Monroe County School District serves more than 8,000 students and consists of 16 schools in the Florida Keys. While it is smaller than some neighboring districts, it has a diverse student population from over 37 countries who speak 22 primary languages.
The challenge: Ensuring continuous learning during the pandemic
Due to COVID-19, schools across the US were forced to make rapid changes to how they provided instruction and services to students. The focus of many districts was to maintain student engagement outside the classroom and prevent learning gaps by quickly adopting programs that could be accessed remotely.
However, this process looked slightly different in Monroe County, which already had the right programs in place. As Kristen Condella, the district’s Coordinator of Instructional Materials, explained, “Monroe County did not start planning for a pandemic in March of 2020. We were planning to be tech-forward back in 2017. The digital infrastructure that existed within our instruction and curriculum was already there.”
When the district went fully remote in March of 2020, it was largely a matter of distributing Chromebooks to students. Staff had already determined which students had home internet access and which students did not, and had planned for hot-spots and alternative ways to access an internet connection. Most importantly, educators and students were already using programs designed to support learning both in and out of the classroom.
For example, the myON digital reading platform gives students access to engaging books and news articles 24/7, while Accelerated Reader helps educators to measure and monitor students’ reading practice. Freckle for math provides fun yet challenging practice tailored to each student’s needs, along with embedded learning supports and scaffolds. And Star Assessments provide ongoing insight into students’ progress and instructional needs—and automatically share data with myON, Accelerated Reader, and Freckle to match students with the just-right content, no matter where learning occurs.
Star Assessments also play a significant role in how the district supports its English Learners. Educators use Star Assessments in Spanish to test students whose home language is Spanish, as well as Star Assessments in English with these students and with students from other language backgrounds. With the large diversity of languages spoken in the district—Haitian Creole, Tajik, and Uzbek are some of the most common, in addition to Spanish—it is important to determine each student’s current level in English. Using the data from Star Assessments, teachers can then develop a specific plan to meet each student’s needs.
Natallie Liz, the district’s EL Program Specialist, noted that “all of the multilingual resources and parents’ resources that exist in Renaissance programs are very helpful, and really provide additional access for those who otherwise would not have it.”
“All of the multilingual resources and parents’ resources that exist in Renaissance programs are very helpful, and really provide additional access for those who otherwise would not have it.”
EL Program Specialist, Monroe County School District
Educators also used data from Star Assessments to determine how the COVID-19 disruptions were impacting student performance district-wide. Like a lot of educators, those in Monroe County had some initial concerns about testing students remotely. To ensure test fidelity, the district required students to keep their cameras on while testing, monitored whether other webpages were being accessed on the Chromebooks, and tested students in groups, so there would be a smaller ratio of students to proctors.
“Our Star data remained consistent and correlated to what our state outcome data was,” said Condella. “We didn’t see a significant drop or increase in students’ Star scores due to virtual versus face-to-face administration, which helped us to confirm the validity of the remote testing results.”
The results: Engaged students and minimal learning loss
Already being a tech-friendly district, Monroe County had an easier transition to remote and hybrid learning models than some other districts in the state. Educators worked closely with students and their families to ensure that this new way of learning would be effective and keep students moving forward.
In English language arts, programs such as myON were already familiar to students, so it was easy to continue using them virtually. Educators used myON Projects to create assignments that could be done at home and which encouraged students to explore the myON and myON News libraries. The district also enabled at-home quizzing in Accelerated Reader so students could continue to track their reading comprehension and progress toward goals.
Growth and goal-setting are important to what Monroe County hopes to achieve across all subjects. Accelerated Reader has become a big part of this, because it is “naturally motivational for students,” said Robert Taylor, Coordinator of Literacy & MTSS. “It’s virtually impossible to find a book that doesn’t have a corresponding Accelerated Reader quiz. Pretty much any book that a student chooses from the library shelf will be there. Students find a book that they like, and that motivates them to read.” Taylor added that Accelerated Reader has become generational, because many parents used the program when they were students in the district and are not afraid to ask about their children’s progress toward AR goals.
Freckle for math also played an important role in ensuring that students continued to learn and grow during building closures. The district had used Renaissance’s previous math program, Accelerated Math, for years, and some teachers were slightly hesitant about making the transition to a new product. However, they found that Freckle both challenges and engages students in a rewarding way, and they benefit from real-time insight into students’ activity and progress.
Amy Stanton, Coordinator of Mathematics, believes that the gaps in students’ math skills would have been much greater without Freckle. “We saw that our students who used Freckle while at home did not experience the same slide and learning loss that other students did,” said Stanton. Many students were excited to practice math using Freckle because of the grade-appropriate interface and how it enables them to easily see their progress as they work on increasingly challenging skills.
“We saw that our students who used Freckle while at home did not experience the same slide and learning loss that other students did.”
Coordinator of Mathematics, Monroe County School District
Stanton added that teachers in the district wanted a math program that offered more than independent practice, and with Freckle, they are able to have a balance of practice, instructional support, and ongoing assessment. Additionally, they appreciate the ability to interact with students while using Freckle, even during periods of remote learning and social distancing in the classroom.
The district’s Star Assessments results reflect this positive impact. Between Fall 2020 and Fall 2021, the number of students at or above benchmark in math at most grade levels actually increased, despite the pandemic-related disruptions.
Another focus in the district is an initiative that was put in place well before COVID-19, which stresses whole-child learning. For Monroe County, this means focusing on the overall well-being of their students. Within the curriculum, whole-child learning is tied in through instruction and resources provided to students. This has helped to mitigate some of the effects of the disruptions, as educators are discovering this year.
Looking ahead: What Monroe County envisions for the future
When the transition back to the classroom came for Monroe County, teachers found that many students were so used to working independently that their attention was focused on their devices rather than on collaborating with classmates. “During the pandemic, we became very equipped to learn and teach with a device. Now it is about finding a happy medium with edtech and education, because there will always be a virtual presence,” Condella noted.
Having whole-child learning strategies in place has helped to alleviate some of these obstacles and bring students closer to educators’ vision of having high levels of engagement and interaction in the classroom.
The district has been using Renaissance products—including the recently acquired Flocabulary and Nearpod—for years to support collaboration and interactivity. Condella reflected on this relationship, stating: “It’s really comforting from a tech perspective to know that Renaissance believes these products are good enough to acquire and build upon—products like Nearpod that we’re already using in Monroe County.”
While the effects of the pandemic still linger, the district’s educators and leaders have a clear goal of where they want the district to head. Monroe County aims to continue their learning growth by using products that increase classroom engagement while also allowing students to use them anytime, anywhere.