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A MasteryConnect Case Study: K–12

Olathe Public Schools: Scaling Meaningful Assessment With Professional Development

Olathe, KS

30,000 Students

Started 2017

With a focus on preparing students for their futures, Olathe Public Schools uses formative assessment to meet every student where they are so instruction can be adjusted and personalized to get them where they need to be. Learn why this growth-focused school district has invested in professional development with the Center for Leadership & Learning at Instructure for over two years to lead a seamless implementation of MasteryConnect, expand standards-based instruction, and establish a data-driven culture where teachers work together to improve student outcomes.

The Challenge

In 2017, the district leadership team at Olathe Public Schools set out to level the playing field between assessment and instruction. Previously, they had focused most initiatives on teaching and instructional practices without a clear understanding of where students were. With a districtwide goal of narrowing the learning gap, the team knew they needed an assessment management system (AMS) with the following attributes:

  • Instant & actionable data
  • Teacher collaboration tools
  • Flexible assessment options
  • Benchmark & curriculum mapping tools
  • Scalability & security

Aside from the technical requirements, the Olathe team believed that without a core philosophy about how assessment data should be used to improve student outcomes, the tool itself is meaningless. That’s why the team approached the buying process with one simple question: "Why do we need an assessment tool in the first place?" Upon answering this essential question, the team created what they call “The Big 3,” which serves as a foundation for their assessment strategy.

The Big 3

  1. Student Engagement: Students must be engaged in class with the ability to track their progress.
  2. Standards-Based Instruction & Assessment: Teachers must be able to identify what students know and don’t know, standard by standard. 
  3. Professional Learning Communities (PLCs): Teachers need to be able to discuss data so they can target students for interventions, personalize learning, and adjust instruction accordingly.

Combined, these needs led Olathe Public Schools to choose MasteryConnect as its comprehensive AMS in 2017.

The Solution

As the second-largest school district in Kansas, the Olathe team knew that the MasteryConnect implementation process would be no easy feat. In the past, the district had tried several different adoption strategies—from a “train the trainer” model, to a phased rollout plan—and all of them were missing one key component: the presence of and support from school and district leaders.

To kick off the MasteryConnect implementation process, the Olathe team took an entirely different approach that began by sending principals and key district leaders to a Mastery Leadership Institute (MLI) presented by the Center for Leadership and Learning (CLL) at MasteryConnect (now Instructure). The MLI, a two-day leadership professional development retreat, differed from a traditional PD session in that it gave Olathe leaders the opportunity to collaborate with other leaders, adopt tried-and-true implementation strategies, and build a plan with their team that could be put into action the moment they returned to their schools and districts.

“The MLI was great because it forced us all to leave our daily jobs and distractions for a few days to focus on nothing but our formative assessment strategy as a collective group.”
-Brent Yeager, Assistant Superintendent for Learning Services

“The best part about the MLI,” Rich Wilson, Director of Curriculum and Assessment added, “was that it was never about MasteryConnect. It was always about moving the district towards standards-based instruction and learning. It was never about the tool at all, it was about the practice the tool supports.”

Upon attending the MLI, the Olathe team was asked a fundamental question that led to a paradigm shift in the way they view data. The question: "Are you a data collector or a data user?" It’s safe to say that educators have always invested a lot of time and energy into collecting and organizing student data; the challenge is being able to use that data to directly benefit the students it was collected from.

Taking the time to focus on why data is being collected in the first place enabled Olathe leaders to return to their schools and district-level responsibilities and provide a clear view of why using MasteryConnect was essential to furthering the district’s “Big 3” initiative. 

Although teachers were apprehensive at first, Rich Wilson mentioned that the 48-Hour Challenge, a core exercise taught at the MLI, was instrumental in helping leaders “rip the bandaid off” as he put it, and get everyone using the tool in the same way.

The Olathe team shared that one of the greatest perks of starting the implementation process with PD was having the ability to collaborate with other MasteryConnect users early on and learn from their adoption experiences. 

The 48-Hour Challenge provided teacher teams with clear instructions that enabled them to start using MasteryConnect to identify standards to teach, administer formative assessments, and discuss the data as a team.

Step One: Meet With Your Team(s)

  • Agree on one standard to teach
  • Create or find a common assessment tied to that standard

Step Two: Teach & Assess

  • Teach students the concepts outlined in the selected standard
  • Assess all students using the common assessment
  • Carefully record student data

Step Three: Meet to Review Student Results

  • Identify student levels of understanding
  • Determine intervention and personalized learning strategies
  • Use the data to self-evaluate your own practice and efficacy

After the first team of leaders attended the MLI and implemented the 48-Hour Challenge, it was clear that this process would be a game-changer for the district. Olathe has since sent over 60 leaders to a CLL session to learn these same methods.

The very next year after additional leaders attended an MLI, Olathe worked with the CLL team to create a custom PD session that was delivered to 3,000+ teachers over the course of two days in August 2018. Though teachers at Olathe were held to high expectations, school and district leaders have always been and continue to be heavily involved in the PD process so they can offer a high level of support every step of the way. 

“The learning arm of the district (teachers) and the accountability arm of the district (leaders) are all speaking the same language. We all share the same goal and are rowing in the same direction.”-
Brent Yeager, Assistant Superintendent for Learning Services 

The Results

The collaborative culture and ongoing PD made Olathe well equipped to make the transition to online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Regardless of the learning model that was being used, Olathe could use MasteryConnect to inform all instruction and meet students where they are. Additionally, the strategies and methods learned at the MLI helped the team hone in on priority standards to ensure the standards that were most essential to students’ understanding were being taught and assessed to a greater degree. Using MasteryConnect’s Item Authoring functionality, teachers could build their own items that were specific to a set of standards, rather than having to rely solely on third-party item banks.

Olathe values the ongoing partnership with MasteryConnect and the CLL because it allows them to build custom PD sessions and solutions that meet the unique needs of the district and shape a long-term vision for their assessment strategy. 

“The way we see it is, if you are going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on software you have to invest in professional development to ensure a successful implementation and ongoing support, and the MasteryConnect and CLL teams have been great partners to us throughout this process.”
-Rich Wilson, Director of Assessment

A large part of this strategy has included working with MasteryConnect to explore breakthroughs in machine learning technology that will eventually provide an alternative to high-stakes summative assessments. After piloting this new assessment model, known as the Diagnostic Classification Model (DCM), with MasteryConnect, leaders at Olathe have continued to engage in ongoing conversations about how this revolutionary alternative is on track to become the next big thing—allowing educators to utilize regular assessment data in real-time to personalize learning and promote student growth.

About Olathe Public Schools

As the second-largest school district in Kansas, Olathe Public Schools has been built upon a strong partnership of educators, students, parents, and community. With a mission to provide a safe, positive environment where all students can acquire knowledge and skills to be productive citizens, they strive to prepare all students for their future by focusing on holistic development as much as academic achievement.

Key Insights

  1. Olathe Public Schools has partnered with the Center for Leadership & Learning at Instructure to train over 3,000 teachers and 60+ leaders in the last two years.

  2. Olathe takes a top-down approach to professional development with the belief that all change must begin with supportive, engaged, and effective leaders.

  3. Using MasteryConnect, Olathe creates and administers standards-based formative assessments to identify student levels of understanding, target students for intervention, and evaluate teacher efficacy. 

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