be nonfiction. For grades 3 and up, the nonfiction-to-fiction ratio jumps to 80/20. The myON Reader library, heavy on nonfiction, helps us meet that demand.”

Better numbers

On the math side, Exeter teachers use Star Math data to form remedial groups and better personalize instruction and practice. “In the past, we had to rely on an in-house benchmarking tool that was not highly correlated with SBAC. In contrast, Star Math has consistently predicted SBAC results with 90 to 95 percent accuracy. That’s a huge benefit to our teachers and instructional coaches as they develop their strategies throughout the school year,” notes Wheeler.

Wheeler also uses Star Math data in her district-level reporting. “We cohort-match data and present it to our superintendent and school board members so they can track our progress against math and literacy goals.”

21st-century goals and technology

Once every month, Wheeler visits each classroom in the district. “It’s both informative and uplifting to see our teachers and students hard at work, excited about learning. Our choices in vendors and technologies directly correlate to the results we see in the classroom. Whether in helping to drive math growth, expanding access to technical content, giving students the power of choice, or helping them build the early reading skills that will be the backbone of their long-term schooling success, Renaissance is contributing to Exeter’s academic achievements.”

Curious about myON Reader or Star Math? Click the buttons below to learn more.

Life aboard a centuries-old pirate ship? Helping solve a crime that has a town on pins and needles? Exploring a dense jungle with dinosaurs roaming all around? It’s no secret that when students get to choose their own books, they spend more time reading—and learning. Dr. Donya Wheeler, deputy superintendent at Exeter Unified School District in Exeter, California, says that giving their K–8 students more choice via Renaissance myON Reader has promoted rapid reading growth. “Our students love the freedom to make their own literacy decisions. myON Reader enhances guided reading efforts, providing our educators with a wealth of supporting texts for use in their differentiated reading groups. Whether working independently, with a project partner, or in an instructional group, our students are excited about reading—and we know from experience that engagement boosts learning. This past year, we met all of our English Language Arts (ELA) goals and demonstrated growth in every grade level, 3–8, on the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) tests.”

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