Leveraging Adaptive Technology to Close Math Achievement Gap

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Webinar Date: January 01,2012

Webinar Description

This webinar, presented by Vicki Sacco principal of West Seattle Elementary, describes how she leveraged adaptive technology to lead her school to achieve the highest growth in math test scores in the Seattle School District following 4 years of not making AYP.

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CD: Hello. Thank you for joining us today for the DreamBox Learning webinar on “Leveraging Adaptive Technology to Close the Math Achievement Gap in Title 1 Schools.” This webinar is designed for kindergarten through fifth grade educators and school and district leaders working to increase achievement in mathematics. During this webinar our presenter, Principal Vicki Sacco, will share how West Seattle Elementary, a Title 1 school in need of improvement, achieved the highest growth in math test scores in the Seattle School District following four years of not making adequate yearly progress. Participants will learn the critical pieces of the West Seattle school improvement plan, implementation details, and results. And there will be a Q&A session at the end of this presentation, where we hope that we have time to answer any questions that might come up during the session. My name is Casey Davidson. I’m the Director of Product Marketing for DreamBox Learning and I will be moderating today’s presentation by Vicki Sacco. And now I’m going to be handing the presentation over to Vicki.

VS: Thank you Casey. I’m excited to be here today to share our story at West Seattle with other Title 1 schools across the country. Just a little bit about myself. I’ve been an educator for the past 20 years. Actually the last 15 years in Brevard County schools and prior to my most recent position here at West Seattle Elementary, I was the Principal at Riverview Elementary School, which upon my taking over had been a failing school and we turned it around and it was rated as an A or B for five years, past five years. Last year I joined West Seattle Elementary to lead the transformation. West Seattle Elementary had been previously among the lowest 5 percent of the schools in the state of Washington. As you can see on the slide, West Seattle Elementary is a Title 1 school. It says 329, we’ve actually increased our enrollment to over 400 students now. Ninety-two percent of our students are eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch, we have a 35 percent ELL population, and 21 percent at special education. Many of our students speak first language of Somali, Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean, and other languages.

West Seattle Elementary is located—it’s a very diverse community and historically, previous to the transformation, as I said, was designated among the lowest performing schools. We did not make AYP and as you can see one of the statistics there in 2009–2010 only 16 percent of our fourth grade students were scoring at the standard for mathematics. That is only a sample of some of the really weak scores at the school. So the state decided that we needed to do something and the choice was a transformation model, which included increased professional development for teachers, extended learning time, increasing family engagement, and of course introduction of a new curriculum. There were several curriculums, but the one that we’re focusing on today of course is DreamBox Learning.

The increased extended learning time really only equals 15 additional instructional minutes a day and a few extra days per year. The first year was four days, this past year we only had one extra day. But that extended learning time can be very valuable if it’s used wisely. And one of the things that we do—and I would say actually DreamBox since we use it approximately 20 to 30 minutes per day—is a tool that we use to make the most of that increased instructional time. It’s very important that we close the achievement gap in math and reading. And again with under 17 percent of our fourth graders performing at grade level, and that’s just one example of where our students were in math, we knew that we needed to accelerate them quickly and we couldn’t continue to do what wasn’t working. So we wanted to supplement the curriculum and the basic core curriculum is everyday math, but it wasn’t enough and we needed to provide our students with an effective math intervention that would meet students at their current ability level. Most of them were well below grade level. We had of course some on level and some above, provide instruction, not just additional practice, and accelerate learning to close the achievement gap. And I would also add using every moment of time wisely.

So we were looking at options for new curriculum and I had three main criteria, but we ended up selecting and testing DreamBox Learning because it met all of the criteria that we were looking for. And I will say that it was recommended to me by one of my teachers whose sister was working in another school that found really good success with DreamBox, so that’s how I was introduced to it. But of course we were looking for a high quality program that would work within our math workshop model and I’ll talk briefly about that a little bit later. Actually I’ll tell you a little bit about it now. In a lot of their math instructions in this school, teachers pull small groups of kids, so basically they do a whole group lesson and then they do small group instruction with some students working at centers. So I was very concerned about the students that might be working independently but not really getting the high level of instruction during that independent work time. By having them working on DreamBox I knew that that time was being used very effectively.

