ABOUT THE DISTRICT
Regional School Unit No. 11 (MSAD 11) is a public school district located in Gardiner, ME. It has 2,040 students in grades PK, K-12 with a student-teacher ratio of 13 to 1. According to state test scores, 33% of students are at least proficient in math and 52% in reading.
Use of the EarlyBird game-based screener in conjunction with the K for ME (Maine) curriculum pilot
- Increased efficiency and time savings for teachers
- Increased student engagement and enjoyment
- Increased use of data to differentiate instruction in the classroom
In March 2021, kindergarten teachers at Helen A. Thompson Elementary School in MSAD #11 were among the first in the state to begin using a game-based early literacy assessment called EarlyBird. Two months later, the district decided to expand EarlyBird to all kindergarten classrooms district-wide.
“EarlyBird was introduced to our district as part of the K for ME pilot through the Maine Department of Education,” said Angela Hardy, the director of curriculum and instruction for MSAD #11. “As soon as we began using EarlyBird, we realized it had a lot of power in terms of the experience it offers students and the actionable data it provides to classroom teachers.”
Expanding EarlyBird from one school to three
Helen Thompson School teachers began piloting the K for ME kindergarten curriculum, which is based on Boston Public Schools’ Focus on K2 curricula, in 2019 to help tailor it for Maine schools in preparation for the statewide launch in August 2021. This year, they began using EarlyBird.
Developed at Boston Children’s Hospital in partnership with faculty at the Florida Center for Reading Research, EarlyBird brings together all the relevant predictors of reading in one easy-to-administer assessment. It provides a proactive, preventive way to identify students at risk of struggling with reading, and it supports teachers with data and resources so they can intervene earlier.
“For the K for ME pilot, we wanted an assessment tool that would provide teachers with layers of information about student learning in early literacy and key foundational skills. We wanted something efficient that would reduce the amount of time taken away from classroom instruction. And we wanted something that students would actually enjoy,” said Hardy. “As a result of the positive experiences with EarlyBird at Helen Thompson School, we decided to see if those experiences could be replicated in another environment.”
Kindergarten teachers at Pittston-Randolph Consolidated School in MSAD #11 began using EarlyBird in May 2021.
“Given the year we’ve had with COVID and the reduced amount of in-person time with students, we thought that EarlyBird would provide valuable information to help classroom teachers reprioritize their time now that we’re back to in-person instruction four days a week. Pittston-Randolph Consolidated School was the perfect next step to see if it would work, and our experience there was really positive,” she said. “Students were fully engaged and the data was comparable to our other site. So, we decided to expand EarlyBird this fall to all three buildings in the district that have kindergarten classrooms.”
Engaging students and empowering teachers
The EarlyBird cloud-based technology platform integrates key literacy milestones shown to be most predictive of later reading success with powerful analytics to identify where children are struggling on their learning pathway. It includes a game-based app that provides comprehensive, validated student testing, and a web-based dashboard that points teachers to easy-to-understand data and evidence-based resources for individuals or groups of students.
In MSAD #11, kindergarten students self-administer the EarlyBird screener using a tablet and headset. In the game, they join their new friend, Pip, for a delightful journey through the city, meeting animal friends along the way.
“Students are highly engaged the whole time with EarlyBird,” said Karen Collin, the district instructional coach for literacy in MSAD #11. “Even students who struggle with attention are highly engaged.”
The tablet-based game assesses students while they play, with auto-scoring features that save teachers time. The teacher dashboard then pairs student data with customized next steps and resources.
Providing a comprehensive assessment
“EarlyBird includes components that other universal screeners for kindergarten don’t cover — or at least not to the same depth — like rapid automatized naming (RAN). RAN tests normally have to be done one-on-one, and it’s very labor-intensive and time-consuming for classroom teachers,” said Collin. “EarlyBird includes a subtest for RAN that allows students to record themselves independently and with ease. This saves teachers so much time. Teachers can also listen to the recordings whenever they want, which is helpful.”
In addition to naming speed, EarlyBird tests skills in other areas such as sound/symbol correspondence, phonemic/phonological awareness, and oral language. “It’s great information for a dyslexia screener or for a universal screener for Tier 1 instruction,” said Collin. “Teachers can use the data to set goals for students, differentiate their instruction, and select interventions for groups or individuals who are struggling in specific areas.”
Reflecting and acting on the data
According to Hardy, the EarlyBird data has helped teachers enhance their use of the K for ME curriculum by allowing them to tailor their instruction to meet students’ needs. “EarlyBird provides detailed, targeted, actionable data that provides a point of reflection for teachers,” she said. “It gives them an opportunity to ask, ‘What have I taught, where did I expect my students to be, and what is the data showing about student learning?’ They can also consider, ‘What have I not yet taught, and what does the data show in those areas?’ Then they can think about, ‘How am I going to respond to this data?’
“Our teachers at Helen Thompson School are amazed at the amount of data they’ve been able to process in a short period of time with EarlyBird. With this data, they can think about who’s secure in a particular area and who’s not, and how they can plan instruction in small groups or one-on-one to meet students’ areas of need or accelerate learning when students are ready. This data not only helps them respond to the needs of the students in front of them, it also helps them think about how they might change their practices or their scope and sequence in years to come.”
Collin agrees. “Classroom teachers sometimes have too many pieces of data to look at, so I like that EarlyBird is targeted to those areas that are the number one predictors of reading success. Other universal screeners address these areas to an extent, but none do it as thoroughly as EarlyBird. It helps us make sure we’re building a strong foundation in kindergarten,” she said.
“In my work, I’ve used quite a few different assessments and I’ve observed students taking many different types of screeners,” Collin added. “Compared to other universal screeners for kindergarten, EarlyBird is one of the most developmentally appropriate in terms of the way it’s presented to students. It’s also more engaging. Because students enjoy it so much, they want to do their best. We can see the difference with students, like students who may rush or who may be impulsive. They will actually stop, listen again, and consider their answer before they press the green arrow to continue. Students are showing us that they care and want to get their answers right. On top of that, EarlyBird gives teachers strong data and more detail on phonological components that are sometimes vague in other universal screeners.”
Looking ahead to the 2021-22 school year, MSAD #11 teachers are eager to dive deeper into the EarlyBird platform and all of the data and resources available to them.
“Our teachers appreciate EarlyBird and they trust the results. They are starting to explore the resources offered in the dashboard, and our literacy specialists across the district are very excited about the opportunity to provide a more robust set of options to support learners who are struggling,” said Hardy. “Right now, we are in a good position to hone in on the skills that our kindergarten students need as they rise up to first grade, and we have that data because of EarlyBird. I’m not sure we would have been able to capture as much information if we had remained with the typical kindergarten spring assessment process, which is heavily focused on one-to-one practices between the student and teacher. We also look forward to conducting the EarlyBird assessment three times a year so we can monitor students’ progress over time.”