DMPS Submits Race to the Top Application: Focused on Peronalized Learning for all Students

With an emphasis on new and innovative ways to meet the individual academic needs of every student, Des Moines Public Schools submitted its proposal today to the U.S. Department of Education for a four-year, $29.9 million grant from the Race to the Top program.

“If we are going to make sure every student succeeds in the classroom, then we need to make the best use of every available tool in order to provide greater personalized learning,” said Tom Ahart, interim superintendent of Des Moines Public Schools. “Support from Race to the Top will enable us to do even more to fulfill our mission of every student having the knowledge, skills and abilities to be prepared to succeed at their next stage in life.”

The Des Moines Public Schools’ RTTT application focuses on how the district will develop a personalized learning environment for students supported by more effective and innovative practices for teachers. Personalized learning for DMPS students will include the customization of instructional practice, better use of data, and appropriate interventions in real-time to ensure that the unique needs of each student are met.

The U.S. Department of Education is making $400 million available to support high-quality proposals from a variety of school districts across the nation. These 4-year awards will range from $5 million to $40 million, depending on the population of students served through the plan. The Department of Education is expected to make 15-25 awards, with the selected districts being announced no later than December 31, 2012. Additional information about the Race to the Top program for school districts is available here.

“Support from Race to the Top will mean a range of new tools for Des Moines students, from more and smarter use of technology and data to increased support for our teachers and families,” added Holly Crandell, curriculum director for Des Moines Public Schools. “This will enable us to do more to shift our focus from the grade level to the individual, and in the end raise the level of success and achievement for everyone.”

The DMPS application for RTTT funding includes three main components to support personalized learning: 

  • Tools: Teachers and students will be provided access to technology hardware/software to meet instructional needs reflective of the age levels of students and the complexity of the curriculum. Hardware will include classroom workstations of desktop computers, laptops, and/or tablets; classroom sets of laptops; and interactive white boards. Learner response systems will provide real-time data regarding student understanding and application of concepts and skills. An online data management system will populate the learner profiles that are essentially student data dashboards. Learner profiles will include common formative and summative assessment data aligned with the Common Core State Standards. Formative assessments will help to determine current performance levels of students vis-á-vis grade level expectations.    
  • Strategies: The use of data will be greatly enhanced through the use of the learner profile. Learner profiles will serve as a communication tool for teachers, students, and parents, allowing users to identify areas of student strengths and needs, link to resources for remediation and acceleration, and delineate growth toward learning targets; increase efficiency by providing a user-friendly format so  educators can focus on data review and analysis rather than on data collection and input; assist teachers in designing instruction and determining flexible student groupings; and retrieve and interact with data, creating reports that will support direct instruction, small group planning, and interventions. 
  • Supports: Professional development will support educators in the utilization of technology hardware/software and its application to personalized learning. Students and parents will receive training on relevant hardware/software and how to access the learner profiles and links to resources. This well-developed data structure will support the continuous process for school improvement. Collaboration time, currently implemented in all elementary and middle schools, will provide a significant opportunity for teachers to work on data collection/interpretation, discuss obstacles to student academic success, modify instructional strategies, and establish student achievement goals.

In Des Moines, the initial implementation of personalized learning will target mathematics from kindergarten through 8th grade. The emphasis will be on helping students build computational skills, develop mathematical reasoning and problem solving, deepen conceptual understanding, and demonstrate understanding in a variety of formats. The tools and strategies will also result in an increase in positive student attitudes towards mathematics with a goal of meeting the rigorous Common Core State Standards for Mathematics as evidenced by an increase in students prepared for Algebra, an increase in the percent of students mastering Algebra I in 8th grade, an increase in the percent of students making at least one year’s growth in mathematics, and an increase in college readiness. 

To download a complete copy of the DMPS RTTT application, click here. (NOTE: This is a 12MB, 250-page PDF)