By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — Pretend for a moment that you are a grade school student who is struggling with Math or reading. Other kids don’t seem to have the same problems. It’s frustrating, you’re unhappy and you hate being called on in class. You like computers. What if a computer could help?
Students at Our Lady of the Presentation School are participating in a pilot project using Success Maker, interactive curriculum software developed by Pearson Education System that can be used with PCs or white boards in the classrooms. Students at Our Lady of Guadalupe and Our Lady of Angels schools will also participate in the pilot, possibly as soon as the end of February.
Colleen Daugherty, resource teacher at Presentation, said the interactive software is “differentiated for every single child. It’s personalized — if a student is struggling with a concept in Reading or Math, the software keeps reteaching and testing until the student masters the concepts and then moves on. If a student masters concepts easily, the software challenges them with increasing levels of difficulty.”
Teachers in grades two, three, five and seven began using the reading and Math components of the software around the first of October last year, Daugherty said. Preliminary testing was done to place students in initial assessment areas. Students work in their ability levels twice a week. Advances in technology make it possible to link teaching materials, testing and software so that students can follow a course designed to their own individual needs. Students work in different “strands” or areas of difficulty, and at the touch of a button, the teacher can retrieve the data, and review the last session of a particular student or the cumulative reports of an entire class. The teacher can also access the learning objective component for a particular lesson and students can engage hands-on in an interactive program on the school’s Promethian white boards or take home a printout of the lesson.
Daugherty said students school wide were tested in reading fluency and comprehension several months ago. Students who needed remedial assistance have progressed the most, she said. Because they get personalized teaching and testing with Success Master and more opportunities to master the concepts, students that were behind required levels of competency are on track to have gained a full year by the end of this academic year, Daugherty said. They will be tested again sometime this spring, she added, to assess further progress.
“The software is wonderful,” she said. “It fills in all the gaps for both remediation and advancement. The kids have fun learning with it. Our kids are engaged in their learning!”
Dan Peters, diocesan Superintendent of Schools, had experience with Success Maker software as an educator 10 or 12 years ago in a school district near Wichita, Kan. “The software is sensitive to where students are in their learning,” he said.
Through a series of questions, the software senses students’ strengths and weaknesses, he explained. It then directs them to an individualized series of other questions through which they can make gains toward understanding. The software uses symbols and pictures as well as text, so it is easy to use for students from kindergarten through eighth grade. And if a large number of students in a class are not mastering the same concept, the software can be used interactively with a teacher on a whiteboard.
There will be an emphasis on learning standards set by the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, which are administered every year to selected grade levels. In out diocese the ITBS is mandated for fourth, sixth and eighth grades, although schools may choose to administer the tests in additional grades.
“It’s risk free for the students,” Peters said. “Because the Success Maker sessions are personalized for each student, it’s just the student and the computer. There is no worry about getting an answer wrong. It’s just the kid, the machine and later the teacher accessing the reports.” The software contributes to a more relaxed learning environment.
“The kids see it making a difference and they like that,” Peters said.
As an added benefit for the schools in the pilot project, they receive teacher development and licenses so that students will be able to continue using the software in the coming years.
Holy Cross School is also using Success Maker software, but by using funding for professional development, last summer school principal Jean Ferrara was able to purchase the software and enough licenses to enable its use in every classroom from kindergarten through eighth grade as well as secure professional development days for teachers.
“It was a gift from the Holy Spirit,” she said. “Success Maker quickly and accurately determines where the holes and gaps in learning are, gaps that interfere with progress. It’s a constant measurement that the kids and their teachers can see, but it’s also anonymous. Other students can’t see struggles and errors, so there’s no threat, no shame.”
English language learners are also benefitting from using the software, Ferrara said. “They are making great strides,” she said. “Success Maker keeps them engaged and focused by centering on learning at their individual levels, so they don’t get bored or defeated.” Students use the curriculum software in 15-minute sessions three times a week.” The software determines the gaps in learning and designs games or activities around the gaps to fill them in. Teachers can further differentiate between skill levels in students, whether it’s in reading, Math or English language concepts, which has converted them to computer fans. And when the gaps are mended, the progress is measurable and dramatic, and the kids can see it!”
Ferrara added that she is grateful to Pearson Education Systems for their outreach, which helped make it possible for Holy Cross to purchase the software, the licenses and teacher professional development days. Pearson staff, including Trudy Jonas, a long-time educator in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, found creative ways to make the program possible at Holy Cross.
“With Success Maker, progress happens,” Ferrara said.