The district, encompassing both blue collar communities and more affluent commuter towns, operates with the mission to “provide a high-quality, dynamic education that empowers every student to reach their full potential.”
Meeting the needs of every learner comes with its own set of challenges in classrooms where 58% of students qualify for free or reduced price lunch, 13% of students receive special education services, and most students are working above or below grade level.
These are just three of the diverse learning profiles found within the typical Van Buren second grade classroom:
Planning lessons that accomodate this diversity of needs can be taxing for teachers already busy with tackling Michigan Academic Standards, building students’ ELA and math proficiency, and creating opportunities for joy and critical thinking. With this in mind, Van Buren Public Schools partnered with eSpark Learning to reliably provide students with the leveled, engaging instruction they need in order to meet ambitious academic goals.
“Even though I teach first grade, I have some kids that are working at a kindergarten level and some that are actually working above grade level. Before using eSpark, it was challenging to get the time I needed to meet students at their level,’ says Nicole McCraight, a teacher at Van Buren’s Tyler Elementary.
In Ms. McCraight’s classroom, students use eSpark nearly every day, camping out at one of the flexible learning stations - a comfy couch, a canopied reading nook, a spot on the floor - to independently work through an eSpark quest tailored to their grade level and skill level. With students hard at work on eSpark’s apps, videos, quizzes, and activities, Ms. McCraight has the freedom and time she needs to meaningfully connect with students. Like many teachers in the district, Ms. McCraight often uses eSpark in a station-rotation model and provides targeted instruction to small groups while students learn and practice new skills through eSpark.
Students who are actively engaged in the classroom are nearly 4.6 times more likely than their disengaged peers to agree with the statement “I do well in school.” Prioritizing student joy is an important step towards achieving the “high-quality dynamic education” that’s at the heart of Van Buren’s mission. Accordingly, student engagement is an important metric of success when evaluating the district’s new instructional strategies and programs.
“We have seen high levels of engagement with students who have been using eSpark,” says Jeff Moore, Director of Instruction at Van Buren. This engagement is well documented by the short videos students record at the end of every eSpark quest. In these videos, students reteaching the new skill they just practiced to demonstrate to their teacher what they have learned. “My students really want to use eSpark,” says Ms. McCraight. “They love recording the videos, and are upset if their eSpark time is rescheduled.” To keep students motivated and creating their best work, Ms. McCraight takes time throughout the year to show exemplary student videos to the whole class, an exercise that gives her students an opportunity to celebrate their growth and learning.
In this video, a second grade Van Buren student shows how eSpark taught her to divide a rectangle into four equal squares:
With students excited to practice new skills and teachers newly available to provide targeted support and feedback, academic growth is at an all time high. Over the course of the 2017-2018 school year, Van Buren students using eSpark grew an average of 8 percentile points on the NWEA MAP assessment. Academic growth was particularly impressive for students who used eSpark to grow and practice their math skills, with students gaining an average 12 points of percentile gains on the math section of the NWEA MAP. Because students are typically expected to grow only zero to two NWEA MAP percentile points over the course of any given school year, these dramatic percentile gains point to growth beyond test scores. Students at Van Buren are gaining proficiency in essential academic standards at a rate that significantly outpaces the norm.
Administrators at Van Buren attribute this growth to the dedication of the district's teaching staff paired with eSpark’s engaging math and reading supports. “Identifying the needs of each child and then providing appropriate support for that unique individual is a great challenge,” says Jeff Moore. “eSpark has helped tackle this challenge with an engaging tool that provides differentiated and targeted support based on the individual's learning need.”
When students are learning at their level and engaged in what they learn, academic growth is inevitable. With eSpark, Van Buren School District is setting students up to meet their full potential in the classroom and beyond.
Detroit suburbs, Michigan
51% free and reduced lunch
Five or six iPads per classroom
eSpark for math and reading in kindergarten, first, and second grade