Cognitive ToyBox – Achieving Early Literacy in Davie County

Felicia McClamrock, NC Pre-K teacher at Central Davie Preschool watches as preschool student Colt Sexton completes an assessment with Cognitive ToyBox

By Jeanna Baxter White

Davie County Schools is continuing to make strides in addressing key challenges to kindergarten readiness. Through DavieLEADS, a partnership with the Mebane Foundation, Davie County Schools has had the unique opportunity to pilot solutions that can move the needle in early childhood education.

From the outset, Peggy Nuckolls, director of preschool services, and Stephanie Nelson, preschool collaborative teacher, identified the need for better assessment tools. In seeking an assessment tool that was less subjective and more objective, they chose to pilot Cognitive ToyBox, a game-based assessment platform to measure school readiness. Their goal was to increase the reliability of student assessments across the county.  Now in their second year of using the tool, both administrators and teachers have found it to be effective in addressing their assessment needs.

Josey Redinger, NC Pre-K teacher at Central Davie Preschool watches as preschool student Alan Reyes works with Cognitive ToyBox

Josey Redinger, NC Pre-K teacher at Central Davie Preschool watches as preschool student Alan Reyes works with Cognitive ToyBox

“Through Cognitive ToyBox, we have an unprecedented level of individualized data across language and literacy, math and social-emotional development that we can use to improve instruction and individualization on an ongoing basis,” said Nuckolls.

Cognitive ToyBox enables direct assessment of early language, literacy, math, and social-emotional skills. Using a touchscreen device, students play one assessment game per week for an average of five minutes, and teachers have access to NC standards-aligned reports that support them in planning for instruction and for supporting individual student needs. For the 2018-2019 school year, the goal was to familiarize teachers with the data-driven instructional planning opportunities available through using this assessment data.

Central Davie PreSchool student Serenity Rose works with Cognitive ToyBox

Central Davie preschool student Serenity Rose works with Cognitive ToyBox

Key to this model was the strong collaboration between Nelson and the school system’s NC Pre-K teachers. Nelson also coached a subset of NC Pre-K teachers located in childcare programs. They discussed how to review and use their assessment data to differentiate learning opportunities based on children’s progress.

“Throughout the course of the year, teachers became more comfortable with using the reports on their own to make decisions on small group instruction on a weekly basis,” shared Nelson.

“I really enjoy using Cognitive ToyBox in my classroom with my students,” said Felicia McClamrock, who teaches NC Pre-K at Central Davie and was one of the three DCS teachers who piloted the program last year. “It is a great program for our children, and they enjoy using it. It is also easy for them to use. The program helps me know what level my students are on, what they know, and what they need to work on. It helps me to know who needs more individual attention in certain areas, and I learned that some of the students that I thought had mastered certain skills were the ones that needed the extra help.”

Felicia McClamrock, NC Pre-K teacher at Central Davie Preschool watches as preschool student Serenity Rose works with Cognitive ToyBox

Felicia McClamrock, NC Pre-K teacher at Central Davie Preschool watches as preschool student Serenity Rose works with Cognitive ToyBox

“I like that it is aligned with what I am teaching and it helps me spend less time doing assessments, and I can use the data from the assessments and get exactly what I need for meetings, report cards and teaching in the classroom,” McClamrock added.

The time-savings stems from a reduction in typing and paperwork. Traditionally, teachers would need to write notes on each child and then type them into a digital system after class. Cognitive ToyBox’s game-based assessments automate that process by automatically collecting the data and organizing it into reports and recommendations for teachers.

In addition to the time she saves using the assessments, Josey Redinger, who teaches at Central Davie and was part of the pilot program, also appreciates the teacher-led portion of the platform. “It allows me to reinforce concepts again and again.”

