Written by Lynn Ehlers on April 04, 2019
Located in northern Oakland County, about 40 miles northwest of Detroit, Oxford Community Schools (OCS) serves a suburban community that extends across five townships and two villages. The district is consistently recognized for its excellence. Many of its schools have been designated as Michigan Blue Ribbon Exemplary Schools, and the district has received numerous MASB Education Excellence Awards, Michigan’s Best Awards, and School Board Standard Excellence Awards over the years.
As the only PreK through 12 IB Authorized World School District in Michigan, OCS is no stranger to offering innovative learning programs to help students become productive adults.
Like all districts in Michigan, OCS is awaiting the enforcement of the Read by Grade Three Law, which requires that third grade students be proficient readers by the end of third grade or risk being held back. Children entering third grade in 2019-20 will be the first group of students affected by the new law.
The Read by Grade Three Law came about in response to poor statewide results on the state’s 2015-16 M-STEP reading assessment: Fewer than half of Michigan third graders earned a passing score.
According to Sian (pronounced “Shawn”) Marshall, Data Specialist at OCS, the new law is getting state educators on the same wavelength when it comes to the importance of reading. “Michigan wants to become a top 10 reading state,” she says. “We were ranked 46 a few years back.”
While the Read by Grade Three Law is punitive, it does provide early literacy coaches and other extra supports to at-risk public school students, beginning in kindergarten. All students who are not reading at grade level before third grade are given an Individual Reading Improvement Plan (IRIP), which may include extra instruction, ongoing progress checks, Read-at-Home tools, and participation in summer reading programs.
Marshall arrived at OCS just as the Read by Grade Three Law passed the State legislature, and shortly after the district adopted the Illuminate DnA platform to manage student data and assessments. Marshall oversees the adoption and usage of Illuminate DnA, along with ancillary services like FastBridge for screening and formative assessments and eduCLIMBER for data visualization, progress monitoring, reporting, and analysis.
With the Data Specialist role in place, the district is demonstrating its commitment to creating a culture where data is viewed as something teachers and administrators want to use because it makes education more efficient and effective, not as just another thing that they have to deal with.
While much of Marshall’s typical day consists of training and troubleshooting, she’s also in charge of spearheading major initiatives, such as a multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS) to address the Read by Grade Three Law and beyond.
“With the right data, we can get a complete picture of every student’s strengths and weaknesses, and understand all the variables that contribute to performance,” she says. “With this information, we can make better decisions about supports that are needed and how interventions are progressing.”
When it comes to the Read by Grade Three Law, Marshall is working alongside teachers, principals, reading specialists, literary coaches, and interventionists to use data to identify at-risk students and bring them to proficiency as quickly possible.
Marshall used Illuminate DnA’s form letter feature to generate the mandatory individual student IRIP plans that can be shared with teachers, parents, social workers, reading specialists, and interventionists. The IRIPs generated by Illuminate DnA include current and historical data from state and interim reading assessments, along with information on the supports and interventions offered to each student. “All the information is in one place,” Marshall says. “Not only can we track progress and make adjustments, but it’s also much easier to communicate internally and with parents.”
While Marshall doesn’t know what percentage of next year’s third graders will be held back because of the new law, she believes that the district is as prepared as it can possibly be for success. “I don’t know how we could have done the IRIPs without Illuminate,” she says. “I don’t even want to think about it! The platform is a great tool for implementing large-scale projects and we have a great support team to help us keep things working every day.”
While the Read by Grade Three Law is dominating the conversation in Michigan districts, educators throughout the state have other challenges when it comes to helping students succeed.
To advance the goal of having an MTSS program to level the playing field for all students, OCS officials are piloting eduCLIMBER, a data management platform designed to help educators collaborate faster and more easily in support of MTSS/PBIS and RtI strategies.
Instead of forcing stakeholders to decipher complex spreadsheets, for example, eduCLIMBER delivers data in a visual way that’s much more useful. “Overall, the tool is proving to be everything we hoped for,” Marshall says. “It provides really good data visualization for monitoring what’s going on and we’re excited to roll it out across the district.”
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