Practical resources improve educator effectiveness and keep track of students’ progress.
Crystal Brown has taught fourth grade at Hinsdale Elementary in northern Kentucky for nine years. She knows a lot about good teaching but, in a classroom of 28 students with different strengths and challenges, tailoring her instruction to each student’s learning needs has always been difficult.
Without other resources to make it easier to personalize the support she gave to students, Brown has spent much of her career with one-size-fits-all tests and teaching materials; however, this approach meant that many students were either left behind or not sufficiently challenged.
But recently, thanks to a new data platform called the Continuous Instructional Improvement Technology System (CIITS), she is better able to help her students set appropriate academic goals and provide them with targeted support.
“Whenever my students take a test, their score comes up automatically on their computers so they can see right away if they met their goal,” she said. “It’s immediate feedback for them, and it shows me what I need to teach. I can move to the next skill if I see all my kids got questions 1 to 3 correct, or maybe I can pull a small group of students who got questions 9 and 10 wrong together for extra help.”
CIITS went live in August 2011. Eighteen early adopter school districts began using it right away and the other districts in the State came on board in early 2012. Now, all of the State’s 44,000 teachers and 3,500 school and district leaders are using the system.
It gives teachers ready access to student data, customizable lessons and assessments, and a growing selection of professional development resources, such as training videos and goal-setting tools.
CIITS was a core part of Kentucky’s Race to the Top plan. The State was already building the system prior to receiving the award, but the additional funds made it possible to add resources and accelerate expansion to more districts.
A More Complete Picture of Student Learning
With CIITS, teachers have at their fingertips data not just about a student’s academic progress, but also about their absences and missed assignments. That information helps teachers identify the work students need to do to catch up and communicate to parents how they can support their children.
Teachers say CIITS is particularly useful when a new student transfers in from another school because their data comes with them. “In the past, I didn’t have any way of knowing what their strengths and challenges were,” said Amy Braunwart, a third-grade teacher at Ryland Heights Elementary. “This really helps with goal-setting. I have a much better sense of what realistic targets are than I did in the past.”
Teachers Get More Immediate Feedback and Targeted Support
CIITS has also helped improve the quality of feedback and support principals provide to teachers.
John Popham, the principal of Simon Kenton High School in northern Kentucky, said he can now be much more specific with teachers about what they’re doing well and where they can improve. Popham said his school has gotten great use out of the lesson planning feature in CIITS, which allows teachers to upload and share their lesson plans.
“The lesson plans give us a better idea of what’s going on in the classroom when we visit classrooms,” he said. “I went into a sophomore English class last week where the students were reading a passage. I looked at the lesson plan, and saw that the goal was for students to identify specific points of view within the passages, so I could pay attention to how well they were doing that.”
He said that allows him to give teachers more constructive feedback about how well the lesson worked and talk with them about what they plan to do next.
With CIITS, principals and teachers also have immediate access to targeted professional development resources through an online service called PD 360, which is a library of training videos linked to specific content areas or instructional strategies.
Randy Marcum, principal of Lewisburg School in a rural part of southern Kentucky, said the videos and other materials on the CIITS professional development feature make it possible for him to work with his teachers to create a personalized professional learning plan aligned with college- and career-ready standards, based on the instruction he observes in their classrooms. “I can say to a teacher ‘here’s a video on classroom management,’” he said. “Before, we weren’t able to be that targeted about areas for growth and ways to improve.”
Big Time Savings, Easier Collaboration
Principals also say CIITS saves time. Now, instead of gathering information about a student or class from several different data systems, Deb Rivera, principal at Field Elementary School in Louisville, said she can find it all in one place.
“Before CIITS, I would spend time on professional development over in one system, and then go to another system for evaluation,” she said. “The thing that’s been great about CIITS is that it’s a one-stop shop. I just click on the dashboard if I need live data; I click on the lesson planner if I need a lesson plan. If I do a teacher observation and see something for the teacher to work on, I can direct the teacher to really good professional development.”
Collaboration across grades and classrooms has also become easier. “It’s much easier to share lesson plans with other teachers and get ideas from them. It helps us all be on the same page,” said Catherine Taylor, a third-grade teacher at Olmstead Elementary in southwestern Kentucky. “Now, I can look at a fourth-grade lesson plan and see what my students will be doing next year.”
A System That is Not Without Challenges
State officials and Kentucky educators have encountered plenty of bumps along the road as CIITS has rolled out. They’ve been frustrated byT
technical glitches, such as difficulties downloading test questions or students’ answers being lost if they hit the pause button. Error messages occasionally pop up when a teacher tries to enter a student growth goal or their own professional development plan into the system. “That’s incredibly frustrating,” said Maritta Horne, who manages CIITS for the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE).
Horne has dedicated troubleshooters on her team. She looks at every report of a problem to determine whether the cause was a system or user error. She meets daily with representatives from Pearson, the company that created the system for Kentucky. Tiffany Collier, a fourth-grade teacher at White’s Tower Elementary in rural Kenton County, said she gets quick responses when she reports a technical problem. “I think they’re working really hard to find all of the glitches,” she said.
Horne is in regular contact with district administrators to ensure educators have been properly trained to use the system. The State also hosts monthly webinars where educators provide feedback.
New Features in the Works
The State is continuing to improve the system with more content and new features to further support teacher professional growth. It recently added a student survey, the results of which will become part of the system for evaluating teachers and improving instruction. The KDE is adding more test questions to the formative assessment bank and has made it easier and faster for teachers to customize assessments of student learning throughout the year.
Kentucky is currently the only State using CIITS in teacher evaluations statewide. But the system is also being used by several other districts and States across the country, including the Dallas Independent School District, New Jersey, New York and North Carolina. Horne said Kentucky and several States are sharing resources such as lesson plans and assessment items aligned to the Common Core State Standards.
While not all educators in the State have latched onto the new data system, those who have learned to navigate it say it has been invaluable. “I can see my observation, my self-reflection, and my student growth goals all in one place,” said Catherine Taylor, the Olmstead third grade teacher. “CIITS has helped me be much more reflective about how well I am preparing my students for future learning.”
David Cook, director of the Division of Innovation and Partner Engagement for the KDE, offered several key takeaways from Kentucky’s experience implementing CIITS.
- Use focus groups, advisory groups and other tools to get educator input early in the process and throughout. “Even if these are hard conversations to have, you’re better off having them at the front end so that you end up with something that people are comfortable with.”
- Build on the tools already in use. . “High-capacity districts already had some elements. They didn’t want to change. Our challenge was to integrate what we were doing with what they already had.”
- Responding quickly to feedback builds confidence in the system. “People were shocked at how quickly we could fix problems.”
Tools and Resources