Additionally you know, when students have such dramatically low achievement, I needed to know that they would be able to get differentiated instruction, which was targeted to their level of comprehension. Again, it’s not really helpful if we’re teaching above where they are or below where they are. We had to fill their gaps and DreamBox does adapt and adjust to meet students at their individual level. And I wanted a program with a strong focus on development of number sense, which was an area that we identified as a very great need for our students. Again, it’s critical, students in third grade can’t move on to a higher level in math without the basic foundation of number sense. DreamBox does a really good job of helping students compose and decompose numbers using 10’s and in helping them build their foundational math skills which many of them were lacking.

So another requirement was I was looking for a computer-based technology program. It’s very important in this day and age as you know, that students be adept and comfortable in using computers. Many of our students did not have computers at home and I wanted to and needed to provide them to practice and exposure to using computers. Ironically, students that don’t have computers at home yet one of the tests that we, the district uses to assess their performance is the Measurement of Academic Performance—the MAP test. And the MAP test is an online program, so how are we testing them if they don’t have the computer skills. The MSP, the Measurement of Student Progress, which is the high stakes end of the year test, will and in some cases it is already online and in the next couple of years everybody will be taking that online, so kids need to be comfortable learning and using technology online and know their software. I wanted to bring an online technology program to increase students and that ties in with as I said with the high stakes test that’s coming up.

We, and just in case you’re wondering, we did not have a great number of computers, we had about four to five computers per classroom, we’ve have the same issues that other people have had with that. We do not have Wi-Fi, but we made it work. I’ve had very few problems with DreamBox, in fact none. The only problems we had of course, was if a computer wasn’t working. We’re managing to increase our infrastructure here at school but we made it work with just those few computers.

So the third requirement was to ensure that any program we selected was easy to implement and that was one of the most important things for me because as a transformation school we had taken on a lot, and anything additional that I asked the teachers to do it had to be easy. It couldn’t take a lot of—they’d already been through a lot of training, learning a lot of new programs. I neglected to mention that many of the teachers and the staff including myself came to Seattle from different parts of the country, so we were new to the system and the curriculum here. What I found with DreamBox was that it was not only user-friendly for the students, but also for the teachers. It was very easy for them to get the kids going on the program and to monitor the progress of the students. It is quite easy to use. The actual training took about 40 minutes to really get them going. And of course then I had additional teachers that took off with it to come back and share and before we knew it the whole staff was using it and all the kids were on it.

When I initially got into … started with DreamBox, I’m not one to take on something until I’ve tested it and also there were funding issues, though it’s not an expensive program, but at the time I purchased it money was tight and so I went ahead and purchased it to use as an intervention for our lowest 30 percent students, six to eight students per class. Our ELL students, our Special Ed students, and although at the time the program was designed for kindergarten through third grade, since our students were so low we also went to our fourth graders as well. After a short time I started to look at some results from the MAP data and we did extremely well, but then I saw that some students just exceeded that performance and I went back and noticed that many of those students had been the students on DreamBox. Well that told me something and at that point we went and we implemented it school-wide. So that was at about the middle of last year. Scores increased at a rate two and a half times the district average and on top of that students were loving the program and excited about using it.

So another area I noticed was that we didn’t put our advanced learners or higher achieving students on DreamBox and yet they weren’t making the type of growth that we were seeing in our lower performing kids. So now as we saw the results and how well the students loved it and how easy it was for teachers to implement, we did expand the implementation. It started with all K–4 students and now at this point that there’s an intermediate version we have K­–5, all of our students on it. Our afterschool program which is YMCA is using DreamBox. They take students into the library where we have about 12 computers and we just started a Saturday school. And one part of that program is having our students using DreamBox.

And so in addition to all of the things I’ve talked about, you know, I’ve continued to learn more about this program and more unexpected benefits such as Administrator Reports that I can use, that I can go on and see a quick—just an overview of the school, and I can quickly gage which teachers are really making time getting their kids on, which teachers aren’t, and most of them are, because they do see the results. And it really is helpful when I want to sit down and have meetings with teachers, and we look at reports and I just had some meetings today in fact and looking at the MAP data, the Measurement of Academic Performance. And we’re going to go back now and look at some of those students that did not do as well. Our scores again were very good, so we’re very excited, but we still wanted to look at the kids that weren’t making as much growth and then we are going to see. Are those kids using DreamBox as much? Do we need to focus what areas that they work on DreamBox? So we’re going to now go back and use those reports in that way.

