Innovative use of data helps Johnston County Schools close achievement gaps

North Carolina district uses i-Ready to differentiate instruction and improve classroom outcomes
By: | Issue: April, 2016 | Case Study
March 1, 2016

Leaders in Johnston County Schools in central North Carolina knew they needed to find more effective ways to help struggling students, close the achievement gap and meet their core instructional priorities. So they carefully planned a pilot program to choose the best adaptive learning system for the district’s 25,000 K8 students and their educators.

“We convened teachers, school leaders and administrators from across the district to determine which program could best provide the support and individualized instruction that our students deserve” says Rodney Peterson, Chief Administrative Officer of Johnston County Schools.

Based on their program evaluation and data from the pilot schools, the district chose i-Ready, an adaptive diagnostic and standards mastery assessment with online personalized instruction.

“We looked at end-of-year assessment data from the pilot schools using i-Ready” says Kristy Stephenson, Executive Director of School Improvement and Accountability. “Those schools saw significant gains in proficiency.”

One reason the district chose i-Ready is that it is very closely tied to state standards. “The big-picture view is that i-Ready supports our core instructional priorities” says Peterson. i-Ready’s diagnostic generates reports that show where students are struggling, broken down by grade level, standard, domain and subdomain. Johnston County’s teachers use these reports to precisely target instructional intervention and to ensure that students are spending enough time in i-Ready instruction each week to realize the greatest gains.

The reports also help teachers save time when planning differentiated instruction. “Before, our teachers would have to plan instruction for the classroom and for small groups, which is double the work” according to Katie Wall, Data Specialist. “But these reports help teachers form instructional groups and offer suggestions of targeted instructional resources so that teachers can focus on their classroom instruction.” District leaders knew that thoughtful planning and ongoing dialogue would be key to successfully implementing blended learning and getting the most out of the program.

A policy of constant communication among administrators, school leaders and teachers guides their approach. “We have contacts at each school who can discuss the most effective practices for using i-Ready that are leading to student gains” explains Wall. “A teacher is more likely to turn to another teacher down the hallway to answer questions, so we have teams of i-Ready experts in each building.” Johnston County Schools also organizes regular exchanges of best practices through professional learning communities. The district provides the PLCs with guiding questions to facilitate productive, data-driven conversations that ensure each student is getting the best possible instruction. The district is also committed to leading regional trainings on data-driven instruction twice per year and frequently disseminates professional development tips to school leaders and teachers.

As the program has been implemented across the district, Johnston County Schools is seeing positive results. Diagnostic data shows noticeable improvements in student performance, and teachers appreciate the targeted instructional support they are able to provide for struggling students.

“i-Ready is enabling us to close achievement gaps for our students” says Stephenson, “by supporting teachers and providing individualized instruction that meets our students exactly where they most need help.”

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