Data key to pinpointing student learning zones
There are two key questions that drive student success at Pennsylvania’s Dover Area School District: “How do we assist students who have not demonstrated mastery of the competencies?” and “How do we assist those students who have demonstrated mastery and require accelerated learning plans?”
The district’s efforts to address remediation and acceleration began in 2006 with launching Response to Intervention (RTI)—followed by Response to Instruction and Intervention (RTII). Director of Curriculum Instruction Dr. Sue Kanigsberg said this ultimately prompted the district to seek aligned, research-based interventions that would also guide instruction. In their meticulous quest, one name kept surfacing—Star.
“We made a three-year commitment to use Renaissance Star Reading®, Renaissance Star Math®, and Renaissance Star Early Literacy® because we’d put in six months of research and we were so confident in the products,” Kanigsberg said. Kanigsberg said that this solid commitment, including a business plan with documented strategies and goals, is critical for success because it allows the district to chart the course for the long-haul.
The commitment also overcomes the hesitancy that teachers sometimes feel with one-year plans, getting everyone on board right away. The Star programs are used at Dover Area School District as tools for screening, monitoring benchmarker progress, and driving instruction and curriculum adjustments. Screening, or what Kanigsberg terms, “opening a window of assessment,” is done three times per year in both reading and math for students in grades K-6.
We made a three-year commitment to use Star Reading, Star Math, and Star Early Literacy because we’d put in six months of research and we were so confident in the products.
Now that the district is using Star, Kanigsberg said she and others still find value in the screening and diagnostic reports but are amazed by the learning progressions, progress monitoring, and other longitudinal reports available.
“The original Star was nice, but now I feel like a diagnostician,” said Kanigsberg. “The learning progressions and sample prerequisites really drill down to what, diagnostically and technically, is the problem—and exactly what to do about it. It’s just amazing.”
Kanigsberg also appreciated that Star is a tool that will continue to offer support as the district grows. “We love that when we’re ready, we’ll have flexibility with the goal-setting wizard to customize for more ambitious goals. This will help kids who are behind to make greater gains more quickly, and catch up.”
The Star implementation is not just to identify struggling students. The fact that Star includes Mathematical Instructional Level (MIL) and Instructional Reading Level (IRL) provided the necessary numbers to change the starting point for high achievers and gifted learners, pinpointing their perfect zones.
“Instead of starting on grade level, which they’re already past, we can start it on their accelerated level and find their exact target,” Kanigsberg said. “This is a big deal because now we’re not just tailoring for RTI and special education, but also for advanced learners.”
Kanigsberg said that despite being in just year two of implementation, the district feels further along. She credits much of that feeling to valuable professional development. From day one, Renaissance technical support walked her through how to create schools, teacher assignments, student groups, and much more—giving her all the help she needed to confidently roll out training to others in the district.
“Without Renaissance professional development, we wouldn’t have moved as quickly. We were skilled because of that training,” Kanigsberg said. “It’s critical, because if teachers feel uncomfortable, then testing and assessing scenarios will be uncomfortable for the children.”
Although Kanigsberg is responsible for the district’s data crunching, curriculum instruction, funding and training, implementation success is definitely a team effort. She calls it a “funnel”—district data team meetings twice a year, building data team meetings following screening three times a year, grade-level “Pouring Over Data” (POD) meetings weekly, and individual teachers using data to drive instruction daily.
“All of the pieces have to be in the funnel for success to happen,” Kanigsberg said. “Star products have allowed our teachers to become preventionists and diagnosticians of student learning difficulties and enrichment/acceleration needs.”