February 25, 2015
Written By: Dennis Pierce, Former Editor-in-Chief of eSchoolNews
The student population in Denton, Texas, is fairly diverse, with about a third of students coming from Spanish-speaking families and 37 percent qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches.
Like many districts, the Denton Independent School District faces key challenges in getting all of its students to grade-level proficiency—but district leaders are seeing great success using a personalized learning platform called Classworks, from Curriculum Advantage.
Classworks is a cloud-based learning ecosystem that helps educators gauge their students’ readiness to learn, diagnose areas of strength and weakness, and target their instruction accordingly.
Teachers can use Classworks content for whole-class or small-group instruction, and detailed reports help educators and administrators track the growth of individual students or groups of students over time. The software also uses student assessment data to create Individualized Learning Paths for each child, complete with Math and English Language Arts (ELA) content that can be assigned to students individually to help personalize instruction.
Denton Assistant Superintendent Dr. Mike Mattingly was familiar with Classworks from his experience at another school system in Georgia, where the software had contributed to a rise in student achievement. He was confident that Denton ISD would enjoy similar success with the program when he arrived in 2007.
“We don’t want students to have to repeat a course,” Mattingly said. And with Classworks helping teachers personalize instruction, “we’re getting students who need extra help back on grade level.”
Teachers in Denton use Classworks’ Universal Screener diagnostic exams to identify students’ skill levels in math and ELA at the beginning of the school year, and the software uses this information to develop Individualized Learning Paths for each student. “The pathway that is developed for each student is just for them,” Mattingly said.
Students have their own set of lessons within Classworks, and as teachers see areas that need further improvement, they can add specific lessons to each student’s lesson bank. This helps teachers tailor their instruction to the needs of each child, Mattingly said, leading to greater achievement for all students.
With more than a decade of experience in using the product, Mattingly has seen how Classworks has evolved over the years to better meet schools’ needs. In many ways, the evolution of Classworks as a product follows the progression of educational technology in general—from standalone software that was loaded onto individual computers to a more powerful, cloud-based platform that empowers teaching and learning.
Because Classworks now supports the Learning Tool Interoperability (LTI) framework and other emerging standards, it integrates seamlessly with other ed-tech tools that teachers might be using in their classrooms and allows for single sign-on capability.
And because it’s now a browser-based program that is delivered online, it requires no maintenance from school IT staff—which is helpful for ed-tech departments that are stretched too thin. But Mattingly cites another benefit to the cloud-based approach: “This makes things so much easier for our families.”
Students can use the program at home for extended learning time, he explained, and parents can rest assured that their children are using screen time to support their education.
As the product has evolved, so has its use in schools. Before, students would use Classworks primarily for computer-aided instruction, Mattingly said, and this often took place in a computer lab. The students would progress through the curriculum at their own pace, but each child was working on the same basic material—and this work took place outside traditional instruction.
Now, Classworks is “much more of a tool that teachers can use as a component of their instruction,” he observed. Teachers can integrate Classworks content into their lessons to support whole-class instruction, and they can assign specific content to individual students for completing on their own time. The lessons that one student is working on might be completely different from what another student is engaged in.
What’s more, the “highly detailed” reporting features in Classworks give teachers a great deal of visibility into their students’ performance, Mattingly said. That makes teachers full partners in planning how to meet each student’s needs. Using these reports to support their teaching “has been really powerful,” he said.
Like Mattingly, Dr. Lory Morrow had used Classworks since 2007 when she worked in a previous school system. So when she became superintendent of the Davidson County Schools in North Carolina, Morrow was eager to bring Classworks to her new district as well.
As deputy superintendent of instruction for Gaston County Schools, Morrow had seen student achievement rise with the help of Classworks—so much so that, “in coming to a new county and having to make some hard instructional and financial decisions, Classworks was at the top of my list of what we needed to support our teachers,” Morrow said.
Davidson County is in the beginning stages of implementation. “We’re going to start with all of our elementary schools,” Morrow said. The district will use the software for reading and math remediation at first, but Morrow expects that Davidson County’s experience will mirror that of Gaston County.
“Once teachers became familiar with the program and understood all of the benefits, they were using the Universal Screeners and create Individualized Learning Paths for all students,” Morrow said—including their most gifted students.
Because the Classworks assessments are vertically scaled, the program can assign instruction that is matched by content strand for below, on, or above grade-level skills. This allows teachers to accelerate the learning of top-performing students just as well as they can help struggling students catch up to their peers.
Morrow believes that will happen in Davidson County as well, and she’s confident that Classworks will “help us close our achievement gaps” by enabling teachers to address the needs of every child more effectively.
With the emergence of new college and career readiness standards, Classworks content has been redesigned to support the deeper, more rigorous learning these next-generation standards require.
One example is the addition of a new Integrated Reading feature, which Denton teachers are using to help students read more complex texts.
“Our expectation is that students will read more complex texts at a younger age, but as the texts become more complex, students start to struggle with their understanding,” Mattingly said. “We have to teach students strategies to help them” with their comprehension, he added—and the Integrated Reading feature does this by asking targeted questions to help students make inferences from the text.
As with other Classworks components, teachers can use the Integrated Reading feature for whole-class or small-group instruction, or they can assign content to individual students—so “there’s a lot of flexibility to it,” Mattingly said. “That’s another example of how the product has improved over the years.”
Morrow noted how quickly Classworks designers integrated new content standards into the product.
“By really listening to teachers and principals in the field, Classworks is very responsive and proactive in continuing to make sure the product gives educators just what they need,” she concluded.