Education / 2013

Lets eliminate the education gap: smartestk12 is built by teachers to prepare LA for the CommonCore

Lets eliminate the education gap: smartestk12 is built by teachers to prepare LA for the CommonCore

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by smartestk12.com

By 2050, the injustice that is the education gap must be defeated. There is no panacea and the answer is not as simple as choosing charter schools, dethroning Unions, or betting the house on a learning style. There will never be a silver bullet, but the closest answer that we have is a full focus on tracking student data and promoting teacher effectiveness. Thankfully, the Common Core State Standards combined with LA’s digital revolution enable a rare chance to understand and to address individual student knowledge gaps and to promote school successes in real time. Smartestk12.com is a website for teachers to upload their tests and quizzes into one unified database. Once uploaded, the site will strip unnecessary formatting of word documents and pdfs to enable a virtually limitless array of standards-aligned questions for each grade level and subject matter. Like searching for an image on google, teachers will now be able to effortlessly find the best questions for their lessons. Meanwhile, the teacher community can edit, moderate and improve the resources to create the smartest test solutions for our students. The real magic is what we can do for students. For the first time ever, we will be able to provide a khanacademy-esque practice world for all content areas, including essay-formatted ELA questions. Each student may log in and take their teacher’s assessments online and be recommended for the best computer adaptive practice. The data generated by this site automatically builds individual reports for instant tracking to schools as well as parents via email and text messages. Our computer adaptive platform discovers areas of student learning deficiencies and then presents aid for that material in an actionable manner to all parties, including the students themselves; all instantly. Beyond the benefits of measured student growth, smartestk12 also addresses three critical education events: LAUSD's tablet/chromebook push, the common core, and teacher evaluation. First, as a former intern at Beaudry through the Teach For America Summer Leadership Fellows Program, our founder worked with Superintendents Dr. John Deasy and Tommy Chang. In this position, he was intimately seated with the small data team and IT department. With the recent announcement for LAUSD to buy 600,000 chromebooks, as well as the thousands of iPads and other digital media ordered in this latest $500,000,000 spending spree, it is clear that LAUSD is serious about their commitment to fully digitize the district. However, it is fair to be extremely skeptical that the immense resources will be utilized to their fullest extent in the coming tech roll-out. Instead of focusing on best-practices, the limited LAUSD team is tied to the logistics involved in delivering the devices. My district office friends admit the heavy need for more programs put in place to ensure that the new devices will have true accountability. Smartestk12 can provide such accountability through daily/weekly interim assessments for each student, using our virtually unlimited database of questions and computer adaptive technique. In order to achieve audacious growth, we can provide a robust intervention plan for all students in need. Once ready, smartestk12 is set to immediately support several schools within LAUSD, and plans to work directly with the SIS system for easy integration. Second, the Common Core State Standards will begin in the 2014-2015 school year. While Los Angeles appears to be on the leading edge with the Common Core implementation, it is still highly debatable if any success will occur in the transition. Rather than gambling on our students, smartestk12 is focused on providing leading content, teacher-made for LA’s classrooms. Beyond the best teachers, we aim to license pre-existing databases such as Teach For America and Khanacademy. Third, the current federal and state requirements are now set to include test scores into teacher evaluations. Smartestk12 will not only reduce the heavy weight on end of year high-stakes testing, but also facilitate more authentic time management for teachers, by eliminating test reinvention. Without testing, too many teachers hide within the system or are not recognized. Also, too many students fall behind. Now, smartestk12 will provide a way to showcase student growth for any teacher by breaking the high stakes tests into daily or weekly interim assessments. Not only will teachers see results immediately; but now, parents, administrators and the students themselves will know exactly where they are succeeding or falling behind and can use our website for enrichment and intervention. Smartestk12 is a start-up, launched in 2013 in UCLA Anderson’s MBA school and received angel funding from the Larry Wolfen Foundation. LA schools are already signing up to use smartestk12, but the opportunity to succeed hinges on financial support.


What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

Smartestk12 started as a thousand question science database, parsed from the internet, and used for the academic growth of 800 students in South Gate, California. It was phenomenally successful, with over 90 students coming to a one-teacher hosted Saturday school workshop. The students wanted to succeed, and virtually each student who attended the study workshop achieved academic results far beyond what was “expected” of them. That first workshop was the icing on the cake of a record-breaking academic year for 8th grade science at South Gate Middle School. However, while 86% of students passed their science exam, only 14% of students passed in mathematics. Two years later, smartestk12 finally became more than a pet project with funding by the Wolfen Foundation. We are now getting ready to procure content for all subjects and will become a tool that is perfectly suited to complement any classroom digital device.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

