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Cognitive ToyBox: Achieving early literacy in Davie County

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.

“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.

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

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 North Carolina 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.

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.

Central Davie PreSchool student Serenity Rose works with Cognitive ToyBox. Courtesy of the Mebane Foundation

“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.”

“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.

Josey Redinger, NC Pre-K teacher at Central Davie Preschool watches as preschool student Alan Reyes works with Cognitive ToyBox. Courtesy of the Mebane Foundation

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.”

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.

Central Davie Pre-School student Zakoiya Summers works on the Cognitive ToyBox. Courtesy of the Mebane Foundation

In preparation for year three 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.”

Jeanna White
Jeanna White is a writer for the Mebane Charitable Foundation in Mocksville. Ten years as a substitute teacher for students from preschool through high school has given her a unique perspective and passion for education. White graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in journalism.