Maximizing Instructional Time with Adaptive Learning in Demorest, Georgia
Maximizing Instructional Time with Adaptive Learning in Demorest, Georgia
Demorest Elementary School - Demorest, Georgia
Demorest Elementary School, located 76 miles northeast of Atlanta in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is a Title I school regularly recognized as “beating the odds.” Guided by a district mission to help all students achieve success, Dr. Connie Yearwood, in her 8th year as school principal, looks to identify resources to help teachers use the best research-based strategies without adding something else to their plates. As a firm believer that you can’t just “do Tier I instruction louder” to meet the varied needs of children, she was in search of programs that would do more than just help students achieve one year’s growth and instead truly maximize her students’ potential to be successful.
“It’s not just words we say; it’s rules we live by,” said Dr. Yearwood. “My vision here has been that if children can read and read well, they can learn to do anything.”
It’s through this vision and diligent work, alongside her highly qualified staff, that educators at Demorest Elementary have found tools that are helping to make a meaningful impact for students in reading and other subjects as well. The school was not looking for something that would stand alone or claim to be a silver bullet. Instead, the school has embedded Edmentum programs in day-to-day learning as one notable success in its work to transform instruction.
Educators at Demorest Elementary have been longtime fans of Study Island, Edmentum’s K–12 practice and formative assessment program, with more than eight years of usage under their belts. As of the 2018–19 school year, Study Island is used with grades 2–5 across all core content areas. Similarly, Reading Eggs, Edmentum’s pre-K–6 foundational literacy program, has a rich history beginning in 2012. The egg-citing world of Reading Eggs is used with all kindergarten students and as intervention in 1st grade to help develop fundamental literacy skills and support phonics instruction.
“I had always been impressed with Study Island and Edmentum products,” recounted Dr. Yearwood. “I found them to be very reliable, very user-friendly, and had found customer service to be above and beyond what we needed.”
Bearing this in mind, Dr. Yearwood became interested in trying out a new adaptive assessment and individualized learning program from Edmentum—Exact Path—when it was first launched in January 2017. As a pilot program adopter during early research and development stages, one teacher per grade level implemented the program across reading, language arts, and math.
“When I became aware of the Exact Path program and thought it may meet a need that we had for some adaptive and differentiated instruction—not just meeting the needs of our students with gaps but also to meet the needs of our students who were higher achievers—I was able to enter into a pilot program,” said Dr. Yearwood.
Fast forward a year and a half later to the 2018–19 school year, and all elementary schools in the Habersham County School District have implemented Exact Path across 1st and 2nd grade. Demorest Elementary also allows current 3rd graders to continue using the program after becoming familiar the year before.
“We've historically been a school that's done a really good job of analyzing student data to know the deficiencies and weaknesses that our students have but finding a just-right resource to help us close the gaps has oftentimes been very difficult,” remarked Dr. Yearwood. “Well, Edmentum provides that for us and to have the diagnostic pieces in Exact Path and the benchmarking for Study Island, helps teachers make instructional decisions that are based on student achievement data directly related to the content and skills that they are accountable for teaching.”
Gathering and utilizing assessment data is just one way that educators are making the most out of Edmentum programs. All students at Demorest Elementary have access to individual Chromebooks while at school, and therefore, technology is regularly embedded into instruction. Through a combination of whole-group learning and a station-rotation model, students use the programs daily. In any given math or reading block, onlookers might see a teacher begin with a whole-group mini lesson before students transition to their Chromebooks to work independently on their Exact Path learning paths or Study Island practice topics. During independent work time, the teacher is conferencing with students individually, pulling small groups according to specific skill ability, and formatively assessing student progress.
“It’s not so much sage on the stage, but a whole lot of guide on the side with the teachers truly scaffolding learning and helping students to go from where their independent level is to [above] and beyond grade-level expectations,” commented Dr. Yearwood.
At Demorest Elementary, success has primarily been measured by the positive shifts in instructional practice that Dr. Yearwood has seen firsthand. She was able to share and celebrate this work with her director and other administrators, which ultimately led to the entire district adopting Exact Path in 2018 throughout all 1st and 2nd grade classrooms.
“We’ve done it in the past where the technology used was in a computer lab, and it felt so much in isolation,” recounted Dr. Yearwood. “It felt disconnected. It felt like a practice tool that the kids didn’t have any ownership in. When we started talking about doing Exact Path, I just knew it had to be an integrated part of the instructional day because we have no time to waste.”
Getting to that point, however, required accepting change as a sign of growth.
“I've always felt like unless we can get students to work as hard as the teachers are working, then students really don't own their learning,” commented Dr. Yearwood. “Exact Path helps us do that because I supported the teachers, letting it get a little messy in their classrooms and it not being exactly what it looked like before—for it to be more student-directed, more student-led. As a result, they supported their children getting a little messy in the classroom and figuring out what the new normal is when you're using a truly adaptive program.”
As teachers experimented with this shift, they also identified key aspects of the program that aided in this work.
“It’s not boring,” said Dr. Yearwood. “The level of rigor of the questions that the students are asked, I’m very impressed with. I truly believe that if children are engaged and challenged appropriately, they will perform. Exact Path maximizes instructional time because the content truly has high expectations and they’re appropriate.”
That maximized instructional time is showing in the Exact Path adaptive diagnostic assessment results that the entire district has already seen in the 2018–19 school year. Across the district in reading, the number of students working on below-grade-level content has dropped 9% between diagnostic 1 and diagnostic 2. Conversely, students working on grade-level or above-grade-level content has increased 4% and 7% respectively. A similar story can be told for math diagnostic scores across the district, where students working on below-grade-level curriculum has dropped by 11%, and students working on above-grade-level curriculum has increased by the same amount, 11%. Finally, in language arts, students working below grade level has dropped 8%, and those numbers have been picked up in the remaining categories—on and above grade level with 2% and 6% gains respectively.
In the midst of all of this success, Dr. Yearwood has also appreciated how Exact Path skills are aligned to Study Island practice topics, and the tie between two programs made it easy for teachers to quickly take action and connect instruction with practice.
“[Teachers] were able to streamline what they were doing in a way that seemed to totally benefit student engagement in the classroom, enhanced the teacher's planning time, made it easier for them to differentiate, and then let the students practice exact skills that they had assigned to them in the programs,” said Dr. Yearwood.
[Teachers] were able to streamline what they were doing in a way that seemed to totally benefit student engagement in the classroom, enhanced the teacher's planning time, made it easier for them to differentiate, and then let the students practice exact skills that they had assigned to them in the programs.