Making a difference through creativity and data
Turning the tide in a challenging environment
Dr. 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 school principal where she had first begun teaching. What she found upon her return was troubling.
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. Considering all of those factors, success was hard to come by for Cleveland and its staff. “One of my major challenges was improving morale,” White reports. She knew something significant had to be done.
Incorporating technology to bridge the gaps
“DreamBox has been a critical component of math RTI for our English Learners.”
— Dr. Cynthia White, Principal
In her previous roles with curriculum development in the district, she realized that the struggling students of Cleveland arrive at school with challenges. She also knew that adaptive technology has made addressing those gaps possible.
“We had students entering third grade who were performing math at a kindergarten level. 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.”
White’s first steps were to generate buy-in from the critical stakeholders. Saddled with the school’s antiquated technology, teachers were initially skeptical about incorporating an adaptive program like DreamBox into their instruction. They thought they needed a more topic-based, supplemental program—especially considering the changing standards they were responsible for—rather than a richly adaptive system such as DreamBox. What they would find is that the system was capable of both filling background knowledge gaps as well as covering the necessary standards.
Turning teachers into blended learning superstars
White convinced the site council to invest in 96 laptops to use in a rotational blended learning model. This number was enough for one-third of the students to use at one time, along with small group and individualized instruction. To address the staff’s reticence with the program, DreamBox was made available on an optional basis to the third grade teachers. Instructional coaching and strategic teaming were also offered to those teachers to begin integrating the technology with their instruction.
As positive results started to stream in during the school year, more and more teachers became interested in the initiative. Furthermore, parents were starting to see what was possible. An IT support specialist was hired and was made available not only to the staff at the school, but also to the parents, so that students could begin using DreamBox at home. The wealth of data being generated was informing instruction — and making parent/teacher conferences more effective and meaningful. Soon, parents were investing in laptops, Chromebooks, and other technology rather than video game systems so their children could practice math at home. Seeing this, the teachers even started using DreamBox as the go-to homework option.
Testing gains and earning teachers’ respect
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,” White said.
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.
White shared one of the lessons she’s learned during this implementation process. “It’s important to generate buy-in. The optional pilot program really brought the teachers around. Then providing the resources to help the teachers be successful, like coaching and data analysis, helped us experience the success we’ve seen with DreamBox.”