Tallapoosa County Schools is a rural school district in Alabama comprised of six schools with just under 3,000 students. Families and students in the district face difficult issues of high poverty, with about 70% of its students on a free-or-reduced lunch program.
Superintendent Joe Windle says, “One of our biggest challenges as a school district is to understand how we can educate children with barriers to learning that are created by poverty. We’ve taken a hard look at that issue and believe that while poverty is certainly not a learning disability, it causes real challenges for our students and can put them at a disadvantage when it comes to their education and advancement.”
One of the ways Tallapoosa has decided to tackle the issue head on is by looking closely at the resources and tools it’s using to educate its students to make sure they are performing at peak, and by making sure their students are mastering the skills they need to advance, with grades that accurately reflect the skills they’ve learned.
To do this, Tallapoosa needed to analyze real data, so it began working with another AL-based company called Glimpse K12, the only education technology company that analyzes school spending in the context of student outcomes. Glimpse K12 provides an eROI (Education Return on Investment) platform that gives school districts insight into how well they are aligning resources with students’ needs and how investments made in the classroom are yielding actual student results.
School districts across the country like Tallapoosa are working with Glimpse K12 to create optimized, performance-based budgets based on student achievement and maximize the impact of every dollar spent in the classroom.
Central to the instructional process, grading policies are a key component to maximizing return on instruction. Tallapoosa started working with Glimpse because it was concerned about grade inflation. The district wanted to examine hard data to determine comparisons of state-wide standards and testing with how their teachers were grading students.
“The data proved our concerns were real about grade inflation. We had students getting As and Bs but their testing proved that they had not mastered certain basic concepts in their academics,” said Windle.
The ramifications of grade inflation can often be severe and negatively impact student achievement for years. Districts across the country are battling systemic grade inflation, compliance-based vs. mastery-based grading policies, bias and grade deflation. Grades are the primary means of communication to parents regarding student progress. Misaligning grades with student achievement sends the wrong signals to parents and students.
Windle added, “We could take the data from Glimpse K12’s platform and drill down to specific teachers and classrooms and see where the grades did not reflect the skills the students had actually mastered.”
Tallapoosa used these insights from the Glimpse platform to centralize their grading system, bringing teachers and principals together across the six schools. They determined for each school what constituted a major grade and what constituted a minor grade, so they now have grading consistency across grades K-8.
Tallapoosa then used the Glimpse K12 platform to take a hard look at the programs and resources they were funding from the central office across the schools. Tallapoosa could look at programs like Leader in Me, Odysseyware, Accellus and Classworks, which they’d been subscribing to for years, and see how many of their teachers were actually using the software and how the programs impacted grades as well as state assessments to determine if there was a true ROI. They could also slice the data by teacher to see how these programs were impacting specific classrooms and mastery of reading and math.
Based on that data, Tallapoosa was able to reduce the number of licenses it was paying for because not all of its teachers were actively using the programs. However, they did see a correlation with using Classworks for tier 2 or 3 instructional support with higher scores on reading and math and performance and growth throughout the year. So for the teachers actually using it, it was a worthwhile investment and certainly worth keeping.
Tallapoosa realized through the data analysis from Glimpse that its schools were purchasing software and programs with their Title 1 money but because of principal turnover, often the licenses were not being used. Tallapoosa discovered almost 20 programs that were not being used, but still being paid for, and was able to cut those costs immediately so the district could use that funding for other important purchases.
“Glimpse K12 has easily saved us thousands of dollars just in reducing wasted resources since we began using it over a year ago,” said Windle. “We are certainly more effective data users because of Glimpse with valid, reliable insights on which to make instructional decisions. Glimpse is helping us use data to show each principal as well as math and reading teachers the standards we have mastered, and when we haven’t mastered those, we can better understand if it’s a training issue or a curriculum issue.”
Windle added, “Our students face enough barriers to learning that we want to take every step we can to make sure they are mastering the skills they need to be successful in this world. Glimpse is giving us the edge we need to do that, while helping us reduce unnecessary spending. It’s really been a no brainer for us – with Glimpse’s platform, we can save thousands of dollars while being more effective and efficient with our current school resources.”