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Westside Community Schools is Improving Intervention and Core Instruction with Assessment Data & PLCs

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June 3rd, 2021

About Westside Community Schools

Westside District 66’s mission is to ensure academic excellence and serve the unique needs of all learners. The district does this by using student assessment data to improve instruction, while also personalizing the learning for every student.

In the Westside schools, every K–12 student gets his or her own Apple device for learning. In addition, students are supported by outstanding faculty; 11 employees have received state or national awards. Although a third of students qualify for free or reduced lunch and there are 20 different languages spoken in the district, 82% of all kindergarteners and first-grade students were proficient in reading as of the 2019–20 school year—and 80% of 2020 graduates are attending college.

Disrupting the Paradigm

In analyzing student achievement data from the 2013–14 school year, district officials realized that for most students in grades K–6, how they entered at the beginning of the year was how they left at the end. Specifically, district leaders noticed their most struggling students still weren’t making gains in reading.

For instance, the percentage of students receiving targeted intervention in kindergarten letter sound fluency barely moved from fall to spring that year, and actually increased by two percentage points: 30% in the fall versus 32% in the spring.

“It was very predictable, and we needed to do something different,” says Dr. Greg Betts, Director of Elementary Teaching and Learning.

District leaders recognized that all the intervention they could provide wouldn’t matter unless core instruction also improved. In addition, teachers needed more support in understanding how to use data to improve their teaching. “With the best of intentions, we spent a lot of time and training on interventions—but we started to drift away from the importance of core instruction for all students,” said Betts. “Intervening from the top was not the only answer.”

Improving Core Instruction

Westside committed to enhancing core instruction by clearly defining the skills to be taught at each grade level. District leaders used curriculum maps to clearly define the skills that students should learn at each grade level. They also reevaluated the core curriculum they were using and drew upon the work of Dr. Anita Archer to enhance whole-group learning.

Westside had tightened up its core instruction, and leaders had the data at the kindergarten level to prove that this new approach was working: By the 2017–18 school year, the district was able to reduce the percentage of students who needed intervention in letter sound fluency from 33% in the fall to just 7% in the spring. Now, what the district needed was consistent application across all K–6 classrooms, integrated with its MTSS practices.

“We had gotten our instructional systems in place in terms of what we should teach, and now we needed to ensure that our assessment systems were set up to measure effectiveness,” says MTSS Coordinator Karin Mussman. After looking at various products, district leaders chose FastBridge, a simple yet powerful universal screening and progress monitoring assessment solution from Illuminate Education, for this task.

FastBridge uses screening data from multiple brief assessments—including computer-adaptive tests (CATs) and curriculum-based measures (CBMs)—to accurately identify risk levels and skills gaps for the class and individual students. FastBridge also suggests classwide instructional plans and whole group and individual academic interventions based on the data. In addition, it provides progress monitoring guidance to help educators determine how quickly interventions are working.

Westside began using FastBridge during the 2018–19 school year. “After our first year, we had more teachers using the system and administering assessments than we ever had with our prior assessment system,” Mussman says. Even so, the district still had minimal input from teachers during MTSS meetings, suggesting they might not be leveraging the data as effectively as they could be. To help teachers use student data to better inform their instruction, Westside developed FAST PLCs. “We wanted teachers to become self-sufficient with data-based decision making and increase their voice in MTSS meetings,” Mussman explains.

FAST PLCs Unlock Data-Driven Decisions In Each Classroom

Westside’s new FAST PLCs are scheduled on the early release Wednesdays that are set aside for teacher professional learning once a month. During the FAST PLC meetings, teachers meet in grade-level teams to dig into the FastBridge assessment data and reflect on what they can do to strengthen outcomes for all students. Then, they set or review progress toward their goals for improving whole-group instruction. Finally, they choose proven instructional strategies they can use to achieve their goals from a list of research-based strategies the district provides—and they create an action plan based on these strategies.

These are always scheduled for the week before the district’s MTSS meetings, in which student intervention decisions are made. “This gives teachers time to dig into the data and reflect and plan for what they’re going to do to support all students,” Mussman says. “It also gives teachers more ownership in the decisions being made, and they ultimately became more engaged participants in the MTSS meetings—which is critical for effective problem solving.”

To guide this PLC work, “we focus on just one FastBridge report at a time, so that teachers can really go deeper and understand what each report tells us,” Mussman says. “We have planned out which report is most relevant at various points in the year.” For instance, in August, teachers review the Group Screening Report to get an overall picture of where students are at the beginning of the year. In October, they dig into the Individual Benchmark Report and how to interpret this, which is shared with parents at fall conferences.

This PLC work leads naturally into the MTSS meetings, where teachers then strategize about how they’ll meet the needs of individual students who are still struggling.

Combining FastBridge with eduCLIMBER

In addition to FastBridge data showing specific skills gaps, Westside educators also have access to a more holistic view of each student with eduCLIMBER, an MTSS collaboration and management platform from Illuminate Education. eduCLIMBER combines assessment, social-emotional behavior (SEB), attendance, and other whole child data in a single platform.

Teachers use eduCLIMBER to examine FastBridge assessment data alongside other whole child data to inform decisions in their MTSS meetings. With eduCLIMBER, they can explore the relationships between multiple factors to get a complete view of why a particular student might continue to struggle.

Once an intervention decision is made, educators also use FastBridge’s progress monitoring assessments to determine whether an intervention is working and if it’s working fast enough.

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Illuminate Education equips educators to take a data-driven approach to serving the whole child. Our solution combines comprehensive assessment, MTSS management and collaboration, and real-time dashboard tools, and puts them in the hands of educators. As a result, educators can monitor learning and growth, identify academic and social-emotional behavioral needs, and align targeted supports in order to accelerate learning for each student. 

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