Tractors in the parking lot and state-of-the-art education technology in the classroom form the perfect embodiment of this school’s mission to deliver “world-class education with a rural advantage.” Located in the small city of Saint Marys in northwestern Pennsylvania, Saint Marys Area Middle School is one of five schools—including an adjacent high school and three elementary schools—that comprise the Saint Marys Area School District. In this largely rural district, students benefit from personalized attention, inclusiveness, and a highly supportive school-community partnership, which often characterize education in small-town settings.
Perhaps less typical is the district’s longstanding utilization of assessment technology to guide instruction and enable data-driven decision-making. Noel Petrosky came to Saint Marys in 2002 as an elementary-school counselor, and now she serves as the middle school principal. “Saint Marys schools have been using Renaissance Accelerated Reader® for more than 15 years and Renaissance Star 360® at the elementary level since 2008,” says Petrosky. “Star 360 gives us a wealth of actionable data at the school, classroom, and student levels so educators can help learners reach proficiency and continue to grow.”
“Most recently, we expanded our implementation of Star 360 to the middle school. Using Star 360 assessment data throughout the year and ahead of state testing, we’re better equipped to help every student stay on track to grade-level mastery and beyond. In our first year of use, Star 360 predicted results on state tests—the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA)—within 3–5 percent at every level and subject. By year-end, more than 90 percent of middle-school learners met their student-growth percentile targets, and 498 of our 500 students achieved passing grades. We’ve found Star 360 to be the best system for accurately identifying student needs, helping teachers personalize learning, and ensuring that schools successfully meet all achievement objectives.”
The challenge: Build a learning-data platform for an MTSS model and certification
Petrosky is a veteran educator in the Saint Marys district. She served for ten years as school counselor at two of the three elementary schools and for two years in elementary-school principal positions before moving to the middle school. In her original role as an education counselor responsible for all student data, learning-disability determination, and intervention programs, Petrosky led the district’s search for a student-assessment solution.
“Our primary objective was to enable a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) framework to streamline identification of student needs, as well as development of intervention and remediation strategies. Star 360 was one of only two solutions that met all the assessment and data functionality required for a state-certified MTSS implementation. Of the two programs, Star 360 proved to be simpler to deploy and use, more automated, and able to deliver nearly instantaneous assessment results.”
The results: Time savings, more insight, and flourishing students
The Saint Marys Area School District has standardized Star 360 across K–8 schools and it utilizes Renaissance data-integration services to automatically reconcile data with its PowerSchool student information system. Petrosky says the time savings are significant across an enrollment of approximately 1,500 elementary and middle school students. By automatically synchronizing with PowerSchool, the Renaissance program eliminates the need to manually enter class rosters in September and make other updates throughout the year.
“We’re all about efficiency,” continues Petrosky. “Over the years, we’ve used a variety of assessment tools, including a state-provided benchmarking system, classroom diagnostic tools, and another widely used assessment system. Those systems necessitated one-on-one administration, consuming an inordinate amount of time for data entry, results scanning, and file uploads. In contrast, Star 360 lets us run assessments within minutes and deliver immediate results—without complexity or manual data management.”
One platform for better insight and planning
Petrosky says implementing a single platform across schools gives educators invaluable perspective. “I would strongly recommend standardization on one platform across a district, particularly in systems with feeder schools. We’re now able to leverage an entire generation of data—from kindergarten through eighth grade—for each student to more effectively track progress and close achievement gaps. Students can also retain their data as they transfer across schools or even out of and back into the district. That’s a huge benefit for areas with transient populations and in a middle school like ours, where some five percent of the student population transfers across schools every year.”
Petrosky says that in the past, identifying learning issues was like “poking at the dark.” Today, Star 360 enables fast access to the skill-level data that helps educators keep every student on a growth path by personalizing learning. Teachers can quickly identify students with learning disabilities and those in need of enrichment. Renaissance Star Math® data, for example, helps teachers place high-skill students in the school’s STEM lab programs.
“We start every meeting with Star 360 data,” Petrosky comments. “The application provides the comprehensive, multi-year data required to make good decisions across student, teacher, school, and district levels. We now have the ability, for example, to track the building-level data that’s an important element of school profiles for the Every Student Succeeds Act. Longitudinal reports let us measure growth levels against the Pennsylvania Value-Added Assessment System (PVASS), and we expect to use cohort analysis for improved decision-making at both the school and district levels.”
Success in growing great students
Petrosky reports that Saint Marys elementary students recently achieved math scores of 80 percent and higher on the PSSA, which is renowned for its challenge and rigor. Reading scores ranged from 60–80 percent (up 10–30 percent since the Star 360 implementation), and last year, the district’s Fox Township Elementary School finished in the top five percent of Pennsylvania Title I schools.
“The Star 360 data system fits concretely into our curriculum, helping us progress students at a rapid pace. We know the program works, both from state testing results and our own observations. Teachers note, for example, that new students coming into our district in third grade are very often significantly behind our own students who have had the benefit of two or three years of Star-enabled intervention and remediation.”
Petrosky says Renaissance technology and the rural setting help Saint Marys educators focus on their most important objective of “growing great kids.” That means working to ensure that every middle-school student successfully advances to high school—where in this neck of the woods, graduating seniors have the option to ride horses and tractors to school on the last day of class, which is another uniquely rural advantage, indeed!