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For Columbus teachers Tina Bennett of Zenith Academy East and Lindsay Maltz of Renaissance Academy, becoming team leaders in implementing the Straight A Data Matters program in their schools has been a game-changer. They have seen, first hand, how teachers and students have benefited from the immediate feedback and customization of lessons that data-driven tools provide.
Bennett, a second grade teacher in her fourth year at Zenith Academy East, has also participated in the Ashland credit portion of the consortium. She has taught in charter schools for ten years and began working with the Straight A grant last summer. The majority of her students are not native English speakers, which has required her to adapt the Illuminate tools to meet the unique needs of her classroom. The program, she notes, lets teacher know where to go and helps develop instruction for all levels of students.
“Illuminate gives us a good starting point to help make our students successful,” she said. “We can do data analysis with a pretest and can strengthen weak points and differentiate. We have to adapt it to our students, because state tests are only in English and we can create rigorous testing that challenges them,” she said.
As her school’s team leader, she coordinates monthly meetings with the teachers to share successes and struggles. This collaboration helps the staff work together more than they would otherwise, she noted.
“This program sheds light on the wide variety of student learning styles and helps to tailor teaching to those styles,” she said. “It helped me create reading and math groups with more input and I had deeper data to group the students more effectively,” she added. “Being encouraged to use data more has really made me reflect more on my teaching practices and fine tune them to be more effective in the classroom.”
At Renaissance Academy, Maltz has pioneered the Data Matters tools in her special education classroom and assisted the teaching staff in applying innovative methods throughout the K-8 classes.
Maltz used various software programs when she taught special education in a public school in New York City, but in her view the Illuminate system is far superior. “It has changed the way we test our students,” she noted, “and we have been able to link star to Illuminate, which is the best of both worlds.”
“I love how easy Illuminate is, how it is aligned to the common core and is so easy to make assessments,” she said. “The data drives our instruction and we can be more efficient and focus on concepts the students need to work on,” she added.
The tools are also very accommodating to students with an Individual Education Plan (IEP) and assessments and plans can be tailored through Illuminate so all students benefit, Maltz said.
“The first year I used Illuminate was the most amazing thing in the world,” Maltz said. “Its strengths include creating higher order thinking questions, measuring more than one standard within the Common Core strands and tracking student growth,” she added. Teachers are also able to quickly build reports for administrators to show live data and plot a student’s progress.
To keep families connected, Maltz and her team create parent accounts so they can track how their child is doing. Most importantly, she noted, the data-driven program enables teachers to meet the needs of individual learners and direct students in creating their own goals based on the feedback from assessments.