In 2012, Kentucky became the first state to adopt the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in English/Language arts and math. Despite the challenges of mastering these new standards, Paducah's Concord Elementary School recently ranked 19 out of 733 elementary schools on Kentucky state assessments that are closely aligned to the pending CCSS assessments. The school has been marked in the top 3 percent of schools in Kentucky and named as a School of Distinction, as well as a Distinguished School.
"Renaissance Learning has definitely played a role in our accomplishments," said Principal Ginger Hollowell. "We have excellent students, master teachers, involved parents, and a supportive district team, but the Renaissance products work if you work them. Each year, we refine the fidelity with which we use them." What started with Accelerated Reader 5 years ago is now an umbrella of Renaissance products at Concord Elementary, all in play to support the schoolwide initiative of "Every child…every day."
Accelerated Reader, Accelerated Math, and Math Facts in a Flash each provide critical reading and math practice on a personalized level, while STAR Reading and STAR Math are instrumental in screening, diagnostics, progress monitoring, and overall growth measurement.
"Teaching begins and ends with assessment," Hollowell said. "Through
STAR, we get extremely accurate information in less than 20-25 minutes per child." Concord Elementary uses STAR Reading and STAR Math for baseline testing within the first few days of school to gain an imperative starting point and to set the appropriate goals for each child. They repeat assessments every nine weeks, compare growth, and make necessary adjustments to levels and goals.
The Screening Report sits on Hollowell's desk every single day. Not a week goes by that she doesn't review reports, especially the Student Progress Monitoring report that shows data trends with students. Hollowell and her teachers are also able to see each child's performance against state benchmarks, critical information for projecting scores at the end of the year on state assessments.
Through the Instructional Planning Report, Concord Elementary can even gain valuable recommendations for the skills each student has currently mastered and those skills ready to be tackled next.
"This is comparable to a skills-based report card that allows a student, teacher, and parent to see the learning progression at work," Hollowell said, adding that insights from STAR are especially critical to Concord Elementary's Response to Intervention (RTI) planning and implementation. Her team begins and ends each RTI meeting with STAR data, which takes the guesswork out of how they edit their RTI rosters.
"Teachers no longer say, 'I think he could use the help,' because data shows us who needs it. The success of our RTI program is a result of our interventionists having reliable and up-to-date information through STAR," Hollowell said. "STAR Reading and STAR Math are cost effective and easy-to-implement ways to ensure that our students get the necessary help immediately."
She is not exaggerating when she says immediately. In each one-hour grade level meeting, the team reviews urgent intervention names, following the data line by line. In one day, the team covers almost 600 students.
"We are able to implement RTI the very next day to an updated roster of students," Hollowell said. "The reports save our team of teachers tons of valuable time." Time is precious, and Concord Elementary makes every minute count. Students who arrive to school early work on their math facts using Math Facts in a Flash. A favorite of Hollowell and her teachers, Math Facts in a Flash is used by all students on a grade-level rotation in order to closely monitor the practice and progress of each child.
"We are very prescriptive and intentional about assigning this as practice," Hollowell said. "Students must meet benchmarks as they move through the program."
Accelerated Reader is also implemented with total fidelity, and students, teachers, and parents follow the protocol to the letter with respect to reading practice, levels and goals, and progress monitoring. Hollowell believes strongly in the importance of staying on top of best practices with implementation, and she and her teachers have attended an abundance of professional development opportunities through Renaissance Learning. They have found the training valuable, but Hollowell also has this recommendation for other schools seeking the kind of success Concord Elementary has achieved.
"Visit a school using Renaissance products, talk to the principal and teachers, and take a notebook to jot down feedback from their implementation," Hollowell said. "We're always happy to have guests visit our school. We love to share."