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Closing Gaps in an Urban Area with Help from Edmentum Exact Path

Closing Gaps in an Urban Area with Help from Edmentum Exact Path

When the odds are stacked against you after years of school underachievement, how do you change the narrative and show that students are capable of success? We recently asked Dr. Elizabeth McNally, principal at Highland Elementary School in Columbus City School District of Columbus, Ohio, to tell us how her school is doing just that with the help of Edmentum.

“We’ve been a priority school or one of the most at-risk schools in the state for a very long time,” recounted Dr. McNally. “We’ve begun a number of things [to address this]. Last year, we were offered the opportunity to pilot the Exact Path program, and we saw tremendous success, and my staff was very excited.”

Using Exact Path + NWEA MAP Growth Assessments

As a part of the pilot, which extends through the 2019–20 school year, all 2nd through 5th grade students at Highland Elementary are using Exact Path in both reading and math, including students identified as English language learners (ELLs) and those who receive special education services. Educators leverage NWEA™ MAP® Growth™ assessment data to automatically create individualized learning paths in Exact Path. At the state level, NWEA MAP assessments have been approved as an Ohio Third Grade Alternative Reading Assessment, and within the Columbus City School District, NWEA MAP assessments are also used to measure growth. But, it is the integration between these two programs that has made the MAP Growth assessments more meaningful than ever.

“One of the things that [teachers] really loved about [Exact Path] was that it made MAP tangible to the kids,” noted Dr. McNally. “It wasn’t any longer just a test that you take and then you don’t ever revisit.”

Gathering Teacher and Student Feedback

The connection back to assessment is just part of what makes this partnership successful. Additionally, educators at Highland Elementary feel that the skills progression in Exact Path is in alignment with the learning continuum on which teachers are expected to instruct. When teachers are searching for standards- and skill-aligned materials, they don’t have to question if things are aligned the way they might when culling through free online materials. Instead, they can jump straight into the high-quality teacher resources offered in Exact Path. Beyond teacher feedback, student reactions to the program have been quite strong as well.

“We did some really fun things where we printed out a bunch of Trophies, and if the kid won Trophies, we posted them,” said Dr. McNally. “Pretty soon, the teachers couldn’t keep up. And then, because it takes longer with the upper grade levels or the more advanced skills to earn a Trophy, [educators] started setting time Challenges, and the kids were volunteering to do homework. Then, we started announcing the names of who was doing great as our Exact Path Champions of the Week. I mean, it was really crazy, the degree to which it just sort of took off on its own.”

Meeting Individual Student Needs

Exact Path is currently accessed by students via Classroom Tech Hubs, which consist of six Chromebooks that are shared between two classrooms each. These shared resources allow students to log on during small-group time within their 90-minute literacy blocks and 60-minute math blocks. As students continue to earn Trophies for skill mastery and complete Challenges set by their teacher, they’re also feeding data back into the system that teachers can then act on for more targeted instruction.

“[Exact Path] has really been a great way for kids to get their needs met,” stated Dr. McNally. “That has been one of the things that we really have loved about Exact Path. Our teachers spend a lot of time mostly intervening and making sure our students get the interventions they need to get up to grade level. And, this year, for the first time, 100 percent of our students made it through the Third Grade Reading Guarantee, and we're super proud of that.”

Closing Skill Gaps and Propelling Learning Forward

In order to reach this milestone performance, educators at Highland Elementary focus on meeting the unique needs of each student group, whether that means they’re underperforming, overachieving, or somewhere in between.

“Now, for the fourth year in a row in reading, we have closed achievement gaps in every single student group, and for the third year in math, we have closed achievement gaps in every single student group,” reported Dr. McNally. “I think when you're on a multiyear growth trajectory, and we have been now for four years, it can be really stressful to think it's going to plateau—it's going to level off. How are you going to keep making this kind of growth? This kind of tool gives us a leg up on that.”

Filling academic gaps for students who are significantly underperforming is part of that story. While teachers have a lot of experience in this situation, an individualized program like Exact Path gives, for example, a 4th grade teacher focused insight into 2nd or 1st grade skills a student might need support on without overwhelming that teacher with all skills associated with being two to three years below grade level. For inverse situations, Exact Path also helps meet accelerated student needs.

“[Teachers] often have felt that they have not been able to give the kind of attention they need to our extension students and really pushing those students higher,” commented Dr. McNally. “And, they feel very strongly that Exact Path has really helped them to differentiate for our higher students. And, we have more students ending on and above the national norm grade level than we've ever had before. So, we're super excited about the growth.”

Moving Forward; What’s Next?

Educators at Highland Elementary School are hopeful they’ve been able to prove the value of the Exact Path program for students and teachers so that the district will continue after year one.

“My staff is super excited to use it again this year,” said Dr. McNally. “That's why we worked so hard to make sure that we were able to continue it. For me, it's really going to be about continuing to network with my district leadership on ensuring that it is available to my staff moving forward. I will continue to advocate that we use Exact Path as our way of monitoring how we're doing with MAP and make sure we're mediating and not just monitoring—that we're actively intervening.”

So far, it appears Dr. McNally’s efforts are paying off.

“I shared how much I loved it, and now, another one of the buildings in the district who does have additional funding is piloting it also because I spoke so highly of it,” remarked Dr. McNally. “So, we are trying to make sure that that the word gets out.”

Interested in learning more about how a pilot program like the one at Highland Elementary could benefit your school? Check out these 4 reasons to pilot a new edtech solution during second semester!

madison.michell's picture

Madison Michell has been a member of the Edmentum team since 2014 and currently serves as a Marketing Manager. As a former Kindergarten and 3rd grade teacher during her time as a Teach For America corps member, she believes education truly has the power to transform lives. She is passionate about connecting educators with online programs, best practices, and research that improve teaching and learning for today's students.

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