How technology helped deliver a taste of victory to a struggling Newark School

Erskine Glover wants to see Quitman in demand like Newark’s top charter schools. (Amanda Brown / NJ Spotlight)

Erskine Glover wants to see Quitman in demand like Newark’s top charter schools.

When Sara Neufeld wrote in The Hechinger Report last year that Newark’s Quitman Street Renew School had the greatest test score gains in reading of all 45 elementary and middle schools in Newark the prior spring, we at Education Elements saw it as triumph.

Quitman Street is one of the schools that has used our blended learning models to help improve results. Our journey to personalized learning at Quitman Street Renew School began during the 2013-2014 school year. Because over 80 percent of their third and fourth graders were struggling readers, Principal Erskine Glover and other leaders at Quitman knew they needed to focus on early literacy skills, reading comprehension, and citing textual evidence. The plan was to use new instructional models to get better results.

With the focus set on reading, our recommendations around adaptive digital software that could fill that role took hold. In analyzing the school’s current offline curriculum, it was important to note the strengths of that program and where digital content could play a role in helping teachers quickly differentiate for their students. We wanted to supplement, not replace, what they were already doing.

Related: A three-year look at a school trying to turn around — and the kids depending on it

With our guidance, Quitman chose Lexia and Achieve3000, two strong options from our partner ecosystem, to account for the lack of early literacy skills among their struggling readers and to better adapt similar texts to each student’s’ instructional level to drive fluency and comprehension.

It was important to go with a layered approach for their digital content offerings in order for students to experience content in multiple ways. Students received direct, highly engaging and interactive tutorials through Lexia, while Achieve3000 allowed students to reflect, summarize and write down their reactions to articles outlining the current events happening today.

The instructional design, which we create with school leaders, accounts for the key components within a school day and reimagines how these components can be more personalized to better meet each students’ needs. We paired this design with the selected digital content and ensured there was sufficient time with their offline curriculum and a block to incorporate a blended in-class rotation model.

Related: A three-year look at a school trying to turn around — and the kids depending on it

This model provided the opportunities for teachers to go deeper with complex, grade level text for an hour and then break the class into differentiated groups that rotated to various stations, one being a digital station, while other stations included targeted small group time with the teacher and a chance for peer collaboration.

The team leading this work at Quitman, including Assistant Principal Evelyn Vargas and Data Coach Callie Franklin, closely monitored the implementation of the blended model by analyzing data to drive the support that teachers needed to be successful. With the rich data coming from the digital content providers on a daily basis, the teaching teams were able to quickly and decisively make instructional decisions as well.

The compilation of these actions certainly seems to have made a positive impact on Quitman’s student population and we’re excited to see the blended program grow to more grade levels and incorporate more digital content.

The school has come a long way given its long history of fluctuation in leadership and teaching quality, and its location as part of a district that is undergoing immense changes with heightened public scrutiny.

I know that these student gains and innovative classrooms are due to a thoughtful process, resilient and talented teaching staff and to the leaders who show up every day at the district office and at Quitman.

Jackie Pugh is former senior education consultant at Education Elements.

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