There’s a lot of chatter around evidence-based practices in education these days.
We all want our children to participate in programs and learn with methods that actually “work,” right?
But whether or not something “works” depends on your goal.
What endpoint are you trying to reach?
In Todd Rose’s book, The End of Average, he summarizes the ideas of two “camps” that were competing to define the goal of our modern education system.
Camp 1 “...argued that the proper goal of education was to provide students with the freedom to discover their own talents and interests by offering an environment that would allow them to learn and develop at their own pace….”
Camp 2 “...declared that the new mission of education should be to prepare mass numbers of students to work in the… economy. Following [the idea that] a system of average workers was more efficient than a system of geniuses… schools should provide a standard education for an average student instead of trying to foster greatness.”
It’s apparent that when you compare the intent to the outcome, Horace Mann and the Committee of 10 would be super jazzed about today’s results. Based on their (camp 2) aim, they would likely look at our academic proficiency rates and attitudes towards learning, pat each other on the back and congratulate themselves.
Not cool, guys. Not cool.
Good news, though.
Lately, millions of families are waking up to the fact that what we’ve been doing for the last 100 years isn’t “working” for their kids. They are rapidly reorienting their lives and values around providing an educational experience that focuses on individuality, community, curiosity, and excellence (Camp 1 goals).
This is the goal Prenda holds at the center of everything we do. We intend to provide an accessible approach to learning that supports students in developing a healthy, life-long identity as an effective learner, strengthens their belief in themselves as a powerful influence in the world, and fosters their ability to persist through struggle without becoming demoralized or pushing them into a toxic state of stress, all while developing strong academic skills.
You no longer have to choose between your child’s mental well-being or academic success.
Big win for students and families.
Big fail for anyone who wants to control, coerce, and limit the potential of young humans (looking at you, Camp 2!)
Prenda uses 2 main branches of metrics to track student outcomes.
The first is academics, where we evaluate grade-level achievement and growth in math and reading.
The second is empowerment, where we look at a range of engagement metrics: intrinsic motivation, adequate differentiation, perceived control, relationship with learning, personal purpose, and locus of control.
Prenda cares deeply about helping kids meet/exceed academic expectations, but we refuse to put academic performance above the child's well-being. When we put children first and provide them with learning environments and communities that value, respect, and welcome them as whole people, we can reach academic excellence without compromising student mental health and well-being.
When kids love school and feel safe, they learn.
Let’s dig into the data!
All the results we will discuss here come from mastery-based learning tool data or adaptive benchmark testing for the 2021-2022 school year. While we know there are many important academic subjects, only math and reading were assessed in this category.
Or, how are Prenda kids performing compared to grade-level standards?
Upon entry into Prenda, students participate in an adaptive diagnostic testing program that assesses their mastery level in math and reading.
At the beginning of the 21-22 school year, Prenda students’ math and reading placement levels were on par with the Fall of 2021 national averages. This indicates that Prenda serves a wide range of kids, just like traditional schools do. It also means that only 33% of students were ready to learn on grade level in ELA, and only 18% were ready to learn on grade level in math. This might sound dire, but it’s unfortunately pretty normal year over year, with only a slight dip in performance post-pandemic.
Based on their baseline diagnostic data, students and their parents chose mastery-based learning tools that would meet them at their level of competence and move them forward with a high degree of accountability and rigor. They set personal learning goals and worked diligently to improve their skills.
By the end of the ‘21-’22 school year, students testing at or above grade level increased by 18 percentage points in math and reading based on post-testing.
If you look at the mastery-based tools (which have built-in embedded formative assessments), 75% of students were working at or above grade level in math by the end of the year, and 65% were working at or above grade level.
This growth is done without teacher-led, whole-group instruction. We use mastery-based digital tools that deliver real-time, immediate feedback to students and allow them to work fast or slow. Prenda guides monitor the data and respond to needs, supported by Prenda’s team of academic coaches. Every student is treated as an individual.
Way to go Prenda Kids!
Or, how much progress are kids making regardless of where they started?
During the 2021-2022 school year, 47% of students exceeded normal growth expectations on reading benchmark assessments. 37% exceeded expectations for math.
Over 30% of students who came to Prenda 1 or more grade levels below were able to achieve 1 or more years’ worth of growth in math and reading based on benchmark testing. This is remarkable, considering how hard it can be to progress once you are behind. That’s some serious grit!
On average, students completed 1.78 years' worth of ELA curriculum, and 34% of students made more than a year’s worth of progress in math.
Among students with IEPs, the average growth rate was 1.48 years for ELA and 0.9 years for math. According to their mastery-based learning tools, about a third of our students with IEPs were working above grade level in math or reading at the end of the year.
