This feature is the third in a series of pieces from NIET that focuses on specific strategies to support learning acceleration efforts. This spring, NIET published a new policy paper about effective ways that districts are strengthening their practices to combat learning loss and accelerate student learning. Specifically, we talked with Somerset ISD in Texas, East Feliciana Public Schools in Louisiana, and Cross County School District in Arkansas. The paper highlights the work educators are doing in these districts across the country.
To accelerate learning, we must consider how to support teachers in utilizing interventions within the classroom setting, which increases student access to grade-level learning. Using data to inform interventions targets those students most in need and makes connections to classroom learning.
Somerset ISD, East Feliciana Public Schools, and Cross County School District created clearer connections between grade-level learning in classrooms and additional support through interventions such as tutoring and extended learning time. Teachers are trained to provide targeted intervention in the classroom, using small groups or scaffolding learning to keep all students working on grade-level learning. Where additional support is needed outside the classroom, interventions are aligned to student data, student work, and learning goals.
Using data to inform and connect multiple layers of intervention
Somerset uses data to drive these connections between classroom learning and interventions for students that need more support. “We carefully target intervention during the school day. Based on what we are seeing in student data and their work in class, we provide more intensive support as needed during electives, or small group instruction,” said Hinojosa. “In addition, we train our paraprofessionals to support accelerated instruction with students.” Somerset extends the school day for students that show they need extra support, creating meaningful engagement opportunities for students with clear connections back to classroom learning.
Making this work required increasing the effectiveness of classroom instruction so that more students are able to master the learning the first time it is taught. “We spend a lot of time planning, using the student work to guide our upcoming lessons,” said Elizabeth Sanchez, a mentor teacher at Somerset Elementary School. “Where students struggled with a concept or an assignment, what was their misunderstanding or misconception? How can we strengthen their understanding? For example, some teachers’ students were struggling with two-step word problems in math. We taught them to diagram each of the steps and to go see how a colleague was using this model for students who needed more support. We saw an immediate improvement, which also turned up in the assessment. In the past, we would have pulled those students and remediated, when what they needed was support that let them stay focused on grade-level learning.”
Minimizing the amount of time students are out of the classroom is creating more opportunities for these students to engage in grade-level learning with their peers.
Planning effective systems of intervention that maximize classroom learning
East Feliciana’s district leadership team meets monthly, focusing on how district leaders can support school leaders and teachers in their schools. This team meeting, with deep learning and analysis of student work, was developed to support the district’s adoption and use of high-quality, Tier I curricula over the last several years.
“During the pandemic, we didn’t see as much learning loss,” said Executive Master Teacher Sarah Guidry. “Our teachers are trained in how to bring in support for students to work on grade-level material.” This provided opportunities for teachers to learn how to differentiate so that students with different proficiency levels could access the learning. “For example,” Guidry said, “in ELA, students were working to identify rumor from fact. They pulled from the text, using what characters said to justify their answers. Some students needed more support. We used sentence starters, key vocabulary, and other scaffolds to support them in using the same text. We wanted them all to have the opportunity for a rich discussion.”
Teachers used small group and individual work time to provide targeted support for students needing extra help. They also identified students that needed extra support outside the classroom and carefully planned how those supports would be used. “We used the TFA Ignite tutoring program to support students with learning gaps that were not addressed in the classroom,” said Guidry, “and we were able to target that support using data and student work to address immediate student needs.”
East Feliciana extended the school year in 2021 through “EF Accelerate,” an intensive summer learning program for students designed to address learning gaps and prepare students to be successful using grade-level material in the fall. The summer program aligned to state academic goals and provided students with math, English language arts, and enrichment programs. Over 40% of students in grades K-11 participated, gaining a full month of additional instruction.
We are now doing more to address student needs during the day in their classrooms. We still have intervention outside the classroom but it is highly targeted, for example, for struggling readers. We found pulling students out of class was hurting more than helping.Mindy Searcy, District Executive Master Teacher, Cross County School District, Arkansas
In Cross County, data also drove connections between classroom learning and extended learning provided by reading intervention teachers. The leadership team minimized the amount of time that a student was out of the classroom by scheduling reading pull outs during small group time in the classroom so that those students were not missing the main lesson. More teachers were trained in phonics, so a number of special area teachers (e.g., art and music) were able to step in and help individual students. “We are now doing more to address student needs during the day in their classrooms,” said Mindy Searcy, the district's executive master teacher. “We still have intervention outside the classroom but it is highly targeted, for example, for struggling readers. We found pulling students out of class was hurting more than helping.” Strong district leadership was critical in aligning layers of intervention to minimize the amount of time that students were out of the classroom, while ensuring they had the kinds of targeted intervention necessary to enable them to engage in grade-level learning with their peer group.