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Turning the tide with blended learning and adaptive technology

cynthia-white-profileDr. Cynthia White started her educational career at Cleveland Elementary in Santa Barbara, California as a kindergarten teacher nearly 30 years ago. After spending most of her career in secondary schools and district administration, she jumped at the chance to take on the role of principal for the school where she had first begun teaching. However, what she found upon her return was troubling.

Multiple challenges – including low morale. “One of my major challenges was improving morale,” Dr. White reports. Eighty-five percent of Cleveland’s students find themselves below the poverty line, and 75 percent are English Language Learners. The school’s infrastructure was crumbling and teachers were making do with technology from the mid-90s. “We had students entering third grade who were performing math at a kindergarten level,” said Dr. White. “The only way to help those kids catch up is with extra work and technology, because teachers are still responsible for their grade-level standards during class time.” She knew something drastic had to be done, and the answer was in implementing blended learning using adaptive technology.

Intelligent Adaptive Learning™ drives a true sea change. In the fall of 2013, White convinced the site council to invest in enough technology for one-third of each classroom’s students to use in a rotation blended model for math learning, paired with small group and individualized instruction. DreamBox was made available on an optional basis in conjunction with instructional coaching and strategic teaming for those teachers interested in integrating the technology with their instruction. As results started to stream in more teachers, and parents, began to see what was possible.

All of Cleveland’s teachers now use DreamBox as part of their math instruction, even though the program is still strictly optional. As the novelty of adaptive learning has worn off, the teachers are now trying to push the limits of the technology. “The teachers now really get in depth with the reporting and the data features of the software, looking for even more granular ways to inform their instruction,” Dr. White said.


 Results show a new wave of higher achievement. The assessment data has followed this expansion of the program. Last year, Cleveland Elementary’s Academic Performance Index (API) score, a value-added calculation of testing data and expected outcomes, grew by 15 points—10 points more than the target provided by the state. It was the school’s largest year-over-year increase since the API system went into effect five years ago!

To see what other factors Dr. White determined to be instrumental to Cleveland Elementary’s DreamBox implementation success read the case study Exceeding API by 10 points in 1 Year.