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Making a measurable impact on education

Early elementary literacy (learning to read) enables students to excel in their education, especially after third grade. The National Research Council believes that “academic success, as defined by high school graduation, can be predicted with reasonable accuracy by knowing someone’s reading skill by the end of third grade. A person who is not at least a modestly skilled reader by that time is unlikely to graduate from high school.” Reading Corps, a program of Serve Minnesota, the local AmeriCorps office, seeks to fill that achievement gap for Minnesota students. Low literacy rates have been linked to higher rates of unemployment, crime, illness, and increasing gaps in social equality.

AmeriCorps fills this gap with intensive doses of literacy tutoring to ensure children in America get the help they need in becoming proficient readers and writers. To do this, they’ve developed an intervention program for struggling children in Pre-K and early elementary school in which AmeriCorps tutors and mentors work together to ensure students can read at grade level by the end of third grade. This ensures that students are ready to read to learn in upper elementary school onward.

Workshop design session
Screenshot of educational app that says "Nice job!"

To support the schools, AmeriCorps volunteers, and the master coaches that guide the program, AmeriCorps needed a data-driven toolset that shows students against a target or benchmark, their performance trend, and provides alerts and recommendations based on progress & student activity. This allows volunteers and coaches to see their students and understand where they are performing on a series of benchmark indicators over time. The application begins at the beginning of the school year as students are benchmarked into the program, tracks student and tutor performance weekly, monitors intervention history, recommends new interventions based on student performance and connects tutors and mentors on individual students’ needs.

By grounding our work in the many stakeholders the tool had to serve, we established principles that would guide our team through the design phase: Fast, Friendly, and Actionable. The user experience had to be fast to empower tutors and mentors to accomplish tasks in fractions of the time it took them with current analog tools. A friendly experience meant providing helpful, direct, and timely access to actions. And being actionable meant the tool had to provide stakeholders at all levels with the critical information they need to help kids learn.

The outcome of this effort is a tool now used by AmeriCorps tutors state-wide to log lesson times and scores. The tool visualizes this data to help mentors and master coaches tailor students’ lesson plans, and ultimately set kids on a path to become literate adults.