The kids love it, the game, the program, they don’t tire of it and I’ve previously used other math software that I thought was really good and highly rated, but the problem that I’ve found, first of all it wasn’t as easy to implement. Second of all, after a while, the kids got bored. And if they’re getting bored and they’re not engaged, they’re not learning. And I have not found it. It’s been a year and a half and kids still love to use DreamBox. They’re engaged, they don’t get tired of it and they sort of fight over it, they want to get there. So that has continued to grow.

Like anything else there are always challenges in education. We still work, as I said we’re excited that we are getting new computers, but it was just an area we had to work around and scheduling of course, there is never enough time in the day. Anytime there is bandwidth limitation. With the infrastructure in this building I was surprised at how well it had worked, how well it has been working and how few problems we’ve had. But there have been times where it’s a disappointment to a student if they don’t log on. So initially, teacher adoption, but that really didn’t take very long as they saw the student results and other teachers to do it. And parent engagement, really, really focusing on getting parents to use it at home and if they don’t have a computer at home take them into the library. We’ve connected at a Parent Night. We had our local librarian come in and they are very familiar with the program. So that was a good connection if the parents take their students into the library. Librarians are able to help them log on to DreamBox.

So finally what is it ultimately, we’re all assessed on our results and for those of you that are in the public school system you know that AYP, Adequate Yearly Progress, is very important. It can make or break your school, because if you don’t meet it, then eventually kids are given choices to go to other schools, and if you don’t have kids you don’t have a school. So making AYP was very important. I did not necessarily expect to make it 100 percent. The first year we implemented a program, our transformation model, but interesting … but we did, and the interesting thing was that in math we made AYP without even relying on Safe Harbor. And Safe Harbor means that you’ve met, you’ve decreased the number of students that are at standard by 10 percent. It can be complicated, but it’s sort of a safety valve for Title 1 schools and in math we did not need Safe Harbor. We just flat out made AYP. In reading, we made AYP but we did use Safe Harbor. So that tells me we’re doing something right in math and I know that DreamBox played a big role in that. But we’re continuing to work and at this point I guess I’ll leave it questions and turn it back over to Casey.

CD: Thank you so much Vicki. That was so helpful. We will be holding a Q&A session in just a moment. If you haven’t already submitted questions for Vicki, please take a moment to do so using the question and answer box.

While we are waiting for questions to come in, I wanted to tell you just a little bit more about DreamBox. At DreamBox we combined three essential elements to accelerate student learning. At the heart of the program is really the rigorous elementary mathematics. DreamBox supports and aligns to the Common Course State Standards for Mathematics as well as supports the Standards for Mathematical Practice. We also combine two motivating learning environments. As Vicki mentioned, we’ve got a primary learning environment, the kindergarten through second grade students working where they help their animated friend solve story-based adventures and the younger kids really enjoy that they work on math problems and go on adventures. Older students in third grade and up work in an intermediate learning environment that they can make their own, they can personalize their music and wallpaper and they really enjoy working in the program. DreamBox has leveraged gaming fundamentals and rewards to encourage students to persist and to progress.

And underlying the rigorous mathematics and the motivating learning environment is the DreamBox Intelligent Adaptive Learning engine. DreamBox is able to capture every move and every decision a student makes and adapts the student’s learning path appropriately based on that information. Our goal is to keep students immersed in their experience where they’re neither bored nor frustrated, but where they are challenged and learning. And DreamBox provides millions of individualized learning paths, each one tailored to a student’s unique needs.

At the heart of DreamBox mathematics are virtual manipulatives. DreamBox uses virtual manipulatives to teach all of our lessons within the program. What these virtual manipulatives do is they allow us to track not only whether a student got a question right or wrong, but how they answered the question. DreamBox is able to adjust and adapt based on a student’s response time, the amount of hints or help the need, the kinds of mistakes they make, and the efficiency of their strategy, and we’re able to provide the next lesson, the next best hint, and help students need to learn a concept. Essentially, virtual manipulatives allow students to show their work and allow DreamBox to optimize their experience based on their level of comprehension.

And as Vicki mentioned, at the heart of any program the most important thing is effectiveness. DreamBox recently had an independent study done by SRI International in three Title 1 schools down in San Jose. The schools were part of Rocketship education that had 88 percent of students were on Free and Reduced Lunch and 81 percent were English Language Learners. The students had a treatment and control group and were on the DreamBox program and treatment group for just 21 hours. And what the study found was that those students gained on average 5.5 percentile points in math achievement on standardized testing. And that study is available at the DreamBox Learning website.

