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Combining data and academic language to boost math achievement in Boone County

Boone County School District has successfully implemented Ellevation Math as a way to improve the performance of their multilingual students in math and improve collaboration between content teachers and their EL specialists.

Boone County School District in Northern Kentucky is the state’s third largest district, and one of its most diverse. The district serves 20,000 students, with 2,200 being current or monitored multilingual learners (MLLs), representing over 60 different languages. 

During the 2018-2019 school year, 75% of their MLL student population tested below proficiency on state math assessments, and fell below state average in all three testing cycles during the school year. With a growing number of multilingual learners in the district, the district recognized the need to reimagine how they approached language instruction in content classes.

Challenges supporting MLLs

Boone County teachers faced several roadblocks to adequately supporting their MLLs. While the district was providing a large number of language support resources for their educators, teachers were unsure how to implement them and were spending their limited planning time searching for free online resources to fill instructional gaps for language learners.

“It was hard for them to determine what is a priority, and how to just get to the nuts and bolts of their day-to-day tasks. Plus, they have so much else on their agendas everyday - covering staff absences, bus duty. It's hard to focus just on instruction,” explained Dr. Geniene Piché, the Director of Language Learners for the district.

Their district has a large transient student population, particularly within their multilingual students. Without a common curriculum program for MLLs, it was difficult for students who transferred schools to transition back into instruction.

“Even moving from elementary to middle school and beyond, the inconsistent resources and curriculum makes it difficult to provide consistency for our MLLs,” explains Mackenzie Dailey, a fourth grade teacher in Boone County.  

Boone County also faced another challenge: a rapid increase in the number of MLLs and newcomers in schools that previously had few to none. Many teachers lacked prior experience working with language learners or families with limited English proficiency, and lacked the training or tools to meet their language support needs.

In particular, math classrooms were a place where language was a barrier for MLLs in accessing and mastering grade level content and participating in classroom discourse. 

“We've seen in all our elementary and middle schools that these students can very quickly learn the process of math, they can figure out how to do an equation, they can figure out how to come up with an answer,” Dr. Piché shares. “But as soon as we get to the word problems, they get stuck. We saw that they didn’t understand the language of math.”

Combining content with language

Boone County was an early adopter of Ellevation Platform, which they began using in 2014 to centralize student data and enhance their ability to communicate effectively with families. At that point, less than 5% of the district were MLLs, but their staff quickly found that as their MLL student enrollment increased, every teacher needed to be able to access the data and monitor student progress. Ellevation Platform increased efficiency and improved processes for multilingual learners across the district, but teachers still needed a cohesive program to address academic language, support teachers with varying levels of experience working with multilingual students, and benefit their diverse student population.

In 2020, the district adopted Ellevation Math. Boone County successfully rolled out the program by prioritizing how teachers embedded it into their core math instruction. Staff quickly learned how to assign Ellevation Math Primers to their students, review the results prior to class, and use the data to inform instruction. 

The district found that building knowledge and confidence in academic language is the key for students to unlock a deeper understanding and mastery of rigorous math concepts for all students, not just multilingual learners.

“If you cannot talk about math and explain how you came to your answer, you haven't learned it. What Ellevation Math does for us is teach the language of math and get teachers and students to use that high academic language - it combines the content with the language,” says Dr. Piché. 

Collaborative teachers, confident students

One of the most noticeable achievements in Boone County is their improved system for collaboration. Ellevation Platform has enabled the district to increase teacher-to-teacher collaboration by combining their student notes in one place and facilitating scheduling meetings. They have also strategically used the formative assessments within Ellevation Math to determine the best route for intervention. 

“Our MLL teachers are collaborative in the math classrooms. So, when we look at our data after an Ellevation Math Primer has been assigned, if there is a gap in vocabulary, the MLL teacher jumps in and does some intervention work, or small group work. If it is a math test question that we've seen a lot of gaps on, then the math teacher does reteaching. So, how it's impacted collaboration between the teachers has been tremendous,” says Dr. Piché. 

Before Ellevation Math, teachers were inundated by decision fatigue and searching for language scaffolds specific to each new math unit or lesson. Now, the district can offer educators one consistent resource to easily assign that they know will be high quality for both language and math development, aligned to state content standards, and available for every lesson in a familiar format that students enjoy. Students also have access to scaffolded language supports, embedded directly within Primers, including synchronized read-aloud narration, bilingual dictionaries,  and more. Teachers feel more confident in their instruction and know that they are providing their MLLs with the language tools and supports they need to master rigorous, grade-level math instruction.

“Using Ellevation Math has given teachers a tool that makes them feel comfortable to focus on MLL student growth. The clear and comprehensible language and ease of the program eliminates confusion, and gives teachers a ‘safety resource’ - something they can rely on - to help make their instruction more effective,” explains Dailey.

“It holds everybody to high standards for instruction, and it means teachers get to spend less time prepping and more time with their students. Without Ellevation, I cannot imagine the amount of different resources I would need to replicate one system,”- Dr. Geniene Piché

10% increase in MLL students meeting or exceeding state standards in math

With Ellevation Math, teachers finally have a way to make high-quality instruction more accessible to multilingual learners, the data needed to catch challenges early, and the personalized supports to help students succeed at grade level and beyond. Students now have scaffolded learning resources that they can reference in or out of class to make meaning of math, unpack word problems, and access lessons heavy with academic language. The Primers drive student ownership of learning from start to finish, and the benefits can be seen in the data.

“The spring 2018-2019 STAR had 25% of our MLLs scoring Proficient. The projected scores for 2023 show a significant increase in proficiency,” shares Dailey.

In the Winter 2023 MVPA (Mastery View Predictive Assessments) testing, Boone County’s percentage of MLLs and monitored MLLs that met or exceeded the state average in math scores increased more than 10% since before implementing Ellevation Math. The English Learners plus Monitored students at Ockerman Elementary, which has one of Boone County’s largest MLL populations, scored 7% higher proficiency on the Winter MVPA math assessment than the state average for the same subgroup.

“For my class in particular, we allow all students in our class to complete the Ellevation Math Primers each week. I personally saw 10% growth in proficiency from my Fall MVPA to my Winter MVPA. I do think consistent Ellevation Math usage contributes to that growth,” says Dailey.

As the population of multilingual students in Boone County continues to grow, having a consistent language support program in math classes across the district will set teachers and students up for success.

“Before Ellevation Math, we did not have a way to gauge whether students knew what we were talking about in terms of academic vocabulary for math. Do they understand this math concept? Now we can quickly dig down to one skill area and find out what they already know and what we need to reteach - it’s all right there for us,” Dr. Piché says.

“It holds everybody to high standards for instruction, and it means teachers get to spend less time prepping and more time with their students. Without Ellevation, I cannot imagine the amount of different resources I would need to replicate one system."