In my unique role as a Services Program Manager at Edmentum, I get to see a lot of what works and what doesn’t. In 2017 alone, I made just over 100 visits to schools and districts across the country, including Florida, North Dakota, California, and a lot of other places in between, to support educators and help impact successful Edmentum implementations. And, amidst all of this traveling, these experiences have afforded me the opportunity to see all kinds of implementations in action, including those just beginning a new multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) and those with more advanced technology integration in search of the right digital partner.
Taking the best practices I’ve gleaned from these conversations and training opportunities and consolidating them to help better serve educators is central to what I do. Today, I’d like to unpack a few of those primary implementation models and guiding questions for program success that have been critical to the growth of our individualized learning program, Edmentum Exact Path.
Primary Implementation Models
To understand the value of Exact Path, you really need to start with the challenges it can help you solve, and as it is our mission to be an outcome-focused company, I spend a lot of time trying to uncover the specific needs this program can address for our educators. Quite often, though, it boils down to a few primary use cases:
- Individualized or Personalized Learning
By and large, this type of learning is the primary need Exact Path can help solve. A school or district might want to leverage technology that we offer to give its students even more personalized or individualized experiences. For this group of users, understanding how individualized learning paths are created after each assessment administration is key. But, more than that, the fact that those learning paths include rigorous instruction, practice, application, and assessment organized around discrete skills that then align to standards and subject domains helps assure educators that students will receive targeted lessons to really pinpoint their needs.
One Wisconsin elementary school in Wrightstown was running a very mature intervention program for a number of years with a group of veteran teachers, but the school realized that it needed to offer more student exposure to technology-based learning where students would be offered a more personalized experience. It began leveraging Exact Path for 30 minutes every other day and offered students an element of choice regarding which subject they wanted to focus on that day. This implementation has been really effective for students, and similarly, teachers are able to track ongoing progress and monitor student growth.
- Tiered Intervention
Tiered intervention is another common program focus where Exact Path is a great fit. Often, schools or districts have a response to intervention (RTI) or multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) plan in place, and they want to leverage Exact Path to provide tier 2 or tier 3 intervention and remediation for students. Educators leveraging this model really want to take personalized learning a step further, augmenting their current techniques to track against specific goals or objectives and then to show growth over time using the diagnostic assessment.
Presently, I work with a school in southern California that uses Exact Path as part of its anticipatory set for its intervention model. Every day, when students begin their station rotation, they get a chance to leverage Exact Path as a part of their remediation. One of the interesting things that this school’s leadership team has employed is that they’ve turned using Exact Path into an incentive-based program that students can earn extra time on. That shift has helped foster motivated students who want to work on their individual improvement plans.
- Classroom Assessment
There are also schools and districts who are really focused on the quality of the assessment and the data it yields. They want to identify students using the diagnostic assessment to either qualify students for additional services or provide support outside of the classroom. Being able to track where students’ skills and abilities currently lie allows them to determine areas of strength and weakness, often before instruction ever begins.
- Support for English Language Learners
The ELL population of students has a particular set of needs that Exact Path is uniquely suited to support. Not only do ELLs benefit from individualized learning pathways that are specifically catered to their academic needs, but also, additional accommodations, such as age-appropriate curriculum for lower-level skills and optional text-to-speech tools, can ensure that these students are able to be just as successful as their native English–speaking peers.
At an elementary school in Phoenix, Arizona, that I’ve had the pleasure to work with, school leaders felt that Exact Path was an inclusive tool to support the large ELL population. The educators saw that when students were working on a computer, they were willing to try in a different way than when they were in class and had to raise their hand in front of their peers. Students in Exact Path all receive four skills at a time—no matter if those are 3rd grade level skills or 8th grade level skills—thus leveling the playing field and further encouraging students to take educational risks. Over the course of the year, both ELLs and non-ELLs at this elementary school experienced similar growth gains.
- Summer School
While not exactly the most enjoyable time of year for teachers or students, summer school is still often an important part of helping students meet grade-promotion expectations. In this sort of an implementation, a lot of learning is crammed into a short amount of time, and Exact Path’s ability to propel students past the curriculum that they’ve already demonstrated mastery in is incredibly powerful.
In one middle school in Millville, New Jersey, the principal notes that students spent between 45 minutes and an hour each day working through their Exact Path learning paths during their 2018 summer session. In addition to the progress made here, this school also balanced its implementation with daily motivations to practice mindfulness and help students adopt growth mindsets. The combined academic and social emotional approach has truly led to growth.
Guiding Questions for Program Success
When it comes to identifying the right implementation model, I believe that there are some general backward backward-design principles that can be utilized by any school or district thinking of leveraging a digital tool such as Exact Path. Here are some of the questions I usually challenge schools to think about before building out their implementation plan:
- What primary outcomes are you trying to achieve by using this tool?
This question helps get at the idea that planning with the end in mind (similar to how any teacher might lesson plan) is still a best practice in this arena. Setting these objectives from the onset certainly makes for a more robust implementation.
- What current practices are being employed in your district, school, or classroom?
In helping educators understand where Exact Path might “fit,” it’s important to understand current instructional processes. For example, is there an existing RTI or MTSS implementation? Are different blended-learning models currently being employed? Based upon existing supports in their classrooms, together with teachers, we can identify the best possible recommendation for an Exact Path implementation.
- What types of data are currently being tracked, and how can we either support or augment those practices using this tool?
From here, several other data-related questions typically follow. How are educators using formative data today? How is instruction guided by data? In terms of modeling and showing different schools and districts how to begin rolling out best practices around data, it helps to understand each school’s or district’s starting point.
Continuing to harness and understand the unique ways that educators are leveraging Exact Path today, coupled with providing strategic consulting to help them maximize their investment, is all part of what I do every day. And, when it comes down to it, every school or district is different. Every teacher is different. Every set of goals is different. And, with every implementation that we work on, I can honestly say that we treat it like it’s our only implementation.