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3. Student Needs

a. Student academic needs

Guidelines / Requirements for compliance in this section (from the Peer-Response Rubric):


Planning to meet the needs of over 140,000 students isn't easily defined or accomplished. Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS) works diligently, though, to meet the instructional needs of every student, whether that student is a straight-A fourth-grader or a special-needs student graduating next year. A number of tools are used to report, disaggregate, evaluate, and plan for student academic success, and the common goal is to provide these tools to every teacher throughout the school system.

Defining the Standards

GCPS continues to support the use of the Quality Core Curriculum (QCC) and the Georgia Performance Standards (GPS). Based on community and educator input, GCPS has developed an enhanced curricular model that includes the QCC and GPS standards, and adds additional other standards. Gwinnett County Public Schools' curriculum for grades K-12 is called the Academic Knowledge and Skills (AKS). The AKS objectives for each grade level (or subject area at the high school level) spell out the essential subject areas and tasks students are expected to know and be able to do in that particular grade or subject. They offer a solid base on which teachers build rich curricular experiences. Teachers use curriculum guides, textbooks, technology, and other materials to teach the AKS and to make sure every student is learning to his or her full potential. Because the AKS detail exactly what a child is expected to learn, teachers can tailor the classroom experience to meet each child’s individual needs.

The AKS are developed by our teachers, with input from parents and community. Beginning in 1995, teams of teachers have met each year to review the AKS for their grade levels and/or subject areas. The first teams reviewed the existing curriculum to propose what was essential knowledge and skills for each grade level—kindergarten through 12th grade—and every course. These knowledge and skills were also reviewed for correlations with state-required curriculum and assessments as well as local, national, and world-class educational standards. Teachers, parents, and community members throughout the district then evaluated the proposed AKS, providing feedback on what they believed to be the essential curriculum for all students. The final proposed versions of the AKS were presented to the Gwinnett Educational Management System (GEMS) Oversight Committee, comprised of representatives from the community and school system, for validation. This process is repeated each year to address any revisions or enhancements that teachers and/or the community believe are needed to improve our curriculum. The GEMS Oversight Committee studies the input gathered from community members, parents, and faculty as they review the AKS. They then recommend the validated revisions to the superintendent, who presents recommendations to the Board of Education for adoption and implementation in the subsequent school year. With this process for curriculum development and improvement in place, parents can be assured that the curriculum their children are learning in a Gwinnett County classroom will be essential to his or her learning and sanctioned by our educators, parents, and the community. To date, the Board of Education has adopted AKS in all subject areas and grade levels with input from over 7,500 teachers, parents, and community members.

The AKS review process is repeated annually as new courses are developed and/or changes are recommended for existing courses. Each year, the GEMS Oversight Committee studies the input gathered from community members, parents, and faculty as it reviews the AKS.

The AKS are the standards for academic excellence for all students in GCPS. They are what teachers are to teach and students are to learn. In every GCPS classroom, instruction and assessment are tailored so that all students learn the AKS. The alignment of AKS with standardized assessments, such as ITBS, SAT I and ACT, ensures that GCPS students are well prepared for these measurements of achievement. The AKS are also aligned with the state-mandated Georgia Performance Standards (GPS) and Quality Core Curriculum (QCC), assuring that students are prepared for state tests, such as the Georgia High School Graduation Test (GHSGT) and the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT).

All AKS standards are available publicly on the GCPS Website, and teachers can also access the standards in a Lotus Notes database that is integrated with other instructional resources. Parents are provided with a printed copy of the AKS, and teachers send periodic updates on their class instruction and AKS objectives covered.

Below is a sample of the AKS information available on the Web. This example is from the Grade 6 standards, with emphasis on the single standard titled "use search routines to locate databases and on-line information." The notation at the end of the line indicates the corresponding standards from other sources, in this case, the GPS, and specific label for the AKS item, which is 6LA_H2005-65.

On the following page, more detail for the standard is displayed when the standard is selected:

On the left panel, more information is available for parents and staff members, including Indicators of Achievement, Test Correlations, and Interventions and Extensions. Indicators of Achievement are objective measurement criteria, and Test Correlations identify related objectives from standardized tests. Interventions and Extensions are support strategies for students who have either already mastered the objectives or are struggling to meet performance goals.

For teachers, the same objectives can be viewed using Lotus Notes, a collaborative communication tool available to all GCPS teachers and administrators. In the following example, the same standard is displayed, and while the text for the Interventions and Extensions is the same, another option is available: lesson plans relating to this exact standard:

By selecting the Take me to Lesson Plans button, a number of lesson plans are displayed for the specific grade level and standard. Here, the first lesson plan, A Visit Down Under - A Research Based Lesson, will be detailed:

By choosing the specific lesson plan, a detailed lesson plan is provided, including Internet links, a grading rubric, and other resources for teaching this topic in the sixth-grade classroom.