Josey Redinger, NC Pre-K teacher at Central Davie preschool watches as pre-k student Zakoiya Summers works with Cognitive ToyBox

Josey Redinger, NC Pre-K teacher at Central Davie preschool watches as preschool student Zakoiya Summers works with Cognitive ToyBox

Meredith Koeval, NC Pre-K teacher at Shady Grove Elementary, agrees that Cognitive ToyBox has the potential to be a good tool for assessments and said she appreciates that it keeps data all in one place and tends to be faster than her own teacher-created assessments. “This tool helps me keep more data on students throughout the year so I can track their progress better. Sometimes, though, I can tell children are just randomly guessing when they complete the independent portion of the game, which does not lead to an accurate assessment. When I am working hands on doing the teacher-led portion, I do not have that issue.”

Administrators also found value from the platform. “We have had some differentiation of instruction challenges in the past year, and the Cognitive ToyBox reports helped us to keep abreast of progress towards our school readiness goals,” said Nuckolls.

The data has also enabled the DCS team to improve their instruction at the program level. “The data has been valuable in conversations with teachers about student growth, state standards, and assessment practices,” said Nelson.

In preparation for Year 3 of DavieLEADS, district leaders are looking into ways to ease the transition for students between preschool and kindergarten. Cognitive ToyBox data is being incorporated into other student assessment data that will be shared with kindergarten teachers over the summer. Kindergarten teachers can then use the reports and recommendations to get a head start in planning for the upcoming year.

“We could not have asked for a better partner than DCS,” said Tammy Kwan, the co-founder, and CEO of Cognitive ToyBox. “Thanks to their ongoing feedback over the past two years, Cognitive ToyBox has been considerably improved, not only for NC Pre-K providers but for all early childhood education providers.”

Cognitive ToyBox – Data-Based Assessment Tool to Accelerate Progress in Early Childhood Literacy

By Jeanna Baxter White
Assessment of child progress, a National Association for the Education of Young Children program standard,  helps teachers to improve their teaching and enhances student learning. Currently, observation-based assessment is the most common assessment approach in Head Start and state-funded Pre-K programs. However, it is also time-consuming for teachers, who spend 
four to six hours per week writing notes on student development, transcribing the notes into a digital form, and then scanning for patterns to guide instruction.

Three pre-school teachers from the Davie County School system in Mocksville, NC were among the first to evaluate the efficacy of a new assessment system through a pilot program during the spring of 2018.

The pilot partner, Cognitive ToyBox, developed a research-backed, game-based platform that enables direct assessment of early language, literacy, math and social-emotional skills. Using a touchscreen device, students play one assessment game per week for an average of five minutes, and teachers have access to NC standards-aligned reports that support them in planning for instruction and for supporting individual student needs.

Data-Based Assessments – Accurate, Consistent & Actionable
“By making data collection easier and enabling teachers to utilize the data in real-time to drive instructional adjustments, we can help teachers focus on the things that matter most for a child’s success: high-quality interactions between teachers and their students,” said Tammy Kwan, the co-founder, and CEO of Cognitive ToyBox.

Ideally, CTB Assess will become a valuable tool in achieving the goals of DavieLEADS, the school system’s five-year early literacy initiative aimed at improving kindergarten readiness and increasing the percentage of students
reading proficiently by the end of third grade.

DavieLEADS is funded through a $2.5 million grant from the Mebane Foundation, which also brought the two organizations together. The Foundation supports collaborations and partnerships among educational professionals, business leaders, elected officials, and the community that help ensure that children have the opportunity to reach their highest potential.

Mebane Partnership with 4.0 Schools Continues to Pay Dividends
Foundation President, Larry Colbourne, learned about Cognitive ToyBox through a grant to New Orleans-based 
4.0 Schools, a non-profit incubator that finds, trains, and invests in passionate people solving the most critical challenges in education. He recognized its applicability to the preschool portion of DavieLEADS which has ultimately led to a serendipitous partnership between two programs the Mebane Foundation supports.

