As a big proponent of interventions, Principal Michelle Kanipes of Luther L. Wright Middle School–High School in Ironwood, Michigan, doesn’t like to see special personnel and programs for those interventions stop after elementary school.
Just because a student enters middle school does not mean they are automatically now at grade level, Kanipes said. “The interventions and continual progress monitoring need to continue.”
This was particularly important to L.L. Wright, labeled as a Focus School by the state for being among those with the largest achievement gap between its top 30 percent of students and its bottom 30 percent, based on average scaled score on the state test. Interestingly, Norrie Elementary, which feeds into L. L. Wright, had shed its own former Focus School designation and jumped to the 72nd percentile in 2012–13, up from the 23rd percentile in the previous year. Kanipes and her team were very interested in trying what was working for Norrie, which included using Renaissance Accelerated Math®, Renaissance Accelerated Reader®, Renaissance Star Math®, and Renaissance Star Reading®.
“We saw their results and how they were using Accelerated Math as an intervention tool for students below grade level,” said Kevin Lyons, L.L. Wright’s math coach and math teacher who has helped lead the implementation of Renaissance programs at the school. “We decided to try Star Math and Accelerated Math in grades seven to nine to see if they would provide effective intervention and core class support, as well as feedback in the form of data.”
An eye-opening start
Prior to this implementation, L.L. Wright did not have a unified way to look at data systematically, relying mainly on state test scores and a combination of formative, interim, and summative assessments. So, when Star Math assessments were first administered to all seventh-to-ninth-grade students, it was “eye-opening” to discover that many students were functioning below grade level, as many as three to four years below, in some cases.
That was an immediate kick-start to Accelerated Math buy-in from teachers, and after seeing significant early success with the program, it was expanded for daily use by every student in grades seven through twelve. Although students initially questioned doing what they perceived as “two math classes”—their regular math instruction plus Accelerated Math practices and objectives mastery—they are quickly realizing that this is a step toward better math performance, and so are their parents. Lyons shares a parent handout that explains how Accelerated Math benefits students whether they are below, at/near, or above grade level.
Honing a system of supports
Aware that its new data resources are a step toward better math instruction, the school has been building data literacy with review and discussion at grade- and department-level meetings, cross-curricular activities, and professional development and professional learning community connections. Data is also shared with the school’s Student Success Team program, designed by volunteer staff to reduce student school tardiness and absenteeism and to encourage student engagement.
“Our Star Math and Star Reading results are compared to Michigan Educational Assessment Program data and classroom assessment data,” Kanipes said. “Staff have cross-referenced the bottom 30 percent of each of these data pieces and have ongoing, fruitful discussions about how we can use this data to improve classroom instruction or introduce proper interventions.”
L.L. Wright’s evolving culture
As a result, there are now many days where every student is doing something different in the classroom—from Accelerated Math practices, exercises, and online tests to regular classroom instruction and review problems. Lyons said students started with completing two or three Accelerated Math practices per week and later shifted to demonstrating mastery of objectives on Accelerated Math practices and tests, the number of which is based on how they scored on Star Math in relation to their grade level.
“The idea that all students have to be doing the same thing at the same time is not always true anymore,” Lyons said. “Star Math gives us a good feel for the different ability levels, and Accelerated Math helps us differentiate our instruction and tailor activities to specific needs. Accelerated Math also helps students get good at math by practicing a lot of math, and this is true no matter what level you are at.”
That practice element means that students are never “done” with their work, another new expectation in L.L. Wright’s evolving culture. Students now always have Accelerated Math to work on or reading to complete, as Accelerated Reader and Star Reading have also been implemented to assess student instructional reading levels (IRLs) and improve core English instruction in grades seven and eight.
“The fact that we now notice very little idle time in the classroom is a very big deal in and of itself,” Lyons said. “I even had many students who worked on Accelerated Math online practices over the holiday break this year, and, recently, students have called me at home on evenings and weekends to have me generate online practices for them. We are slowly, but surely, changing the culture here in Ironwood.”
Extending success beyond math
Megan Maki, who teaches English and writing at the seventh-, eighth-, and tenth-grade levels, is seeing noticeable change, too—with students carrying more library books in the hallways and asking for longer reading time than the 10 minutes she allots during English 8 on Wednesdays and Fridays (with 20 minutes and a library visit on Mondays).
“I’ve emphasized to students that the only way they can increase their Star Reading score is to read—scores will not magically increase,” said Maki, who tells them what the research says about the power of reading 20 minutes per day to boost IRL. She also makes a priority of goal setting to increase Star Reading scores. “They are focused on getting those 20 minutes in, and I’ve gotten notes from other teachers that after a test, students are reading while they wait for others to finish.”
Last year, Maki saw significant growth in Star Reading scaled scores for individual students by year-end. This year, the average IRL for her first-hour English 8 students rose from 8.6 in September to 9.8 in January. She shares progress with students immediately between Star Reading tests and celebrates their successes.
Building on the investment with support from the top
Book selection is also critical to boost these students’ motivation and to remove the perception of reading as just an assignment to test on, Maki said, and L.L. Wright buys books that students request on wish lists. Kanipes says the school—along with the Board of Education—has been 100 percent behind the monetary investment in Accelerated Reader, Accelerated Math, Star Reading, and Star Math, further bolstered by the gains they are seeing via the data.
There are plans to make Accelerated Reader a consistent part of every school day, like Accelerated Math, and to roll out the program to grades nine and ten and support interventions with Star Reading even through higher grades. Accelerated Reader and Accelerated Math are not at L.L. Wright solely for remediation, but also for continued challenge and college preparation.
“I have many upper-level juniors who are doing as much Accelerated Math right now as they possibly can because they know it will help them on the ACT, and that is very important to them,” Lyons said.
L.L. Wright is further using Accelerated Math libraries with pre-calculus, AP calculus, and physics students to reinforce their knowledge and help trigger what they may have forgotten, which they will need again in college. The school’s chemistry teacher is also working with Lyons to incorporate Accelerated Math into her curriculum. The program is even being considered for a summer math program to minimize or eliminate the “summer slide” that has been shown to cause loss of up to two months of math skills.