And I also wanted to mention that right now DreamBox is offering a special promotion where any school who is not a current DreamBox school can receive three free classroom licenses for an entire year. That means up to 100 students in three classrooms can use DreamBox for 12 months at school or at home. If you’re interested in trying DreamBox in your school, you can go to the website www.dreambox.com/three-for-free and enter the Title 1 webinar promo code: 3FORFREE-WEBF. Enter that you can get your free classroom. You can also sign up for two other free classrooms for school within your building and there’s also a short introductory video to tell you a little bit more about the DreamBox program.

At this point I’m going to turn it over to the Q&A and answer some of the questions that have come in during this session. Let’s see, I’ve got one from Laura who is a Principal in Connecticut asking Vicki, “How were you able to provide students with additional math instructional time while still providing additional briefing instruction?” She’s having trouble finding scheduling time for one but not both, and has students needing intervention in both subjects.

VS: Hi, Laura. Well I guess that’s a question we all have and we struggle with that as well. We do the best we can. We look at what the needs are of the students are and of course identify if they need math, then we’re trying to provide more time on DreamBox, but part of the culture here is that we use every moment. And from the moment the students enter the classroom, you know, we maximize our instructional time as much as possible. So it’s really up to the teacher. Were you to work with the teachers and look at their schedule, and usually we can develop a pretty good plan that works.

CD: Let’s see, we also have a Principal from Los Amigos Elementary asking, “How easy is the program implementation, what infrastructure do you need?”

VS: Well, that happens to be a pretty easy one to answer, because I always worry about that as well and I mention that in my presentation. That was a big concern. It is really easy to implement. I didn’t want to have to provide a lot of training and the training—I was able to do it myself and I used planning time for the teachers which is 40 minutes and I had them all come through one day at a team meeting, and in a 40 minutes time I was able to go through the basics. DreamBox is great to work with and if any time I had a question, if I call them, they were extremely responsive. They were usually able to answer the question immediately, rarely did I even have to wait for a call back. So implementation and support was there.

One of the other things I did was when I saw that one teacher had taken off with it, was a little more tech-savvy and just using computers more, I asked her if she would talk to the staff and she was happy to do that. So at the staff meeting she showed some of the reports and her enthusiasm also contributed to other teachers wanting to jump on board and use it as well.

CD: Let’s see, we’ve got a question from Douglas who is a Principal at Badger Elementary in Wisconsin. And Douglas asks if the DreamBox Math Curriculum is tied to the Common Core standards and the answer is “Yes.” DreamBox is aligned to the Common Course State Standards, we currently cover counting and cardinality, number and operations algebra thinking, number and operations fractions, and other areas as well. We actually have a full alignment to the Common Course State Standards on our website.

All right, our final question is from Lee who looks to be Principal of Bishop Primary Elementary in South Carolina. And Lee asks, “Are there any strategies that can be implemented immediately that may impact upcoming assessments?” And I’ll let Vicki handle it.

VS: Well, in terms of using DreamBox, yes, I would say very simply increase the amount of time. And I just had a conversation with a group of teachers today, we looked at MAP data and in one particular classroom, there was an issue with her students in math. And this is a fifth grade classroom so they hadn’t been using DreamBox until only recently and certainly it isn’t the only thing we do, we’re going to be looking at other strategies, but immediately I suggested that she find time to have her kids go through DreamBox at least add 10 to 15 minutes a day. So using this tool and increasing time I think that’s what the research says and it’s good instruction. So that’s what I would recommend.

CD: Thanks Vicki! And I also did want to mention that that SRI study did show that in just a few hours, in about 21 hours on the program, the average student was able to raise their NWEA math test scores by about 5.5 percentile points and that was not in a very long period of time. DreamBox actually recommends that students spend on average about 90 minutes per week on the program. Schools typically divide that up to 60 minutes per week during the school day and perhaps 30 minutes at home or in the library after school, but it can be implemented very easily, students are able to be very self-directed and we do provide teachers and administrators with real-time reporting and data about student progress and proficiency in specific units of the curriculum as well as how that is aligned to the Common Core State Standards.

At this time I’m going to end our webinar. Thank you so much for your time and attendance. If you’re interested in learning more about DreamBox, please contact us. You can email schools@dreambox.com  or go to the website www.dreambox.com with any questions you may have. We can also offer a customized demo for your school or district and you can also sign up for that three free classrooms offer. Thank you so much!