Skip to content

Perspective | Cognitive ToyBox: Building a culture of data-informed instruction in Davie County preschools

Despite a challenging 2020-2021 school year due to complications around COVID-19, Davie County preschools continue to help children get a strong start towards kindergarten readiness. One beneficial tool that preschool teachers continued to utilize was Cognitive ToyBox, a game-based assessment platform.

Davie County Schools (DCS) has now used Cognitive ToyBox for four years to help teachers reach their kindergarten readiness goals as part 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, which is funded by a $2.5 million grant from the Mebane Foundation.

During the first three years, DCS focused on data collection: ensuring that teachers could collect assessment data on an ongoing basis with fidelity. With that achieved, this year’s goal was focused on action: ensuring that teachers could use the data to individualize and improve instruction.

Peggy Nuckolls, director of preschool services, and Stephanie Nelson, preschool collaborative teacher, kicked off the school year with group trainings on how teachers can use Cognitive ToyBox reports for both whole group and small group instruction.

Nelson heard from teachers that data accessibility is extremely important. For reports to be useful for teachers, “they must be easily accessible through a computer,” and they must be displayed in a context that is applicable for their classroom routines. The Cognitive ToyBox team gathered additional feedback from teacher surveys to better understand how to adapt reports to the classroom context. They learned that teachers wanted “at a quick glance” reports that provide guidance on their progress to date, and what to do next in moving children towards school readiness.

“Cognitive ToyBox is continuing to refine the technology to ensure that it is the most beneficial assessment platform available,” said Tammy Kwan, co-founder and CEO of Cognitive ToyBox. “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.”

The Cognitive ToyBox team built a new teacher web portal to access reports through the computer. Here, teachers also have access to a dashboard that enables an at-a-glance understanding of how their class is progressing towards school readiness (see Progress Report by Domain below), as well as what to do next in moving their class forward (see Small Group Report by Objective below).

Progress Report by Domain

The Cognitive ToyBox Progress Report by Developmental Domain: Teachers can track their class progress over the school year broken down by domain, e.g. Language and Literacy, as well as specific objectives within that domain, e.g. Alliteration and Alphabet.

Small Group Report by Objective

The Cognitive ToyBox Small Group Report (with fictional data): children play a specific game, e.g. the lowercase alphabet assessment game, and teachers review the data and use it to inform instruction. For example, during whole group instruction, teachers may focus their instruction on the letters that were identified as Least Recognized. During small group instruction, teachers can use the data to inform instructional adjustments for each group.

The feedback on the web portal has been positive, with one teacher sharing that they like to “access the reports for more student-specific information on what to do.” Another teacher shared that they use the web portal “after each skill is assessed to see who needs more instruction.” A third teacher shared that the Cognitive ToyBox reports gave them “another piece of data to inform findings for possible learning delays.”

The teachers got together in the spring of 2021 to discuss how they used the reports and data to adjust instruction in their respective classrooms. Nelson commented, “Through our professional learning communities, it’s exciting to see our teachers share best practices and build a culture of data-informed instruction. The teacher-friendly Cognitive ToyBox reports have been instrumental in helping teachers get comfortable with using data on a weekly basis.”

Pleased with the feedback that DCS has given about Cognitive ToyBox, the Mebane Foundation has agreed to fund the use of the program for the 2021-2022 academic year.

“Tammy’s organization, Cognitive ToyBox, has proven it can deliver the goods when it comes to providing a high-quality, data-driven assessment tool that is geared toward making teachers’ jobs easier,” said Mebane Foundation President Larry Colbourne. “More impressive to me is that over the last four years she and her staff have worked hand-in-hand with our teachers in Davie County to improve their end product. Many organizations tell us they want to ‘partner,’ but that is often not really the case. However, Tammy’s group has truly listened to suggestions and made the product more user-friendly. At the end of the day teachers’ jobs are made easier, and most importantly, young students are benefitting tremendously from this cutting edge technology.”

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.