Elementary students to get i-Ready

Published 9:01 pm Wednesday, June 17, 2020

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Suffolk elementary students this summer will test out an expansion of the division’s SPS Connect initiative through a new platform. It will serve as a trial for a program that could be used on a larger scale with schools not likely to open fully in the fall.

A small group of elementary and middle school teachers have been piloting the program known as i-Ready, which provides math and reading data to assess students, and provides learning tools for them.

Company officials, along with a pair of Northern Shores Elementary School teachers who have been using the program over the past three months as learning transitioned to a virtual environment, outlined the purpose of the program during a School Board meeting last Thursday.

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Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III said he wants to see how the program works on a larger scale this summer before rolling it out to all elementary students this fall, as schools will most likely be operating, at least partially, in a virtual setting.

During the summer school program from July 6 to Aug. 6, selected kindergarten through fifth-grade elementary students with low reading and math scores will have access to the program. Those students will be receiving a Chromebook this week.

Gordon plans to link i-Ready to the Canvas learning management platform. That, he said, will allow schools to build effective digital learning environments. The division will be able to use Canvas for free for the next two years, thanks to a state partnership with Virtual Virginia.

Dr. Shenique Mens-Smith, an i-Ready Virginia educational sales consultant, said it is a blended program for reading and math while connecting assessment data to instruction.

Its assessment has multiple parts, including an adaptive diagnostic for K-12 students. The diagnostic has one assessment for math and reading, and adapts its questions to the students’ responses to help determine what students have learned. It also has a dyslexia screener, oral reading fluency assessment, a standards mastery assessment that allows teachers to assign Standards of Learning-aligned assessments and a growth monitoring assessment.

Those parts connect to i-Ready’s learning platform, which Mens-Smith outlined as offering personalized instruction, learning games, a teacher toolbox, instructional tools and at-home resources.

Once students complete the diagnostic, teachers get reports on each student showing what level they are at in their learning, along with recommended instructional resources. Teachers can also bypass the diagnostic portion of the program in order to assign their own lessons. Parents also get information on how their child is learning.

“Our digital lessons promote engagement and access through culturally-responsive content,” Mens-Smith said, “as we want all learners to be able to see themselves within the lessons.”

She said the program also supports academic language development for all students, especially English-as-a-Second-Language, or ESL students.

It also provides additional resources for teachers to support reading, writing and math instruction, all of which are connected to data and correlated to SOLs. Mens-Smith said students using the program have shown “significant” gains in reading and math.

Northern Shores Elementary School kindergarten teacher Keysha Thomas said she was able to tailor lessons to each of her students, and they enjoyed doing them.

“I want to let you know that the i-Ready program was a hit with my kindergarteners,” Thomas said. “How do I know it was a hit? I had parents who were contacting me even before the assignments were due, asking for their kids to have more work. They wanted more. When a 5- or 6-year-old student asks for more, that means it’s wonderful. They’re engaged (and) they’re having fun.”

Darlene Parham, a fourth-grade inclusion teacher at Northern Shores, said her experience with i-Ready was unique because not only was she using it for her class, but also her grandchildren were using the program at Florence Bowser Elementary School.

“When you just see that excitement in their faces, for a teacher to see that they’re enjoying learning, it was so special,” Parham said.

She said her grandson, a special needs student who has autism and a learning disability in math, kept asking to do i-Ready work first, particularly in math.

“As a teacher, and as a grandparent who used it with her grandchildren,” Parham said, “I really enjoyed the program, and the children did too.”

Gordon said that with the goal of having individualized learning plans for all students, the program is proving its worth.

“This is going to be the way that we’re going to bring a better sense of equity to our school division,” Gordon said. “And we’re going to be serious about closing some of the same achievement gaps that we’ve had for seven to eight years.”