When asked to identify her school’s most valuable resource, Dr. Mary Elizabeth Muir, principal at All Saints Catholic School in Wilmington, Delaware, doesn’t hesitate. “Our teachers. Traditionally, Catholic education has been synonymous with high-quality academics, a reputation built largely on the strength of our educators. Today, one of the ways we empower teachers is by putting valid, reliable assessment and student-growth data at their fingertips.”
The All Saints Catholic School relies on Renaissance Star 360® for screening, progress monitoring, and predicting student performance on standardized tests. Muir says the school also uses Renaissance Accelerated Reader® for personalized reading practice. “We’re currently creating a schoolwide schedule for sustained silent reading and will use Accelerated Reader and the data for accountability during those sessions. Using Accelerated Reader in conjunction with Star 360, our teachers can guide students to appropriately-leveled books, monitor their understanding, and encourage their progress in developing independent-reading skills.”
The challenge: Build data-driven instructional strategies for student growth
All Saints Catholic School is a regional school within the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware. A faith-based community, the school focuses on academic excellence, while ensuring the dignity of each individual. At present, the school serves some 200 pre-K–3 through eighth-grade students. Technology resources allow students to take advantage of a STEM1-enriched education, develop skills in the school’s computer lab, and even learn to program robots.
All Saints Catholic School follows a curriculum aligned with Common Core standards. Muir says that although the school did administer a standardized achievement test, that program did not: 1) provide a sufficient measure of proficiency against state requirements; 2) enable progress monitoring; or 3) include math-skills benchmarking. “Our teachers needed more robust assessment tools and data to be able to identify and close learning gaps for underperformers and to make sure that every student, at every level, achieves measurable growth throughout the school year. Our objective was to give teachers the reliable, timely, and comprehensive data required to truly inform instruction.”
The results: Targeted instruction, more growth at more levels, and increased student involvement
Today, All Saints Catholic School has standardized Star 360 for progress monitoring and assessments, beginning with kindergarten early-literacy screening. Teachers administer Star 360 assessments a minimum of three times during the school year. Built on a growth-oriented learning progression model, Star 360 gives teachers access to a wealth of reading and math assessment data that can chart each student’s cumulative growth onto education standards at dozens of touch points throughout the year.
Muir says Star 360 helps the school meet both literacy and growth goals. “First and foremost, we want all children reading at grade level by the third grade, and then for every student to achieve one year’s growth in one year’s time. Star 360 gives our teachers a very accurate picture of individual reading skills and helps us map out strategies for closing gaps. Assessments take just 20 to 30 minutes, so we encourage teachers to use the program as frequently as needed—measuring progress is really the only way to confirm your instruction is on point.”
Muir says one teacher was particularly surprised to see that a number of second-grade students had performed below her expectations on their first Star 360 assessment. “Rather than faulting students, she took advantage of the data to identify specific weaknesses and adjust her instruction. Having very detailed and timely data allowed her to quickly take action to help students master the requisite skills and get back on track.”
Growth across all levels
“The old adage that you can teach to the middle no longer applies,” continues Muir. “The middle is in fact very thin. Today, we serve a broad spectrum of students with widely varying skills—from children with diagnosed learning disabilities to high achievers. We want every single student to experience growth and success. To accomplish that, we need to be able to accurately assess proficiency, target instruction to meet individual needs, and develop effective data-informed strategies.
“In the past, we ran a parallel program for students performing below grade level, but we were never able to re-integrate those students. Today, we use tools like Star 360 to more efficiently close learning gaps and meet more students’ needs in the classroom. Using the readability level suggested by the Star 360 zone of proximal development (ZPD), for example, teachers can set realistic—that is, challenging, but not overwhelming—goals for growth based on each individual’s needs and interest.”
Star 360 also helps accurately predict achievement on standardized tests, including the Delaware state assessment. Muir comments, “Although our students do not take the Delaware test, we need to know how we compare with our public-school peers and to be able to communicate that to parents and prospective students.”
Involved and motivated students
All Saints Catholic School educators report increased student involvement in setting and tracking goals. Muir describes one particular eighth-grade student’s lightbulb moment. “As is the case with many of our older students, this eighth-grade student did not take assessments very seriously. Not surprisingly, his results reflected that. He’s actually a very bright student, but his first Star 360 assessment indicated a first-grade reading level. When I sat down with him to review his results, he was smart enough to quickly understand how his poor performance at the beginning of the year would impact his growth trajectory and could ultimately hurt his chances for a high-school scholarship. It was the first time he’d actually seen his own data, and it didn’t take long for him to dig in and start working to his potential.”
Muir notes that access to Renaissance-U® professional development services, including personalized coaching, has helped ensure the successful implementation of the Renaissance solutions. “We’re fortunate to have a staff of seasoned teachers, but few are digital natives. Working with our Renaissance coach has helped our teachers overcome their initial hesitancy with the technology, ensuring we use the program with fidelity, and accelerating our development of instructional strategies. Although we’re still in our first full year of implementation, we’re already seeing positive student growth as we shift from teaching to a curriculum to instructing to student need.
“Using Star 360 and Accelerated Reader is helping both educators and students—teachers now have the tools and data they need to personalize learning, and our students are experiencing the fun of learning and achieving goals.”
1 Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics