Learning Resources | Feature

Using Data and Technology To Improve AYP

After failing to meet adequate yearly progress in 2008, Gautier Middle School Principal Christy Reimsnyder dove into the data and decided to invest in technology in an effort to turn the school's academic progress around.

When Christy Reimsnyder took over as principal at Mississippi's Gautier Middle School in July 2008, she said it felt "like I was kind of taking over a sinking ship."

Soon after taking the position, Reimsnyder learned that the Title I school had failed to make adequate yearly progress (AYP)  the year before. The school was on "academic watch" status as assigned by the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE). There were an average of 85 fights per year among a population of approximately 675 students. Out of a faculty of 65, she needed to replace 19 teachers.

But under Reimsnyder's leadership, and with a combination of technology solutions, a willingness to pay attention to data, and a shift in Gautier's culture, the school has shown some impressive achievement gains, including an improvement from 33 percent of eighth grade students demonstrating math proficiency in 2007-08, to 77 percent in 2010-11.

The need to hire a large amount of teachers at Gautier wasn't a new problem. Reimsnyder said that when she was an assistant principal at the school "we had always, every summer, had to hire double digits."

Reimsnyder said she took the need to replace nearly a third of the teachers as an opportunity to "look for areas of strength. What could they do for Gautier Middle. How could they strengthen the faculty."

Once the staffing needs were met, Reimsnyder spent her first year as principal observing the situation.

"I'm a data diver," Reimsnyder said. "And my first year I did it for the faculty. I looked at the data" using the Pascagoula School District's Accountability Analyzer and took it to the school's data leadership team.

One of the things Reimsnyder said she saw in it, was that more and more students were coming into Gautier with environmental and home issues that were affecting their ability to learn. So she began looking for technology solutions that would help those kids.

As a Title I school that had failed to meet AYP, Gautier qualified for additional funding from the state to help turn the situation around. The school received $192,000 the first year, $72,000 the second, and $29,000 last year.

Gautier invested those funds in a number of ways, including:

  • A math coach who teaches two algebra sections and is otherwise free to help students with remediation or teachers with lesson planning or in finding resources;
  • A second computer lab with 25 Apple workstations;
  • Promethean boards for the classrooms;
  • Interwrite Mobi pads; and
  • Several new software tools.

The first of those new tools was Scientific Learning's Fast ForWord, which Gautier students began using in the 2010-11 school year.

The target group, which is typically the lowest performing 10 percent of the student population, according to Reimsnyder, loses an elective and spends the time instead working on their reading with the software.

The loss of an elective may sound punitive, "but it is geared in such a way that the kids like the program because it looks like a video game and it's competitive. The computer lab teacher I have in there, which is a certified teacher, keeps it competitive."

Gautier said disciplinary issues "drastically reduced" with only two fights last year, and though the school has launched a peer mediation initiative and instituted a self-regulation program called Conscious Discipline, she also attributes the reduction in part to the fact that students weren't bored and were feeling challenged.

"But when I looked at their test data when they came in, there really wasn't significant growth," she said. "There was barely any."

So she decided that students would stay in the class until they demonstrated growth, rather than moving them out once they'd completed a specific number of areas in the program.

"I've noticed this data, this school year, that my sped (special education) students are finally showing considerable growth," Reimsnyder said.

Another pair of tools Reimsnyder put in place were Accelerated Reader and Accelerated Math from Renaissance Learning. With the data and reports those programs produce, students in need of help will be assigned to teacher support teams, with one faculty member responsible for working with him or her one-on-one to address reading deficiencies and a group "working on benchmarks and stuff like that."

Reimsnyder said that part of the problem when she took over was the diversity of software teachers were using in their classes. She said that she noticed veteran teachers who had become comfortable with a particular piece of software sometimes became dependent on it and their students weren't showing the amount of growth that students in other classes were.

"There were so many programs that teachers were using," she said. "So I put my foot down. I said my sped teachers will be using MySkillsTutor and Fast ForWord, and that's it. My math teachers can use Accelerated Math. My reading teachers can use Accelerated Reading and they can use USATestPrep. That's it."

This year, Gautier won't receive the additional state funding that's been coming in for the last three. Reimsnyder says that's okay since she's already purchased the hardware and software her teachers and students need, though she did say she needs to figure out how she'll pay the math coach without it.

Reimsnyder is quick to point out that more progress needs to be made, but the school's success over the last few years suggests there's reason to be confident they'll make it. The progress overall has been more dramatic than the 42 point proficiency increase Gautier's eighth graders demonstrated in math, but they are real gains.

Gautier's sixth grade and seventh grade students have respectively made mathematics proficiency gains of 14 points and 13 points between 2008 and 2011. All grades have moved from 44 percent or 45 percent proficient in reading in 2008 to 53 percent or higher in 2011. MDE has changed the school's accountability status from "academic watch" to "successful" to "high performing."

"It's a process," Reimsnyder said. "It's exhausting. But as I look at the data over the years, we can't do it without everybody putting their hands in it and embracing this."

About the Author

Joshua Bolkan is contributing editor for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe. He can be reached at [email protected].