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Educators Aim to Edify Students with New Data-Driven Program

Students Josh Bolter and Julia Vu were about to tackle an ecology project in their biology class at Kent Innovation High. Before they got started, though, they took a pre-test to determine what they knew about the topic.

It was one more test among many today’s students must take, but they said the effort was worth it.

“I saw some stuff that was interesting in it, so I’m looking forward to that,” said Josh, a freshman from Grandville.

Julia also took a pre-test for her algebra class. “Some things I got wrong,” said the Wyoming freshman. “Those would be the things I need to work on.”

They and other students at KIH are making use of a new teaching tool aimed at showing them their strengths and weaknesses going into a new course. The computer-based program, called Edify, also helps teachers focus on specific areas where students need help – and learn where they need to do a better job of teaching.

Teachers say it’s a valuable asset at KIH, which attracts students from throughout Kent County.

“Especially when you have kids coming in from 20 different districts, they come in with a lot of different skill sets,” said biology teacher Erin Berner. “It’s nice to be able to gauge that and teach where you need to teach.”

“It’s a learning curve for us, absolutely,” said geometry teacher Marcus Deja. “But it’s very valuable for the data that comes out of it.”

Big Data, Meet Local Classroom

Innovation High, along with several other schools, are using the innovative software program to help teachers pinpoint their students’ learning down to a previously unfathomable level of detail. A joint project of Kent ISD and a new business called Kickstand, Edify aims to bring huge helpings of big data into everyday classroom instruction.

The system was pilot-tested last spring in some schools, including KIH and Lowell Area Schools. It’s being used this fall in other schools including the Kent Career Tech Center, East Kentwood High School andGodfrey Lee Public Schools. It’s also being used outside Kent ISD, including at Grand Rapids Christian Schools and the Mecosta-Osceola Intermediate School District.

About 3,800 students are now using the system, with another 5,000 to 6,000 expected by year’s end, officials say.  

By putting thousands of resources at its users’ fingertips, educators hope Edify will enable teachers to meet students’ individual needs while empowering students to access the best instruction available.  

For teachers who may have more than 100 students, the program solves the problem of being “15 clicks away” from key data on all of them, said Bill Smith, Kent ISD assistant superintendent of instructional services.

“Every year we get pounded with student performance data,” Smith said. “So very little of that lands in the hands of the teacher, and that’s a shame. This tool helps integrate the pool of all the standards we know about this kid, and all the things we can contribute to help drive our instruction.”

Help is Just One Click Away

Here’s how it works:

Edify has built 22 courses in four core subjects in grades 8-12, with another 26 in development. Teachers can either use the courses as is or work with Edify to tailor them to their particular classes. The courses incorporate learning standards for the state of Michigan and the Common Core.

The courses include assessments – tests without grades, basically – that students take before and after their course or for projects within the course. The assessments tell teachers what students are getting and missing on learning standards for that course. The standards are tied to roughly 85,000 items that measure what students do and don’t know.   

Students can take the assessments on their laptops, notebooks or smart phones. They immediately see the results and are automatically referred to some 8,500 resources that could help them.

For instance, a student might score 71 percent on math probability problems but only 34 percent on square roots. The program will immediately generate links to learning tools such as videos, websites, articles or online teachers’ lessons. Edify’s leaders call this part “the magic.”

Smith of Kent ISD explains: In the past, a teacher would hand back a test to 33 students with vastly different results, but not be able to remediate them immediately. Now, “The second you’re done with the assessment, it directly gives it to the student,” he said. “I know what I know and what I don’t know. But I also have these resources that are available to me, right now at a click, to be able to address those areas of weakness.”  

Those resources can include videos by teachers from other districts who have had success teaching particular subjects or concepts. Parents can also use it to track their children’s progress and help them with their homework.

Meeting Students Where They Struggle

At Kent Innovation High, pre-tests were given to more than 100 freshmen this fall to assess their readiness for algebra or geometry. Teachers are also using the assessments in other subjects such as social studies and English. In Marcus Deja’s geometry class, the pre-tests showed him where his students needed the most help.

Ryan Mallett takes a geometry class using the Edify program at Kent Innovation High

“Usually it’s easy to identify where students are struggling,” Deja said. “They might be really good in their linear equations but they might struggle with Pythagorean Theorem.”

Principal Kym Kimber said Edify also helps her support teachers in meeting the needs of their students.

“Now I have that data on student growth to help me better evaluate my staff and give them the tools they need,” Kimber said. “The feedback I’ve gotten from my staff this fall has been amazing.”

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey
Charles Honey is editor-in-chief of SNN, and covers series and issues stories for all districts. As a reporter for The Grand Rapids Press/mLive from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years and its columnist for 20. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Religion News Service and Faith & Leadership magazine. Read Charles' full bio


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