Lifelong Learner - Chalkable Blog

Chalkable Customer Success Story: Sylacauga City Schools and Professional Learning

Posted by Deanna Zaucha on May 12, 2016

In today’s Customer Success Story we are showcasing Sylacauga City Schools in Sylacauga, Alabama.

”The mission of the Sylacauga City Schools, in partnership with families and the community, is to prepare graduates who are ready for college, career, and community success.”

- Sylacauga City Schools

To ensure this success, Sylacauga City Schools start at the early levels of elementary and middle schools. Specifically, in the last year, Sylacauga City identified a need for attention on the district’s math scores for ASPIRE testing. Across the district, math scores were low and schools were searching for a solution.Like many of the schools in the district, Nichols Lawson Middle School teachers were struggling to understand how to connect their math content to the standards seen on ASPIRE. Their current schedule only allowed for 47-52 minutes of math per day, and they weren’t sure how they could make the much needed change.

Until they scheduled a meeting.

Debbie Barnett, Principal at Nichols Lawson Middle School, sat down with a long-time Chalkable professional development coach, Rita Ayers. Both women share a background in teaching math, and were able to quickly dive into an invigorated conversation about how to solve the school’s low math scoring on ASPIRE. The two agreed with Dr. Todd Freeman’s, Superintendent of Sylacauga City Schools, suggestion that the first step to take was to stretch the amount of instruction time for math classes. Extending the classes from 47-52 minutes a day to 80 minutes a day would be the jumpstart the school needed to demonstrate the importance on this matter.

The second step was to seek professional learning services and bring in a dedicated Chalkable coach to help properly pace the school year around math, and integrate the standards known to be seen in the ASPIRE tests.

After the first day of pacing last spring, Gloria Collier, the Chalkable coach, won the Nichols Lawson Middle School math department over. Collier had the whole math department gather over the summer immediately after school got out to understand what resources the school had made available, what the teachers already understood, what the current standards looked like, and how it is important to summarize their findings in one cohesive document.

For so many years, most teachers have seen the textbook as a bible. And for the Nichols Lawson math teachers, geometry and probability came in right at the end of their textbooks. Because geometry and probability are such special skills, which require thinking outside of the box, being taught at the end of the year did not give students a chance to build out these skills.

Math was always at the end of every curriculum guide; except for the new curriculum pacing guide developed by Chalkable coach, Gloria Collier and the Nichols Lawson Middle School math department.

The new document helped take the data already gathered at the middle school and break it apart to be understood by the entire department. It showed what teachers already know and what they have already taught, what the kids already know and what teachers still need to teach, and where to go from there by charting it specific to the students, the teachers, and their classes.

“That personalization, of knowing them and where they were at, made all the difference in the world.”

- Principal, Nichols Lawson Middle School

Using this pacing guide, our Chalkable coach introduced a plan of assessments to help collect data throughout the year. This included two benchmark tests and a formative test in between. The first benchmark test was to help form the pacing guide. The formative would be taken in January as a check-in for how pacing was working. What was going well, are teachers and students on pace for the rest of the year, should teachers move faster or slower through the math content? This way, when teachers reach the second benchmark they will have a pretty clear idea on how their students will perform on ASPIRE, and be able to make any final instruction decisions about two weeks before the test.

The results speak for themselves.

In the 2013-2014 school year, Sylacauga saw that 69 fourth graders and 49 fifth graders received a zero on their geometry portion of ASPIRE. This was before our coaches helped fourth and fifth grade teachers pace their school year to better insert geometry into the curriculum.

With the assistance of our professional learning services, in 2014-2015 only 32 fourth graders and 26 fifth graders received a zero on the geometry portion. This means that fourth and fifth grade teachers improved pacing to lower the amount of students who scored a zero on the geometry portion of ASPIRE by 52% and 49% respectively!


In regards to the new benchmark and formative testing Chalkable put in place, Sylacauga saw impressive correlation to the results seen on ASPIRE.

In sixth grade over 93% of the students who benchmarked our assessment also benchmarked the ASPIRE assessment. On the flipside, in 5th grade, over 81% of the students who did not benchmark our assessment did not benchmark on ASPIRE.

“What we like about Chalkable is that it is so standard specific. You know what’s been covered, what hasn’t been covered, and then see how your students performed, then you don’t have to spend as much time trying to guess where to spend more or less time.”

- Principal, Nichols Lawson Middle School

Overall, every math domain had improvements from 2013-2014 to 2014-2015 except for the constructed response portion of math. Which leads Nichols Lawson to believe that if they shift the focus they had on math to both reading and math, they could improve the constructed response portion and the overall scores to help be a leader in Sylacauga City Schools for turning these ASPIRE results around.

To learn more about Nichols Lawson Middle School and the Sylacauga City Schools, follow them on Twitter, Facebook, or visit their website to stay up to date on all their news and progress.














And to learn more about pacing guides and how professional development programs can help your school or district,

Download Case Study


All quotes given and approved by Debbie Barnett, Principal Nichols Lawson Middle School

Topics: Chalkable Customer Success Stories, K-12 Education, Education Technology

Deanna Zaucha

Written by Deanna Zaucha

Deanna Zaucha is the Content Marketing Specialist at Chalkable, and also manages their social media presence. In her free time, she can be found on the dance floor, or on her iPhone keeping up with the latest trends in education, marketing, and technology. Read more from Deanna on Twitter.