Improving student achievement through choice

When Exeter USD leaders found that their students’ reading and math scores weren’t improving as much as they’d hoped, they chose to double down on empowering teachers and students

Exeter (CA) Unified School District is a small, rural district with approximately 2,800 students, 61 percent of whom are Hispanic and 62 percent of whom are socioeconomically disadvantaged. Approximately one in seven of our students are English language learners. When we looked at our reading and math scores a few years back, we found that we weren’t seeing the growth we were hoping to see. With a renewed focus on the basics of literacy and math, a technology infusion, and a dedication to dialogue over rote memorization, here’s how we helped our students find the success and achievement they deserve.

Starting with the standards
Exeter is a standards-driven district, so when we decided to focus on literacy, we knew we weren’t going to adopt a publisher’s curriculum. Instead, we designed our own units of study and pulled in supplemental materials to align to our state’s standards. We brought in close-reading strategies, started an academic coaching program for teachers, and launched reading interventions and guided reading groups.

1:1 devices, renovated classrooms
We hired an outside consultant to help staff, administration, and some parents develop a technology-implementation plan for our initiative, which started with ramping up the infrastructure with fiber for improved bandwidth and wi-fi. Then we asked teachers to pilot various devices.

We had a three-year technology-implementation plan but, because of our staff’s enthusiasm, that plan shortened to just over two years. In that time, we became a 1:1 device district. Today we have a range of devices in our classrooms, from tablets in some of the primary grades to laptops in our science classrooms (where more powerful devices are necessary).

We’ve also renovated more than half of our classrooms with new personalized and flexible seating and completely transformed 12 classrooms in our middle school. The traditional desks and tables in rows are gone and we have new furniture, such as stand-up, adjustable-height desks, exercise balls for students to sit on, floor-to-ceiling whiteboards, and bean bags. The refurbished classrooms free our students to get comfortable and to transition from individual work environments to group settings quickly to better facilitate collaborative learning.

We have audio systems in the ceiling so students don’t depend on the sound from a TV that might be 25 feet away from them. Those TVs—three in each room—are all wired together so that teachers and students can show one example on all three or operate each one individually for small-group work.

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