Kentucky district teams up to achieve stellar student growth

Before becoming Graves County School District's director of instructional technology five years ago, Amanda Henderson saw firsthand the difference Renaissance Star Math® made in the growth of her fourth- and fifth-grade students. But that was only 52 students—compared to the 3,000 she is now excited to help teachers reach thanks to the data-led, individualized approach from Renaissance Star 360®.

"I compare what we do to a doctor visit," Henderson said. "Tests are run (Star 360), the doctors get back the data and analyze it (our data analysis meetings), a prescription is written (learning progressions), and there is ongoing therapy (Renaissance Accelerated Math® and Renaissance Accelerated Reader® practice)."

Making house calls across the district

Today, Graves County School District is the picture of health, recognized by the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) as a Distinguished District. In her role, Henderson has worked hard to help the district's educators use Star 360 to support the data-driven instruction that has fed their success. She made regular house calls to every single elementary school in the district following their Star 360 testing windows, using a computer and projector to show teachers and principals which reports to pull and when and explaining the data's meaning.

Eventually, her rounds included training on Star 360 instructional groupings, learning progressions, and other valuable tools, and now schools in the district have reports generated and data analyzed before Henderson even arrives for on-site meetings. Those implementing with fidelity were seeing healthy growth—but for some schools, such as Central Elementary, it took an extra nudge to use Star more deeply and take its recommendations at "full dose."

Central Elementary a School of Distinction in one year

For Central Elementary's principal, Stephanie Sullivan, that "nudge" was falling suddenly from being a proficient school for more than 10 years to being labeled "Needs Improvement" in 2012–13 by the KDE following poor state testing performance. Sullivan said she and the teachers were blindsided and devastated by the drop to 56th percentile, acknowledging that the long-term proficient status had never compelled her to closely monitor progress through data nor to oversee and drive data-led classroom instruction. Star assessments were simply used here and there by teachers for their own reference, complicated by the simultaneous use of another assessment product.

That all changed in a big way when she phoned Henderson for help and eliminated the other assessment tool—which was "neither user-friendly nor conducive to monitoring"—and committed to using Star Math and Renaissance Star Reading® with 100 percent fidelity.

"Star gave us the tools to be much more intentional and ensure every child was learning what he or she was ready to learn," Sullivan said. "Within one year of full Star 360 implementation, we jumped from the 56th percentile to the 99th percentile and became a School of Distinction. We're better now than we were even in the good years."

What it took at Central

This growth took synergetic efforts between Henderson, the entire Central team, and the district's supervisor of elementary instruction. They tested five times per year and gave students a "Star Card" to record their results. According to Sullivan, the students found the data exciting and began striving to beat their previous scores to earn growth recognition. Sullivan said Star 360 provides teachers the insights and resources that would otherwise require endless assessment and analysis on their own. It's a true "game-changer," Henderson echoes.

Star 360 gave us the tools to be much more intentional and ensure every child was learning what he or she was ready to learn. Within one year of full Star 360 implementation, we jumped from the 56th percentile to the 99th percentile and became a School of Distinction. We’re better now than we were even in the good years.

Stephanie Sullivan | Principal | Central Elementary

"Time is always an obstacle, so we use our Renaissance data and tools to meet the needs of every student," Henderson said. "Now all elementary classes districtwide have enrichment or intervention groups, so Tier 1 gets the proper attention just like Tier 2 or 3. Plus, learning progressions map out individualized lesson plans at the push of a button—no need to walk to an upper-grade classroom to collect and plan materials for an advanced student."

Central also relies on data notebooks—to house individual data for teachers and K–6 data for Sullivan. In weekly professional learning community (PLC) meetings, Sullivan and teachers review their notebooks to discuss Screening, Summary, and Growth Reports. When certain grades were identified as struggling, Sullivan hired additional staff and shifted resources to provide needed support. And as weak areas were unearthed on the State Standards Report, instruction was targeted to those missing concepts.

More than isolated success

Other schools in Graves County School District have seen similar results. Using Star Math and Accelerated Math to address missing concepts led to tremendous math growth at Fancy Farm Elementary, says Principal Janet Throgmorton. When Fancy Farm started using Accelerated Math three years ago, 15 percent of students were at the novice level, compared to just 3 percent last year. Combined state math scores for grades 3–6 have jumped from 59.9 in 2011–12 to 83.2 in 2013–14, now placing Fancy Farm in the 99th percentile of Kentucky schools. The school placed particular focus on sixth graders, 98 percent of whom met growth targets in math on the state test for the last two years and tied for first in state math scores.

"When math standards changed a few years ago, we had huge gaps for kids because they were expected to do in grade 5 what they'd been doing in grade 7," Throgmorton said. "By using Star Math to identify students' appropriate levels and Accelerated Math to practice and master their skills in small groups, we've broken math down to achievable objectives and addressed weak areas. Once we put the missing pieces together, kids told us—and showed in testing—that core math made more sense."

Uniting around visual data

Every one of Fancy Farm's over 200 third-through-sixth graders meet individually with Throgmorton after the second of five annual Star 360 assessments. They discuss their progress in depth and the importance of reaching "benchmark." Throgmorton also posts grade-level Screening Reports in the hall, highlighting grades with the most growth between testing periods. "We talk about what their scores mean, what GE they're at and where the Diagnostic Screening predicts they will be, and what we and they need to do to move up one color at a time. They see the correlation between the work they do and the results they get."

Star 360 report visuals are the "lightbulbs" when she meets with teachers, too, says Henderson, adding that Star 360 report detail has improved drastically over the years—especially in the Growth Proficiency Report. Offered annually by Renaissance in December and April, this report compares students' scaled scores and growth to national peers.

"I can pull this up at the district level and see dots on a chart representing students' achievement and growth, and when I click on each dot, it shows the classroom level, which in turn can show the student level," Henderson said. "It was an aha moment to see each dot as a student, and now all year long teachers ask me, 'When can we get that dot report'? They love Star 360 data because tracking lends itself to greater accountability for them and for students."

Henderson notes that it is exciting to be able to help so many teachers and students use Renaissance programs to reach new heights of success, but she is quick to point out that her role depends on the investment from the district and the educators she works with.

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