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A Commitment to Excellence and Student Growth, in School and at Home

A Commitment to Excellence and Student Growth, in School and at Home

Ellicott Elementary School in Calhan, Colorado, lives by its district’s slogan: “Everyday, Everyone, Excellence . . . Ellicott.” As a large, rural, Title I school with a high percentage of English-language learners (ELLs) and military students, it is committed to serving its diverse population of learners in any way it can.

In 2018, after seeking out an online program that was going to have a higher impact on student growth, Ellicott Elementary landed on Edmentum Exact Path, a K–12 individualized learning solution for math, reading, and language arts. The school’s slow, intentional rollout, which will graduate into a full K–5 implementation for the 2020–21 school year, is meeting students where they are academically—both within the walls of the brick-and-mortar classroom and at home in the wake of recent school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Ellicott Elementary Principal Miranda Smith to discuss the school’s successful journey using Exact Path and to ask how the implementation has helped support its distance learning initiative during current times.

Your implementation of Exact Path started small and grew over time. Can you tell me about that journey and describe why this approach worked so well for you and your teachers?

Two years ago, we rolled it out as just an intervention program with 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade—and only with students that were below grade level. But, very quickly, we found that we really wanted to use the program with all of our kids and have gradually increased our use. This year, we added 2nd grade. Next year, we’re going to be adding K–1 because we’ve had such a positive experience with the program.

We did a small PD [professional development] right at the beginning of the year with our teachers. We also have weekly PLCs [professional learning communities] where we’ll go through and talk about how to use some of the reports. The buy-in came pretty quickly from teachers, and they were very quickly advocating to expand the program to all kids after even just the first semester.

As your teachers and students began to use Exact Path, what helped build the momentum around program use?

We do [NWEA] MAP Growth testing two to three times a year. One of the things that really struck us from the beginning was looking at the learning path picture overall and seeing how once the MAP scores have been uploaded, teachers can go back and look at things like—while a student might be in 4th grade, they’re missing these two skills that are really crucial from 2nd grade. I think that was an aha moment for a lot of our teachers and helped them to see and figure out how they can fill in gaps.

I also started a breakfast of champions. We now have a schoolwide goal of six Trophies [the motivational element within Exact Path that reflects skill mastery] per month in math and reading. If they reach it, they get to come and have breakfast with me at the end of the month. It’s a fun little incentive. The kids talk about it all the time. They’re very motivated by it. I think, as a principal, one of the ways that I helped make that successful is looking at the students’ usage reports, and then I’ll send out a report every couple of weeks to the teachers and say, “Hey, these kids are invited already. These kids only have two more Trophies that they need to earn.” And so, the kids have that constant reinforcement with the goal setting, which the teachers are then talking to them about.

When students are in the building, how do you weave Exact Path into instructional time? What actions are your teachers able to take based on how students are using the program?

Our kids use Exact Path a couple of times a week. With reading, we implement it more as part of the readers workshop where that’s a station that kids log in to a couple of times a week for 15 to 20 minutes all the way up to 60 minutes. In math, we use it as more of a dedicated time where classes go to the computer lab for 30 minutes twice a week to work specifically on their learning paths.

Our teachers also are regularly looking at Student Summary Reports to see how students are progressing through the learning paths. Our 3rd and 4th grade teachers have come up with a system where they'll review progress once a week, and for any lessons that a student is not passing, they conference with them about it. They'll talk to them and say, "Hey, what was hard about this concept? How can I go back and help you?" And then, they'll actually go back and reassign that lesson and not let students move on before they're mastering that concept.

How have you been able to measure success to date?

[Exact Path] really helped accelerate our growth across the board. For math, our 3rd grade was in the 75th percentile for schools, 4th was in the 74th percentile, and 5th was in the 62nd percentile. And then, for reading, 3rd grade was in the 64th percentile, 4th grade was in the 51st percentile, and 5th grade was in the 73rd percentile.

Obviously, because school is closed for the remainder of the school year due to the pandemic, learning looks a little different. In what ways has Exact Path been used while students are working from home?

We ask students to log in to Edmentum for 30 minutes every day and to rotate back and forth between reading and math. And, they do get a small participation grade for that. That was sent out and communicated to parents. I think just because the kids are so independent with using the program already, this has been the one really easy piece for parents too. If parents struggle with some of the other applications, the kids can at least do Edmentum because they can do it very easily on their own.

What else does your distance learning plan consist of? How are teachers finding success during this time?

All of our teachers either have a grade-level website or are on Google Classroom, and that's new to us. We have had really positive feedback about that. And, just because of our demographics, we had a lot of students that were in need of devices and not a whole lot of extra funding to go out and buy them. We took apart two of our computer labs and distributed laptops to 4th and 5th graders that needed it. Then, from our classrooms, we got iPads and sent those out to our younger kids that were still in need of devices. And then, we also provide some of the same lessons as printed learning packets because some families just prefer that piece.

Our teachers are available two hours a day virtually for office hours. They've really liked that. Some of them have even put together little reading groups and things that they're doing with kids. Some of them are doing virtual field trips just to keep it light and keep up the spirit.

I think that having Exact Path right now and then combining that with the online elements of our core curriculum in reading and math is going to help mitigate some of that learning loss that I think would be more heavily felt and heavily impacted if we didn't have these supports. My teachers have just done a phenomenal job with all of this e-learning. You're talking to me, but I think that they're really the ones that are at the heart of the success.

Thinking ahead to the next school year, what successes from your Exact Path implementation do you hope to continue to build on?

Exact Path really helped accelerate our growth, I think, across the board. The platform just really ties very nicely into MAP. All the strands align; the discrete skills are pretty well-aligned as well. Having that learning path actually helps us prioritize specific skills within areas that we can go back and teach in direct instruction.

Exact Path is like a universal supplemental curriculum, if that makes sense. We have our core curriculum, but then everyone gets this supplemental curriculum that we take pretty seriously and teach kids how be good independent learners. I think that is probably one of the biggest ways we've been so successful with it.

For Ellicott Elementary School’s passionate group of educators, a combination of small steps and building advocates along the way has been a recipe for success that continues to serve the school well, even during these days. Interested in more information about distance learning? Check out Edmentum’s support page for learning during school closures.

madison.michell's picture
Madison Michell

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.