What’s more remarkable is that given the opportunity to set their own goals within the context of a more or less gradeless, intrinsically-motivated culture, student growth goals average 1.8 years of progress.
This means when we say something like, “How far do you want to get in math this year?” the average student opts in to do much more than the bare minimum without bribes, punishments, or grades.
So when we hear people say things like, “if you don’t force kids to learn, they won’t do anything,” we beg to differ. When you remove barriers to intrinsic motivation and provide kids with the psychological safety and ownership they need, they actually kick things up a notch.
Hey, speaking of empowerment…
Since most schools aren’t held accountable for how well they help students fall in love with learning, there aren’t any standard metrics for measuring “empowerment,” so we’ve had to get a little creative in how we look at this.
Early at Prenda, we talked to many guides, parents, and students about what elements of school culture increased student motivation, effort, and hope.
We took what we learned and built a 4-part empowerment framework to assess the effectiveness of the Prenda learning environment to help kids redefine their relationship with learning and experience a greater level of ownership.
The four parts are:
Motivation: Do kids feel like they are learning out of interest, enjoyment, or to meet their personal goals, or are they motivated by external rewards and punishments like grades and adult pressure?
Control: Do kids feel like they are in control of their learning? Do they experience learning alongside a high degree of autonomy?
Differentiation: Do kids feel like they are able to access the content at a level that is appropriate for them? Do they feel like the pacing of their instruction is too slow, too fast, or just right?
Happiness: Do kids feel like they have a positive relationship with learning? Do they see themselves as a learner, and are they enjoying their learning journey?
We measure all of this by student self-reported surveys. Students were given a pre-Prenda survey in the fall of 2021. They were asked to recall their previous learning environment and answer questions about their experience. The survey was conducted again towards the end of the school year in 2022.
There were over 800 responses, and approximately 75% of students reported coming from private, public, or charter schools. The rest came from a homeschool setting.
We have given a similar survey for three years now and always see about the same results, so we know these shifts have staying power.
Students were asked about their motivation for schoolwork before coming to Prenda. Answers were coded as intrinsic (e.g., I was interested in what I was learning) or extrinsic (e.g., I didn’t want to get in trouble with my parents).
27% of students reported an intrinsic motivation for learning pre-Prenda. After participating in Prenda for less than 1 school year, intrinsic motivation jumped 35 percentage points to 62%.
Additionally, 79% of students reported that they were able to find their personal purpose for learning at Prenda, which is directly related to their motivation.
Students were asked how in control of their learning they felt. Before Prenda, 17% of students reported feeling “very” in control of their learning. This number jumped 36 percentage points to 53%.
Students were also asked what they believed had the biggest effect on their long-term success in life. Answers were coded as either indicating an “internal” locus of control (e.g., hard work) or an “external” locus of control (e.g., luck). 84.3 % of students chose responses that indicated an internal sense of control. This factor has been shown to be correlated with academic achievement as well as mental well-being.
Students were asked to describe how they typically felt during their pre-Prenda learning experiences by choosing one of the following options.
1. School goes too fast for me. I usually feel behind and lost
2. School goes too slowly for me. I usually feel bored and uninterested. Or
3. School goes the right speed for me. I usually feel interested and capable.
Only 34% of students indicated they felt they had adequate pacing and leveling during their classes, affirming that the “teach to the middle” model only works for about 1/3rd of students. After learning at Prenda, this number jumped 42 percentage points to 75%, reducing students who frequently felt behind and lost from nearly a quarter of students to only 7% and students who felt bored from 41% to 17% of students.
Happiness is a general term to capture student sentiment about their overall learning experience and relationship with learning. Before Prenda, only 36% of students selected a positive word when asked how they would describe their past learning environment. The majority chose words like stressful, boring, or scary.
At the end of less than one year at Prenda, 86% of students chose positive words to describe their experience, a 50 percentage point increase.
Pre-Prenda, 43% of students indicated having positive feelings about themselves as a learner compared to 78% of students relating positive feelings about themselves as learners after experiencing Prenda.
And lastly, before Prenda, nearly 32% of students reported having issues with bullying or feeling safe at school compared to about 10% of students at Prenda (which is still too many).
We have tracked these metrics over the last four years and can see that for most kids, being put into this environment radically changes how they experience school and learning for the long haul.
We like to call this “The Prenda Effect.”
When we apply an educational system that sees all learners as individuals, promotes a culture of perseverance, provides a hopeful path to excellence and capability, cultivates strong relationships, and trusts parents and guides to know what is best for the children in their local communities, kids thrive.
Nothing is perfect. Nothing works for everyone.
And we still have a long way to go.
Kids are learning. Kids are happy.