Vare-Washington ELA Performance Leaps 10 Percentile Points in One Year


The Challenge

The Vare-Washington School was among the first schools to adopt Wit & Wisdom in the School District of Philadelphia in the 2016–17 school year. Within its first year of implementation, students began making significant gains in achievement based on multiple measures, including standards-based assessments. 

"At first, we were hesitant to engage with such a challenging curriculum, but now we are seeing students more engaged and experiencing higher achievement than we have in previous years," said Zachary Duberstein, Principal of The Vare-Washington Elementary School.

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The Results

Students now rank in the 56th percentile, surpassing the national average, according to the 2016–2017 Renaissance STAR Assessment. Since implementing Wit & Wisdom, Vare-Washington saw students’ ELA performance alone increase 10 percentile points during just the first three quarters of the year. Independent reading levels rose, too, with an average 1.2 years of growth.

Duberstein highlights the complex, thematically compelling content of the curriculum as a driver of these results. “Wit & Wisdom sets the bar for what a literacy curriculum should be.”

Grade 4 Teacher Alexandra Longo remarks on the rigor of the curriculum: “Initially, I felt overwhelmed. I’ve never worked with a curriculum that demanded students and myself to dive so deeply into a lesson or text.” On the Renaissance Star Assessment, Longo’s class achieved a median Student Growth Percentile (SGP) of 71 in literacy, indicating that on average, her students increased their literacy skills at a faster rate than 71% of Grade 4 students nationwide.

More Meaningful English

To find success, Longo worked with a grade-level colleague to internalize the learning happening in each lesson. Over time, Longo became more confident with Wit & Wisdom’s learning design and prioritized two of Wit & Wisdom’s core practices to build with her students—annotating the text and collecting evidence.

Longo’s work has paid off, not only in terms of student achievement, but also for her own craft. “I have strengthened my own teaching skills and strategies,” she reflects. “I feel more confident in my approach to teaching a lesson that might seem ‘too hard’ because of how I have helped students learn to annotate the text and collect evidence.”  

Longo has seen numerous benefits from students gaining confidence in their reading and writing with Wit & Wisdom. “They’re asking more questions as they dive deeper into the text,” she says. “They are having a much easier time writing about and discussing the texts because we have notes to draw from. Students can point to specific parts of the text to support their ideas.”

She also notes the significant increase in engagement as students are much more eager to participate in class. They frequently make connections among lessons and apply their growing body of knowledge about a topic to answer key questions at the module and lesson level. She shares, “We were recently reading a story and one of my students said, ‘This reminds me of what we read in September!’ He’d gone so deep with his learning that he remembered a connection months later. That’s so rewarding.”