Success of RTI pilot program spurs expansion

Nestled in suburban Charlotte, NC, Cabarrus County Schools is the 10th largest school district in North Carolina and rapidly growing. In the past 12 years it's opened 13 new schools - with three more due to open this year.

With expansion also came the need for better strategies to help students of every level learn and succeed academically. During the 2007-2008 school year, Cabarrus district administrators decided to implement an aggressive new RTI pilot program to help the most at-risk students flourish. They decided on Pearson’s AIMSweb, a web-based benchmark and progress monitoring system that helps educators determine what’s working with their curriculum, personalize student learning, and improve curriculum interventions.

“We chose to implement a pilot program using AIMSweb as our RTI data management system in a few select schools,” said Brian Schultz, Director of Elementary Education for Cabarrus County Schools."Thanks to the program’s success, we are planning to have 19 of our district elementary schools using AIMSweb to make data-based curriculum decisions by the 2010-2011 school year." That means the initial 940 students will increase to more than 11,300 next school year.

Cabarrus County educators use the program's real-time data to assess effectiveness of instructional interventions and make adjustements when needed. Additionally, AIMSweb’s online, three-tiered approach provides frequent student assessment results directly to students, parents, teachers and administrators.

Results of Cabarrus’ pilot program have been notable. In 2007, at Pitts School Road Elementary School, 57 percent of the students were below the district's benchmark targets in AIMSweb when the pilot began. By January 2010, 60 percent of those students, now in fifth grade, were at or above the target after just three years of using AIMSweb data to make instructional decisions both at the core curriculum and individual student level.

At the other pilot school, A.T. Allen Elementary, the rate of improvement for the first grade students in phoneme segmentation - the ability to hear critical sounds in spoken words - from the fall to winter benchmark was .2 phonemes correct, which was .4 correct phonemes per week lower compared to the AIMSweb targets. The adjustments to the core curriculum that educators made resulted in a .5 phoneme correct growth rate from the winter to spring benchmark, exceeding the district's target growth rate. AIMSweb's comprehensive data allowed school leaders to both assess the effectiveness of their core curriculum and to establish professional development priorities. Meanwhile, making progress data available to families promoted a positive relationship between parents and school staff.

“AIMSweb allows us to share data so easily," Schultz commented. "Every stakeholder who can impact student outcomes—parents, teachers, administrators—has quick, reliable data upon which we can make education decisions about a student’s individualized needs. Most importantly, our students are benefiting through better personalized learning.”

Not only does AIMSweb help personalized learning for Cabarrus students, it helps administrators make quality staff development decisions. Schultz believes the clear data has nurtured relationships between schools, built on existing expertise to improve teaching throughout the district, and enhanced teacher leadership as teachers work together as a team.

Added Greg Liddle, principal at Furr Elementary School in Cabarrus County, “AIMSweb has provided us with a wonderful tool to track student mastery in several early literacy skills. By using the data obtained through the benchmarks, and focusing instruction according to student needs we have seen significant statistical growth in early literacy skills.”