Collaborators & Advisors: UCLA Anderson School of Management, Price Center Teach For America Professor Leo Bursztyn, Ph.D Economics LAUSD Director of Performance Management, Noah Bookman LAUSD Instructional Technology Applications Facilitator, Robert Rodriguez

Founder: Craig Jones- Former 4-year teacher, 2008 Teach For America Corps Member, LAUSD District Intern for Tommy Chang, current MBA student at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. Experienced as ed-tech vertical intern at Belkin Education, volunteer at DaVinci’s US First Robotics Club and Founder of Cabrillo Marine Aquarium’s South Gate Research Team

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

We are a data company and will measure success with results. True to our name, if we can not measure it then we can not be sure of its importance. Of paramount importance, success will be measured in the percent of students who grow beyond expected results, the up-take rate and attrition rate of the website, the number of students served and the long-term effect of any growth. Of particular interest will be which students are served the most and whether the intervention adequately serves its role. Constant refinement is necessary to validate that growth is a result of our support. Pyschometric analysis is key to validate any findings.

Success will also be measured in the number of teachers who collaborate, the number of tests generated, the time of use and feedback received.

Parental feedback and usage statistics is especially important as we feel this component is drastically under-played in current sites of similar nature. It is far too common to hear that parents think there students are not falling behind, and teachers often struggle to say this to their faces or reveal necessary learning gaps. As a teacher, our founder visited over 50 families each year and realizes the critical importance of transparent communication with each child’s permanent teachers, their guardians.

In conclusion, there will not be a clickable link that will not be evaluated for its effectiveness and value to the user. We hope to live true to our name of data-driven practice and plan to be on constant alert to fix what is needed and communicate all information externally.

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

Teaching at South Gate Middle School for the past four years, our founder supported his students towards record-breaking mastery levels on the California Standards Tests. Now, the smartestk12 team wants to share the success with all Los Angeles county, and eventually the whole country as we all prepare to meet the digital assessment needs of the impending Common Core. There is no secret formula to improved success in the classroom, yet no one can argue in the power of data. Our goal is to make the data tracking process extremely easy and teacher-friendly. For LA county, this means that all 145,000 students PreK to grade 12 can be standards mapped using our website. Also, all teachers, parents, and administrators can be held accountable toward their growth. The current system requires us to wait until August to find out test scores. While the Common Core will be faster, we will only have data to act on by the end of the year, or at most 2-3 interim assessments. Now, with smartestk12, any student can practice every day of the year; and on every subject, including essays. With this much information, our city can eliminate students falling through the cracks, because we will know performance almost instantly. In LA, 1 in 4 students drop out because we did not help them in time, and often we did not know where to help them academically. Likewise, 3 of 5 students do not finish college prep requirements because we push them forward to the next level regardless of any true level of mastery. With a computer adaptive system, a student in one seat can be practicing in calculus and the student in the other can be working on basic number skills. Yet, in each program, the student will be receiving content perfectly suited for their needs and the teachers, parents and administrators involved will be 100% aware of those needs. We can now provide accountability before the end of the year, meaning that LA schools can actually hold data to a teacher or student. And finally, professional development will match the needs of the teachers, because there will be no hiding from intervention needs.

LAUSD’s chromebook push: While at LAUSD, our founder built smartestk12 and had a 3-year average Academic Growth over Time rating of 5.6 out of 5, placing him in the top 1% in his subject. This means that his students grew far beyond their expected levels, adjusted by previous scores, ELL status, socioeconomic status, etc. However, beyond the adjusted growth, his students showed real performance levels in the top of the city, with over 100 students scoring at the highest level (Advanced), annually. When a system works, it enables critical thinking and more time on quality instruction and meaningful programs for kids.

Smartestk12 will intimately work with LA’s schools. Currently, several have agreed or have shown deep interest in completing Beta Testing this fall, including various LAUSD schools, KIPP LA schools, the UCLA Lab School and the DaVinci Schools.

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

In 2050, digital devices would support brick and mortar classrooms in such a way that 100% of in-class time is devoted to authentic critical thinking and hands-on inquiry. Smartestk12 will not limit a teacher to test prep but instead widen their scope to what truly leads to results. Our data driven system will expose the real success stories in schools across the region and will enable specific, individualized instruction, as opposed to a one-sized fits all methodology.

This type of data-driven instruction and transparency can enable parents, teachers, administrators and students themselves to become champions of their own education. If learning gaps are known and can be isolated, then intervention can immediately attack deficiencies and growth will occur rapidly.

LA is already a leader in the education digital revolution. Now, let’s make sure that it is known in the future as a success. Other cities around the world are watching to see how we do. If we succeed, we can have a profound result for the entire world.