Testing…testing…testing. Unfortunately, repeated testing is the only path many school districts see to improving student achievement and performance on state assessments. But not all tests produce reliable or actionable insights, and the hours- or even days-long process can be self-defeating, draining students and encroaching on valuable classroom instruction time. Challenged to find a better course, the Instructional Technology team at Lee County School District in Fort Myers, Florida, forged a program that produces useful data, gives educators more time to teach, and helps student learn more and score better on standardized tests.
After a rigorous evaluation process, the district standardized Renaissance Star 360® for use in all of their K–12 grades across all 98 traditional schools. Rob Stratton, coordinator of Instructional Technology for Lee County, oversaw the roll-out that included integration with the district’s Edgenuity program. “Star 360 has proven to be a spot-on predictor of proficiency on state-mandated Florida Standards Assessments (FSA). With very few outliers, the program in its first year of use accurately predicted the achievement levels of more than 75,000 students. At the same time, the program has allowed us to meet the district’s goal of significantly reducing the testing footprint in every classroom.”
“Through the collective efforts of our students, educators, and the academic services team, we’re already experiencing success. The most recent state results indicate that nearly 30 percent of our schools improved performance grades, and the district overall achieved a five-point gain in state ranking.”
The challenge: Test less, return class time to teachers, and improve student achievement
The School District of Lee County is the ninth-largest district in Florida and boasts the world’s first Microsoft Certified high school, a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence, and a leading International Baccalaureate high school. Yet, despite its track record of success, the district experienced pockets of decline. As a remedy, a number of schools implemented additional testing to better track standards mastery, but results did not mirror the increased efforts.
Stratton explains, “Schools were using a variety of progress-monitoring programs, some very effectively. But we didn’t have a single assessment platform across subjects, grades, and schools. As you might expect, with different programs, delivery mechanisms, implementations, and reporting tools, the time investment—of district staff, educators, and students alike—was considerable and results were inconsistent. We became concerned that students were spending more time testing rather than learning. We hoped to change that dynamic by implementing a single, district-wide assessment solution that could more efficiently measure student learning gains, giving educators both the data and time they need to help students master essential skills.”
The results: Predictability reliability, more teaching time, and education gains
As part of the RFP process, the district evaluated multiple solutions and narrowed the field to three primary contenders. Star 360 uniquely met all requirements, including 1) providing a solution for all K–12 grades; 2) supporting both reading and math assessments on a single platform; 3) enabling fast, 20-minute assessments; and 4) ensuring alignment with state-mandated and college-readiness assessments, including the SAT, ACT, and the Florida Department of Education FSA that evaluates proficiency in English Language Arts, mathematics, and end-of-course (EOC) subjects (including Algebra 1 and Geometry). Today, the district uses Star 360 for progress monitoring, predicting student proficiency on standardized tests, and as a data element in value-added modeling processes for teacher evaluation.
80 minutes to actionable data
During implementation, Stratton managed application training and operations and worked with the district’s Research and Assessment team to establish schedules and processes. “First-year results clearly established Star 360 as a highly-reliable predictor of student proficiency on the FSA standardized test—level-by-level and across every grade and school. All schools now run four Star 360 assessments throughout the year (during district-supported, three-week assessment windows) with the option to run them more frequently for progress monitoring. An assessment typically takes just 20–25 minutes and yet paints a very precise picture of skills mastery.”
The application currently tracks achievement and growth scores of more than 75,000 Lee County students. Stratton continues, “Star 360 eases workloads and really honors an educator’s time in the classroom. In the past, tests were time-consuming to administer, some were paper based, and processes were laborious and varied by school or even classroom. Today, using Star 360, we can ensure the same testing-environment experience for every student and eliminate that as a factor in skewing results. Educators see exactly where students are performing at any point in time so they can immediately target individual or groups of students for additional support or intervention. Every change they put in place impacts student achievement right now. Educators don’t have to wait until the end of the year to determine the effectiveness of their strategies or to identify gaps in students’ foundational skills.
“I also can’t stress enough the value of the single Star 360 data source—around which to build other instructional systems and as a common discussion point for educators. Immediately after each assessment window closes, district executive directors lead data chats with their principals who in turn discuss results with teaching staff. With the efficiencies of the assessment processes, we’ve already tightened windows from three to two weeks, enabling even timelier conversations.”
Partnering for good
Stratton believes the strength of the district partnership with Renaissance factors significantly in the program’s success. “One critical objective was to make sure that every student could log in to Star 360 and easily take an assessment. The Renaissance technical team worked closely with us throughout the implementation to ensure a consistent student experience, regardless of volume—whether just one student was taking a test or all 75,000 were online. Renaissance also helped integrate Star 360 data with Edgenuity so our educators could develop individualized learning paths. Every night, the system automatically imports Star 360 data into Edgenuity, giving educators the opportunity to make nearly real-time adjustments.
“This endeavor has been and continues to be a real partnership with considerable value to both organizations, as well as to the larger educational community. We benefit from an assessment solution that gives our educators more time to teach and boost student achievement, while nearly eliminating their reliance on repeated testing. Likewise, Renaissance developers stay close to the real-world classroom needs of students and educators. As we all share lessons learned and expertise gained, we truly believe we’ll be making lasting contributions to educational excellence.”