“The goal of funding 4.0 Schools was to gain access to great educational thinkers across the country,” Colbourne said. “We hoped to find entrepreneurs with ideas that align with our mission and we believe we have done so with Tammy (Kwan) and Cognitive ToyBox.”

Colbourne shared the program with Peggy Nuckolls, director of preschool programs for Davie County Schools, and Stephanie Nelson, preschool collaborative teacher for Davie County Schools.

Standards Aligned Data by Student, Class, and District
Both Nuckolls and Nelson quickly recognized CTB Assess’s potential for creating consistency and increasing reliability in assessments throughout the county’s public and private NC Pre-K classrooms, particularly since it aligns with the standards used by preschool teachers across all settings.

“We saw its value as a universal and less subjective measurement tool that could truly focus on the child’s ability versus what the teacher thinks the child can or cannot do, erasing any potential bias,” Nuckolls said.

“Data can be pulled by student, class or district. This is helpful for administrators as well as teachers who can take student data and sort children by skill mastery which aids in putting children together in small groups to focus on different skills and objectives. After talking with Tammy (Kwan), we decided to give the platform a try.”   

During the pilot, the school system met with Kwan each month to provide feedback on what worked about the platform, and what could be improved to better support their program.

“Participating in the pilot program has been great,” said Nelson. “Tammy has continuously asked, ‘What do we need to tweak? What do we need to change? How can we make it better? She isn’t afraid to make changes.’”

Tam Hudson, Felicia Myers, and Josey Redinger, who used the platform in their classrooms for three months, found the platform user-friendly and appreciated the additional data.

“My Kids Love Cognitive ToyBox” – Engaging and Interactive
“My kids loved Cognitive ToyBox,” said Redinger. “It was engaging and interactive. It provided an opportunity to work on their own at their own pace and also an opportunity to work alone with me. I enjoyed it for the same reasons. I also like how the reports gave me some insight into their abilities and helped me to group them in learning activities!  This also helped me to complete student assessments for GOLD checkpoints.”

Hudson said, “By looking at the results, I was able to use the information to lead my teaching in large group and small group instruction. It is a quick picture that gives me a clear idea on what areas a child may need extra time with us to master a skill/task. My students loved it. They thought of it as a game!”

Both teachers found that the platform’s leveling of students across language, literacy, and math reflected their own understanding of students levels.

Their evaluations correlated with the other anecdotal assessments received by Kwan who said that one pilot teacher shared that in observing four to six children in math at a time, she sometimes “missed kids.” In comparison, Cognitive ToyBox gives her access to “super individualized” data on how each child is doing. Moreover, several teachers shared that having an additional source of data was incredibly valuable. In one case, a teacher had assumed that a child who was behind in language was also behind in shape recognition. Through the platform, she was surprised to learn that the child had mastered all of her shapes. In another case, the platform provided an additional data point for the instructional team to use to recommend that a child be screened for a language delay.

Cognitive ToyBox Expanding to All Public and Private Davie County Preschools for 2018-19 School Year
Pleased with the overall results of the pilot, Nuckolls is looking forward to introducing the CTB Assess platform to all of the NC Pre-K classrooms, both public and private, across the county this fall. An
$18,000 grant from the Mebane Foundation will provide both the software and the technology needed to support it.

“It is our goal to support and invest in our teachers,” Nuckolls said. “This platform will help them to become better at what they are already doing and more consistent in our assessments across the county. This platform will take out subjectivity and allow for more reliable measurements. The implementation of this project will allow us to walk closer to our goals in DavieLEADS.”    

“It’s been wonderful having Larry (Colbourne) as part of the continuous growth for the LEADS program,” she added.  “As a funder, he isn’t just handing out money, but is invested in the true measurement of what we are trying to build which speaks volumes.”

Although delighted with the response so far, Kwan said Cognitive ToyBox is continuing to refine the technology to ensure that it is the most beneficial assessment platform available. “We aim to show that classrooms that use our platform are better supported through data, leading to improved school readiness and third-grade reading rates.”