Blended Learning Drives Student Gains in Math and ELA at Montgomery County Schools

i-Ready and Ready help close achievement gaps in North Carolina district
By: | Issue: March, 2016 | Case Study
February 4, 2016

Counties in North Carolina are rated on a scale from Tier 1 to Tier 4 for economic wealth, with Tier 1 counties being the most economically disadvantaged. Montgomery County Schools is located in a rural Tier 1 county in the geographic center of the state, with 77 percent of its 4,200 students receiving free and reduced lunch.

“In a small, rural county it is very easy to notice the things that you do not have. As leaders, it is our job to focus our resources in a way that can derive the greatest benefit for our students,” says Dale Ellis, superintendent of Montgomery County Schools.

“We wanted to offer an equitable learning platform for all students,” says Jeff James, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. “Our mandate is to give our students the same learning opportunities as in any county in North Carolina.”

In November 2014, that wish became a reality when district leadership applied forÑand wonÑa $3 million technology grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The project, called ACCESS, or A Culture Creating Effective Systems for Success, was designed to create a districtwide culture of technology-based education.

“Districts with minimum resources often have to be more innovative than those with money. We have to think more outside the box to meet the needs of our students,” says James.

Part of that innovative, blended solution for Montgomery County was implementing the i-Ready® and Ready® programs from Curriculum Associates. i-Ready combines an adaptive diagnostic and standards mastery assessment with online personalized instruction, while Ready provides rigorous, standards-based instruction in reading, writing and mathematics. The programs are designed to work together, connecting students’ learning across mediums and settings to reduce the administrative burden on teachers, freeing them to help every student grow.

“We began using i-Ready because we needed to know where each student needed support,” says James. “Without that insight, effective intervention was always a challenge in our district.”

Before i-Ready, teachers had to spend as many as four to six weeks reteaching at the beginning of the school year. Now, the district administers the i-Ready diagnostic to all students within the first two weeks of the school year, allowing intervention to be precisely targeted for each student. “i-Ready has enabled our teachers to work smarter, not harder,” says James.

Montgomery County’s elementary school students have a 45-minute intervention period in which they use i-Ready. At the K5 level, i-Ready fits in particularly well with the station rotation blended learning model. Data from the diagnostic helps teachers divide students into instruction groups based on skill gaps.

“Or, if a student is testing above grade level, they can use i-Ready time for acceleration,” says James. “We are keeping all students engaged in learning instead of wasting time.”

In the three years since Montgomery County implemented a blended model of Ready and i-Ready, K5 students have seen growth of more than 50 percent in math and have closed significant gaps in reading ability.

Working closely with school leaders and teachers has been key to that success. “Our principals and teachers knew there was a need for targeted intervention and closing gaps,” says James. “Once we selected i-Ready for the district, our school leaders helped us build this model that works. Instead of adding to teachers’ workloads, i-Ready makes their job easier.”

The district has also developed support structures and routines to ensure successful implementation in every classroom. “We have instructional technology specialists that set up blended learning plans and lessons with teachers,” says James. “They meet with curriculum specialists to share success stories and to duplicate success across the district.”

Montgomery County’s implementation of blended learning is helping the district realize the vision of providing educational equity for all students. “Providing technology access and a dedicated learning platform through the focused use of grant funding has allowed us to transform education in Montgomery County Schools,” says Ellis. “The mandate from the Board of Education has been clear. Our students deserve only the best!”

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