Cisco, Texas is a rural community, two hours west of Dallas, with a population under 4,000. Cisco Independent School District serves 872 students, with 55% living with economic disadvantage. In recent years, Cisco has quickly transitioned from limited technology use to adopting blended learning as a core strategy for improving student performance. As Superintendent Kelly West has stated, “Any technology that brings the big wide world into rural Texas is a benefit.”
While the district has consistently ranked highly in standardized testing, advanced achievement rates have remained stagnant among specific student populations. Through blended learning, Cisco’s leaders hope to push their students to achieve at the highest levels possible. They viewed the RBL grant as a structured opportunity to raise the bar for student achievement and operationalize the use of technology in the district. Through engagement with the school board, staff, parents, and other local stakeholders, district leaders sought buy-in for their efforts by highlighting how the grant could promote deeper learning and bolster student achievement in the already-competitive district.
As stated in their pilot proposal, Cisco is deploying its Elevate blended learning initiative to “elevate all elementary and middle school students to their own individual high levels of academic achievement in math and science.” The district’s pilot is based on a set of design pillars that will enable a high quality, student-centered learning experience.
Cisco seeks to boost math and science performance at the elementary and middle school levels. To begin this process, the district’s Year 1 pilot started in math in grades 4-7.
Project 1 is focused on the district’s stagnant math performance. Across grades 7-8, the amount of students achieving Tier 3 STAAR exam results (indicating advanced academic achievement) has stayed at 6% or less since the exam was introduced in 2012. For students in grades 4-6, this average has been less than 15%. These results place the district below State Tier 3 averages across both age groups. The district has hypothesized that the root causes of this challenge include a “one-size-fits-all” classroom, lack of challenging/advanced content, lack of time with teachers, and a lack of student motivation to progress above average expectations. While Cisco wants to raise outcomes for all students, the Elevate pilot focuses specifically on increasing Tier 3 achievement, while also enhancing student agency and engagement.
Project 2 in the initiative’s second year will expand to additional math classes and focus on Tier 3 achievement in science. Cisco’s 8th grade students likewise trail the statewide average in Tier 3 science achievement, with 10% scoring in Tier 3 versus 16% statewide. While the 11% rate of Tier 3 performance among 5th graders is only a percentage point shy of the state average, district leaders have also targeted this benchmark for Year 2.
From fourth to seventh grade, Cisco pursued a station rotation blended learning model in Year 1 at the beginning of the year. Stations were assigned based on student performance data and became increasingly flexible based on individual learning needs. In the middle school, stations evolved to include elements of individual rotation and flex models as teachers created playlists for students to pursue learning objectives in more personalized ways. Students engaged with new classroom technology and while some classrooms utilized common tools, (such as Imagine Math and Dreambox) each pilot teacher was granted autonomy to select digital content for the first year of the pilot. Students also spent one-on-one time with teachers to promote goal setting and reflection.
Design pillars are used among all RBL sites to identify the essential design elements upon which each site’s student experience is based. The Cisco design pillars are: Data-Driven Instruction (DDI), Student Agency/Engagement, Personalized Learning Experiences, and Rigor/Competency Progression.
The district’s first pillar of Data Driven Instruction entails a process of reflection and action around data assessment. Teachers use data to determine instructional groupings, develop learning activities, help students choose appropriate learning activities, and track student progress toward academic goals.
Student Agency/Engagement, the second pillar, is designed to give pupils ownership over learning to create a more personalized experience. This interactive process seeks to increase engagement through intellectual, physical, and behavioral participation. Student agency can be instilled through ownership over academic and non/academic processes, feedback from teachers, and reflective learning procedures.
Personalized Learning Experiences offers instructional approaches and learning experiences based on students’ individual learning needs, interests and passions. Cisco has made steps toward personalization through station rotations and features of other models, where students in the same classroom have different concurrent learning experiences. Instructional offerings to facilitate this differentiation include small learning groups, 1:1 teacher time, peer collaboration, software interaction/adaptive software applications and teacher created playlists.
The final pillar of Rigor/Competency Progression builds in intellectually challenging experiences that push students to maintain high academic standards for themselves. Through challenge areas, adaptive software, mastery checks, and advance standards, students should work through instructional tasks that maximize their academic growth.
To learn more about the demonstration sites’ areas of progress and challenges, as well as how they define and track success, explore the reports from FSG.
Personalized Learning Experiences