It was early 2015 and teachers at Benton School District wanted a better way to bring their instructional efforts together. Instead of informal meetings between classes, data meetings two to three weeks after giving assessments, and delayed interventions, they wanted to be able to act immediately to fix issues and adjust their approach to ensure students stayed on track.
“We needed a way to give common assessments which would be online and gather data in one place,” says Karen Heatherly, Assistant Principal at Benton High School and former 6-12 math facilitator. “I was looking for question types to match our state assessment and the ability to write our own questions, as well as provide some questions to pull from.”
Heatherly searched the web for free online tools and was excited to find Edulastic. “My first impression was ‘ Why have I not known about this?’” Heatherly recalls, “Edulastic was very young but it had great bones. It was easy to navigate and the support was outstanding. If I had a question or suggestions, the support staff was quick to respond and many times took our suggestions for improvement and implemented them.” Soon the math department started using Edulastic and it wasn’t long until Benton became Edulastic’s first customer in Arkansas in 2016.
The PLC Journey
It was around 2016 that Benton School District began to embark on a PLC journey. Using Edulastic digital assessments, teachers and school leaders started tracking student progress on learning standards and used the instant data to drive conversations during PLCs. “We have been able to take the data [from Edulastic] to PLC meetings and have rich discussions which have not only led to interventions with students, but have made the teachers think about how they are teaching their standards,” says Heatherly.
Over time, Benton has slowly assessed and refined their processes and integration of data-driven PLCs. The math teams are leading the charge.
At Benton Junior High School, five 9th grade algebra 1 educators meet on a regular basis. “During our PLC meetings, we look at our Edulastic data from an assessment.” says Kim Piper, Algebra 1 Math Teacher. “We look at our top three questions that were missed by all students and then we go from there into dissecting each question.”
During their meeting, the Algebra 1 teachers determine the best ways to approach each question and concept, so they can get students back on track or figure out if the question needs adjustments. They also take time to determine why particular questions were answered correctly, and sometimes they find it’s because the concept was repeated over and over.
This type of review and discussion during PLC time helps teachers understand how to strengthen their instruction. It also provides both emotional and concrete support for overcoming challenges or finding new ways to approach difficult learning topics.
While the math teams at Benton were the first to initiate a data-driven PLC process, it didn’t take long for teachers of other subjects to follow suit. “When I saw what the math teams were able to do with the kind of data they were getting from the Edulastic reports, I got excited about it, and I wanted to bring that to our literacy teams.” Jenny Parnell, Secondary Literacy Instructional Facilitator. This year the literacy teams at Benton are using common formative assessments on Edulastic to track student progress throughout the year. Science teachers are also beginning to integrate digital assessment and PLCs.
Collaboration Across Classrooms
“The idea is now moving towards collaboration.” Brandy Beckman, Secondary Math Instructional Facilitator, “we’re not just answering it as ‘in my classroom it’s important to do X Y Z,’ With PLCs we decide as a team that ‘this’ is really what every student at Benton Junior High School leaving Algebra one should know how to do.”
When the Jr. High math team comes together, they address the following four questions:
- What do you want your students to know?
- How do you know if your students know it?
- What are you going to do if your students don’t know it?
- What do you do if your students do know it?
By looking at these questions together, teachers can work through goals, assessment tactics, and responses. It also makes sure that no matter what classroom a student is in, they will be getting a similar education to a student in a different classroom.
Real-time Data is a Game Changer
“Edulastic is transforming our PLC’s because it’s providing teachers with real-time data about how their students are performing throughout the school year,” says Parnell, “We are no longer waiting on one big test that we get [results back from] in July to find out how our students are doing; we can find out how our students are doing throughout the year.” She also notes that it’s helping all students succeed since teachers can easily view which students are struggling with particular questions or learning standards.
On the individual teacher level, “the big game-changer is being able to get that data quickly.” Piper explains that Edulastic is a huge time saver: “I’m not spending a week to two weeks grading an assessment, I’m getting it immediately. On a normal test, I would spend about an hour per class so you’re talking about five hours a week grading.”
When teachers spend less time grading formative and summative assessments, they have more time to focus their instruction elsewhere. “Edulastic has really changed my classroom and the way I assess students. I now assess every couple of days short quizzes, get that immediate feedback, address misconceptions. I know before student walks out the door what misgives misconceptions they have and we can address it immediately.” says Piper
Benton School District has used Edulastic Enterprise for several years now, so if students are really struggling, teachers in the district have the ability to intervene with insight into that student’s history. “Since we use Edulastic district-wide in our ninth-grade algebra PLC group, if I have a student that is continuously struggling, I can go back and look at his sixth grade, seventh grade, or eighth-grade data to pull assessments up and really drill down to see if this misconception has started at an early age.” Says Piper, “and then I can address that misconception now.”
Digital Assessment: Transforming the PLC Process
The digital assessment component has its other perks for PLCs. Beckman likes how digital assessment provides an opportunity to use test-type questions that students will see on the ACT Aspire. “It creates an environment for the students to be able to practice the ACT Aspire tech-enhanced questions and also creates more engagement within the assessment piece,” Beckman explains.
PLCs at Benton have become stronger with access to instant data, state test prep, and a way to quickly share student reports. Parnell recognizes the shift that digital assessment provided, “I’m excited with the way some of our PLC teams have been transformed by having this kind of access to this kind of data real-time data for their students throughout the school year.”