When Johnson Elementary School earned an A grade from the Indiana Department of Education, the achievement marked a two-letter grade improvement in just four years. Principal Chris Routt says it was a conscious decision backed by conviction. “We’re blessed to have staff and students who share a growth mindset. We believe we have the ability to improve, so each year we set measurable growth objectives, track progress, and communicate to keep everyone motivated and working together. Starting with the end in mind, we develop goals that align with our mission to develop each student’s sense of worth, intellectual and emotional wonder, wisdom, and well-being. Our school improvement plan always includes specific action plans to help students grow in each of these four areas.”
Johnson Elementary is part of Indiana’s Scott County School District 2, a decades-long user of Renaissance. “One of our objectives in promoting wisdom is to ensure a quality learning experience for every student,” continues Routt. “But because there is no average learner—each student has a jagged learning profile that reflects individual strengths and weaknesses—success depends on our ability to implement an adjustable-to-the-extreme curriculum. To accomplish that, we rely heavily on Renaissance assessment and practice solutions. Renaissance helps us individualize growth goals, provide high-quality performance data, and makes it easier for our educators to deliver instruction aligned with our GO Math! curriculum and state achievement standards. Renaissance provides integral support to our program.”
“Renaissance provides integral support to our program.”
Principal, Johnson Elementary School
The challenge: Instruct outside the mythical middle
The Scott County School District 2 has historically been a high-performing district and boasts some of the state’s top-rated schools. But Routt says that it had been seven years since Johnson Elementary earned an A ranking. Located in Scottsburg, Indiana, the pre-K–5 school serves some 280 students with nearly 70 percent of them eligible for free-and-reduced lunch. “Many of our students come from low-income families, and the poverty rate in this area continues to climb. But one of the decisions we made is to meet students where they are. Whatever their experiences, whatever their abilities, we’re going to help them grow.”
“Conventionally, we tried to address our students’ wide range of skills by aiming classroom instruction at the middle. There’s a great story about the Air Force in the 1950s redesigning cockpits to better fit pilots and improve control. The idea was to measure the torso length, chest circumference, and eight other physical attributes of some 4,000 pilots, then use the average size to design the perfect cockpit. But the Air Force soon discovered that no pilot fit into the average of all ten dimensions. A cockpit designed for the average pilot was designed for no one. So, they banned the average, forced manufacturers to design to the edges, and ultimately benefited from innovative options like adjustable seats.”
“That’s what we’re trying to do here. Instead of aiming for that mythical middle, we’re designing instruction that’s tailored to individual learners. Renaissance serves as vital support tools in this effort, helping us determine where students are, then teaching to each unique academic level.”
“Instead of aiming for that mythical middle, we’re designing instruction that’s tailored to individual learners.”
Principal, Johnson Elementary School
The results: Student growth and an A ranking
Flex groups to meet individual needs
Routt first used Renaissance as a high school history and business teacher. Since coming to Johnson Elementary three years ago, Routt has created an annual school improvement plan that outlines increasingly aggressive and fine-tuned growth goals. This year’s objectives include: 1) using flexible grouping to better meet individual student needs, and 2) focusing on quality over quantity—that is, using Renaissance Accelerated Math® and Renaissance Accelerated Reader 360® to encourage meaningful discourse with an emphasis on comprehension.
The school uses Renaissance Star 360® data to track both student and teacher growth, as well as for highly accurate prediction of student performance on standardized testing. Teachers also create flex-group reading and math blocks based on Star 360 data, state testing data (historically ISTEP1 and now ILEARN2), and classroom experiences. At a minimum, teachers reassess groupings every nine weeks. Routt adds, “We flex both our core instruction and intervention groups, with some teachers reviewing data each week to make adjustments.”
Leading indicators with a focus on quality
Routt continues, “We routinely use data to create leading indicators—that is, the measurements that help change outcomes versus simply report them. Our targeted grades 3–5 pass rate (or lagging indicator) on ILEARN, for example, is 75 percent. But to achieve that by spring, educators need to be able to track progress throughout the school year and to develop effective learning progressions that advance student growth toward that end goal.
“One of our leading indicators this year relates to our continued emphasis on nonfiction content. We expect grade K–2 students to read a mix of 70 percent fiction and 30 percent nonfiction and grades 3–5 to achieve a 65/35 mix. Renaissance helps us track that and to date, we’re ahead of targets. To make sure we stay focused on the quality of practice, we’re aiming for an 85 percent pass rate on both Accelerated Reader and Accelerated Math quizzes. Teachers also use Accelerated Math to align practice with GO Math! assignments and standards. Overall, we expect 75 percent of all K–5 students to show a student growth percentile of 35 or better.”
Part business teacher and part coach (ask him about “his” Colts), Routt brings both passion and planning to the school’s mission to help students find individual purpose and develop individual stories of achievement. Routt’s Sunday night electronic dispatches to his teachers combine words of wisdom, encouragement, guidance, and the latest achievement metrics needed to set learning objectives for the week. On Monday mornings, updates to a data wall set up outside his office remind both teachers and students of their goals and progress.
Routt concludes, “How did we achieve an A rating? Our building really does have a growth mindset. We all want to get better, we all take ownership. Renaissance is ingrained in our culture because they help us see how we’re doing and where we need to go.”
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1 Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress
2 Indiana Learning Evaluation Assessment Readiness Network