UChicago Impact's 2021 Summer Newsletter

As we approach the start of another school year, we wanted to take a moment to share with you some of our work over these past few months.

NWEA Partnership

UChicago Impact Partners with NWEA to Deliver School Improvement Services to More Schools Nationwide

This summer, we announced UChicago Impact’s new partnership with NWEA, a nationally-recognized education organization. Through this partnership, UChicago Impact will collaborate with NWEA on driving systemic improvements in U.S. schools by pairing NWEA’s school improvement services with UChicago Impact’s research-based 5Essentials to accelerate school improvement and student learning outcomes.

Starting this fall, NWEA and UChicago Impact will provide a select group of district partners with school improvement services designed to support and develop school leaders to be stewards of sustainable, meaningful, and equity-focused school improvement. These services will include administering the 5Essentials Survey and facilitating professional learning as the cornerstone of a holistic approach to improvement efforts that are backed by research and centered on the specific needs of each school and district. You can read the full announcement here.

Teacher with students

NWEA Features the 5Essentials in a Blog Series About Data-Informed School Improvement

To coincide with the announcement of Impact’s partnership with NWEA, UChicago Impact's Co-CEO Elliot Ransom co-authored a two-part blog series on using holistic data to inform school improvement that was featured on NWEA’s Teach. Learn. Grow. blog. The first post focuses on the importance of the right mix of data and how to use it to inform school improvement. The second post discusses the importance of actively engaging stakeholders in school improvement planning. You can read the first post, “Why success depends on having the right mix of data—and how you use it” here and the second post, “How to democratize your school improvement planning process” here

While academic and outcome data are necessary indicators for improvement, they aren’t sufficient on their own to bring about the significant changes in learning conditions that are often needed to produce better student outcomes. Simply put, outcome data doesn’t identify root causes of persistent problems. Low test scores tell educators that students are struggling to retain and demonstrate specific academic content knowledge and skills, but they don’t say much about the dynamics in the school—say, the relationships between teachers and students—that may be hindering student learning.” —Elliot Ransom, Co-CEO, UChicago Impact

STEP Releases its 2020-21 Partner Satisfaction and Experience Report 

The past two school years have been unlike any other in history. Prolonged school closures and adaptive learning models resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic required educators to reimagine teaching and learning. To effectively support our partners during this time, STEP designed and developed new tools and supports specific to virtual instruction. From virtual administration of the STEP Assessment to a new, free online progress monitoring system, to free professional learning webinars, the STEP team strived to provide our partner schools with the tools and support needed to continue differentiating literacy instruction in a virtual capacity during the 2020-21 school year.

In the spring of 2021, our team sought feedback from current STEP clients about their experience using STEP and these new supports. After distributing an anonymous questionnaire to STEP’s current school partners, we received over 170 responses from STEP users reflecting on how STEP has supported their practice over the years—particularly throughout mandated remote instruction during the pandemic. We’re excited to share with you the key highlights and trends of the 2020-21 STEP Satisfaction and Experience Survey. Below are a few key highlights from the report: 

STEP Survey Report Highlights

You can read the full survey report here.

wonk-a-thon logo

Prioritizing Trust in School Improvement Leads to Positive Learning Environments

This summer, UChicago Impact collaborated with NWEA on an article for The Fordham Institute’s annual Wonk-a-Thon. This year’s Wonk-a-Thon asked contributors to address how “schools can best address students’ mental health needs coming out of the Covid-19 pandemic without shortchanging academic instruction.” 

The article, “The primacy of trust: How to create an environment that promotes social emotional learning and academic success,” underscores the link between positive learning environments and students’ academic success and, most notably, elevates the importance of putting trust at the center of school improvement. The article was co-authored by UChicago Impact’s Elliot Ransom and Nina Ryan and NWEA’s Brooke Mabry and Lauren Wells. You can read the full article here


Impact Product Updates

This summer, the STEP and 5Essentials teams have been hard at work developing new and expanded supports that schools can utilize this coming school year. Below are highlights of new services coming this fall. 

Assessment Accommodations for Students with Reading IEPs

Starting this fall, STEP will be more accessible for students with reading or English Language Arts Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). Updates to the STEP Data Management System will allow appropriate modifications to be made to the STEP Assessment administration that align with the testing accommodations outlined in a student’s IEP, such as an untimed reading record. Schools will also have the ability to establish unique learning growth goals for students that require such an accommodation.
Supporting Spanish-Speaking Students Through STEP Online Progress Monitoring 

At the height of the pandemic, STEP launched Online Progress Monitoring (STEP OPM), a new literacy support that was expressly designed with distance learning and data collection in mind. STEP OPM enabled teachers to virtually collect and use formative reading data to differentiate their instructional practices just as they would when teaching in the classroom. This fall, STEP will release a Spanish version of STEP OPM to support the STEP Español series. This release will allow teachers using STEP Español to progress monitor students across STEP levels PreReading -12. STEP Español OPM will include over 20 Spanish reading passages that are authentic and culturally relevant.
Updates to 5Essentials Scoring 

Significant updates have been made to the 5Essentials Scoring System that will deliver schools’ individual 5Essentials reports faster than before. With the reengineered system, most schools will receive their 5Essentials reports within 4 weeks from the close of the survey administration window. This is a meaningful improvement that will give schools and districts more time and capacity for using 5Essentials data to inform continuous improvement cycles. With rapid report delivery, schools will have an expanded window of time to analyze 5Essentials results, as well as implement data-informed improvement actions and monitor progress during the school year.