Point Isabel ISD, located at the southernmost tip of Texas in the Rio Grande Valley, enrolls approximately 2,500 students. Eighty-two percent of students served by the district are economically disadvantaged, and over 60% are considered academically at-risk. District leaders saw the RBL grant as an opportunity to transform teaching and learning practices and increase student motivation, with the goal of better preparing students for postsecondary education. The superintendent has encouraged risk-taking and innovation in Point Isabel; the Raising Blended Learners work has played an important role in operationalizing her vision.
Point Isabel named its initiative Project S.A.I.L. (Student Achievement via Individualized Learning). Dubbed by the district as “a grassroots approach to personalized learning,” the first-year pilot included a station rotation model in two elementary school math classrooms at separate schools, and a flex model in four core courses of 7th grade. The district plans on expanding the pilot to high school in Year 2.
Prior to RBL, the district has outlined six “compasses” to navigate student learning experiences:
Across Point Isabel’s two elementary campuses (Garriga and Derry Elementary) and at Port Isabel Junior High School (the district’s only junior high school), district leaders have observed low math achievement and a persistent achievement gap especially among English Language Learners. Campus and district leaders are also concerned about student disengagement in the classroom In response to indicators of low student engagement, district leaders sought to better meet the needs and aspirations of individual students through personalized blended learning.
At the elementary school level, Point Isabel piloted station rotations for one math classroom in 3rd grade at Derry Elementary and another in 4th grade at Garriga Elementary. Students generally spend class periods rotating among several stations involving individual work, collaborative tasks, small group sessions with the teacher, and self-directed work on digital online content. Additionally, teachers have begun using a learning management system to create flipped videos that students watch at home to preview the following day’s content. Through these different modalities, Point Isabel has sought to give students increasingly personalized learning opportunities, more time for in-depth learning and peer collaboration, while equipping teachers with multiple data sources with which to plan student learning activities.
In 7th grade at the Port Isabel Junior High (PIJH), Point Isabel has adopted the Summit Learning Program approach to personalized learning. As a Year 1 pilot, Point Isabel is pursuing a partial grade level implementation involving four teachers in four core academic subjects in 7th grade (ELA, math, history, science). The Summit Learning Program involves three core elements: students spend part of the day learning content at their own pace through an online platform, teachers facilitate project-based learning and grade students on a cognitive skills rubric, and teachers hold 1:1 mentoring sessions with students to set goals and support progress. Point Isabel has modified aspects of Summit Learning to match its local context, but has retained core elements. As part of the Summit Learning model, Point Isabel teachers and students have relied on real-time data on student progress in order to help students set goals, make plans, and track their own progress against learning objectives.
Rigor and Relevance
Design pillars are used among all RBL sites to identify the essential design elements upon which each site’s student experience is based. The Point Isabel design pillars are: Collaborative Relationships (Teachers & Students; Peer to Peer), Student Agency, Rigor and Relevance, Personalized Pathways, and Data-Driven Instruction (DDI). The vision for these student experiences are aligned, but differentiated across the elementary and junior high level. Because PIJH is following the Summit Learning model, pilot classrooms are structured similarly in the four content areas. In contrast, elementary pilot teachers were provided autonomy to interpret and implement blended strategies in accordance with the district design pillars based on students’ needs and the teachers interpretations of blended learning in action. They took a more incremental approach to classroom transformation.
In both elementary and junior high settings, Collaborative Relationships entail peer collaboration in addition to mentoring from teachers.
Student Agency means students monitoring their own academic progress and setting goals with the help of teacher mentors. For elementary students, Year 1 steps toward agency included students monitoring their own progress on adaptive content, and setting goals and meeting with teachers for weekly mentor sessions. At the junior high school level, students use personalized learning plans to help chart their progress, meet weekly with a teacher mentor to set goals and make plans for meeting them, and take on-demand mastery assessments in the Summit Learning Platform.
Rigor and Relevance aspires to provide intellectually challenging experiences that push students to maintain high academic standards, and that provide relevant and relatable experiences for students to encourage engagement and passion for learning.
Personalized Pathways include teacher-led small groups, direct individual instruction, peer collaboration, adaptive digital content, flipped content, and playlists.
With Data-Driven Instruction (DDI) teachers and school leaders gained confidence in using multiple forms of assessment to guide instruction. At the elementary level, this included MAP, Imagine Math, formative assessments, and other digital content reports. MAP in particular was influential in helping teachers shift their mindsets toward student growth over the course of the year, and in identifying the specific standards with which individuals students needed assistance. For junior high students, data-driven instruction was likewise supported by MAP, along with student progress in the Summit Learning Platform and student mastery of cognitive skills.
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.