Data moves a Maine school’s rating from “C” to “A”

This saying is posted in many prominent locations of Dr. Levesque Elementary in Frenchville, Maine. It's a fitting motto for students as they sit down with teachers to discuss Renaissance Star Reading® and Renaissance Star Math®. It fits equally well when they bustle off to skill-based "seminars" four times per week to work on counting money, subtracting fractions, or other topics. School-wide, teachers use Renaissance Star® data to plug students into the appropriate cross-grade seminars, which alternately focus for two weeks on math and two weeks on reading.

"Our kids know their reading and math scores, levels, and goals, and they track their own progress because we talk about growth and involve them directly," said Principal Lisa Bernier. "They stop me in the hall to say, 'Do you know how many months I grew in math this week?' Empowering kids in their learning has been the greatest thing we've done."

"Fair isn't everybody getting the same thing... fair is everybody getting what they need in order to be successful."

Taking a second look at Star assessments triggers jump in school's rating

Things haven't always gone so great for Dr. Levesque. About five years ago, Bernier and her staff were bent on finding the fix for New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) scores that were not growing—and in fact, were declining, especially in math. They piloted a curriculum-based measure, but Bernier said it was too paper-intensive. They tried a new math series and invested in leveled books for language arts. Regardless of these efforts, Bernier said they just couldn't seem to make big things happen—until they took a closer look at the Star assessments they'd used only lightly for nearly a decade.

"We weren't using Star assessments the way they were intended until we started ongoing progress monitoring and tracking about two years ago," Bernier said. "We were guessing for years, but now Star data gives us a real grasp on how our kids are learning and how to differentiate their instruction. It also proves we're moving in the right direction."

We weren’t using Star assessments the way it was intended until we started ongoing progress monitoring and tracking about two years ago. We were guessing for years, but now Star data gives us a real grasp on how our kids are learning and how to differentiate their instruction. It also proves we’re moving in the right direction.

Lisa Bernier | Principal | Dr. Levesque Elementary

Dr. Levesque Elementary's move forward is further affirmed by an "A" rating from The Maine School Performance Grading System, up from a "C" rating just two years ago. The grading system uses a familiar A–F scale based on several factors, including state testing achievement in reading and math as well as growth in achievement—particularly with regard to growth in the bottom 25 percent of students.

Carol Dweck's Mindset helps spark a culture built on "grit"

Sparked by Carol Dweck's book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dr. Levesque ingrained growth into her culture, along with accountability and student involvement. Bernier says the book, which was read district-wide, is all about how to talk to and empower children, which encourages celebrating their mistakes and praising their efforts and choices instead of their intellect.

"We don't tell kids they're smart, because if they bomb a test, they believe they're not smart anymore," Bernier said. "Instead, we praise them for their growth process, for what they accomplish through committing to reading and math practice and choosing good strategies."

A natural fit with this approach are the habits of mind—"soft skills" like persistence, empathy, striving for accuracy, managing impulsivity, applying past knowledge—all embraced at Dr. Levesque and discussed one by one weekly with the students. Fourth-grade teacher Meranda Castonguay says the growth mindset and habits of mind help students think positively and connect real-life actions with their results.

Students respond to and embrace data to reflect on their own progress

"In our one-on-one conferences, students can directly relate progress to putting in hard work, or a lack of progress to missing school from vacations or not practicing at our study halls," Castonguay said.

Supervised study halls are offered to students in grades one through six for after-school support every Tuesday and Thursday, with a late bus provided. Teachers sign up students based on Star assessment results, or students can refer themselves voluntarily—and sixth-grade teacher Vicki Deschaine is amazed at how many kids do. Even second and third graders are joining study halls by choice.

"The monthly data through Star's Growth, Diagnostic, and Instructional Planning Reports is such a driving factor for these kids," Deschaine said. "They actually get excited about taking their Star tests and coming to my desk to see how they did. They want to be better."

It's a 180-degree transformation from the old Star days, says Castonguay, who has been at the school for 11 years. In the days when Star assessments were new, administration and staff took the time to learn the program top to bottom, seeking webinars and professional training, submitting questions to Renaissance's Live Chat, listening to each other, and ultimately sharing their knowledge with visitors eager to see what has been working so well at Dr. Levesque over the last couple of years.

Planning for the next growth target

"At school assemblies where we celebrate each class's monthly average growth, every class here is performing above level in reading and math," Castonguay said. "We're ahead of where we need to be."

But true to Dweck's principles, Dr. Levesque Elementary is ever-buoyed by a determination for ongoing growth. The school is eager to extend data-tracking to kindergartners and gain even more capabilities through the implementation of Star 360, already budgeted for next year.

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