Identifying the Goal

A key resource for teachers in the development of individualized instruction plans provides a customized view of student assessment data for each teacher's class. The Student Assessment Reporting Tool (StART) is an instructional planning tool that provides the teachers and administrators with standardized assessment data for their students, based both on the historical information of student performance in their school as well as the information about the students who are currently enrolled. StART is a key component of the GCPS instructional planning process because it gives the teacher the ability to identify specific learning needs based on students' past assessment performance.

StART is a Web-based tool that runs on the GCPS intranet to provide assessment information. Using StART, school personnel may view both current information about their students as well as historical trends information. Our Academic Knowledge and Skills (AKS) standards and continuous quality improvement (CQI) model is dependent on data disaggregation and analysis to determine students’ strengths and weaknesses. Reports in the StART application are categorized by test (SAT, PSAT, CRCT, ITBS, Gateway, and others) and by level (District, Cluster, School, Teacher) include disaggregations by ESOL, Special Education Status, Ethnicity, and Free/Reduced Lunch Status, and more. The reports themselves are designed for instructional use, and include subtest analysis (such as the Math section on the CRCT), strand ranking (strands are individual topics within a subject area, such as "Characteristics of Life" in the Biology End-of-Course Test), and strand distribution reports.

Teachers use StART reports to develop goals based on local assessments or grade-level trends from the previous year. Using information about student performance trends, teachers might see a grade-level weakness in a strand or subtest. To identify if this was a class weakness, the teacher would then have to look at each student’s individual results and create a spreadsheet. Using StART, teachers are able to quickly and easily see test data for classes or students, since the data is for the students who are on the teacher’s roster at specific dates during the year. Teachers are quickly able to identify class performance in regard to overall performance level and/or identify those strands or subtests where their students had weaknesses.

Walk-Through of the Disaggregation of Student Performance Data

StART reports show District-, Cluster-, School-, and Classroom-specific reports that can be disaggregated in a number of ways:

Student data can also be disaggregated by student performance levels, such as Exceeds Standard, Meets Standard, or Does Not Meet Standard. In the following example from a classroom level, the teacher's report is for the overall CRCT Grade 6 Science performance.

The teacher also has the ability to view "subtest" reports, which provide a standard-by-standard report on the performance of a group of students. The following is an example of a subtest report with the student names omitted to protect student privacy:

This information, while useful, is still somewhat vague, since it does not address specific concept areas that might need additional instruction. Teachers can click on the subtest to see the specific subtests, or strands, and their class's performance.

The StART reports, as shown in the example presentations, are extremely detailed. Student assessment data is presented down to the content strand area, and teachers and administrators can evaluate student performance for precise learning objectives. All results for individual students are color coded in yellow, white, or blue. Yellow indicates those students who fail to meet the standard; White indicates the students who met the standard; and blue indicates those students who exceeded the standard.

Supporting Documents:

Personalizing Instruction

To complete the picture, schools use the reports from StART to identify areas that can be targeted for their site-based instructional improvement plan, called the Local School Plan for Improvement, or LSPI. The LSPI must fit within the GCPS mission and vision, and becomes the basis for individual teachers' plans of improvement. This LSPI is reflected at each grade level, in each classroom, and is used as a component of individual teachers' annual performance reviews.

At the school level, the following Results-Based Evaluation System (RBES) is an annual evaluation based on both objective and subjective criteria. The goal is to continuously improve instruction and student performance through a site-based evaluation and monitoring cycle.

StART data is an essential component of creating the LSPI, due to the comprehensive performance "snapshot" that the StART reports provide. Administrators are able to review StART data to help teachers select goals that will improve student achievement in their classrooms. Administrators are also able to review StART data to identify instructional needs at both the grade and classroom levels. As you can see in the following example, the school administrator is reviewing performance for seventh graders currently enrolled in this school in a disaggregated view by ethnicity. If necessary, the administrator can drill down into any of the student counts to examine the performance of specific students if necessary.

School administrators are also able to view historical performance reports, and identify teachers who might need staff development in the instruction of a specific instructional topic. Teachers whose students consistently demonstrate strong skills on standardized assessments can also be tapped to provide staff development or mentor other teachers. The following example demonstrates a StART report that identifies the teachers and associated student scores for different subtests. Using reports like this to develop specific staff development plans can have definite impact on student performance.

For the student, teachers are able to review the AKS along with the assessment data for the students in their class(es) and decide how to best instruct their classes. Additionally, students can also be grouped for specific instruction. For example, the same class can "viewed" through StART to address student needs with specific learning objectives in the following example.


The Result: Effective Teaching, Effective Learning

In summary, GCPS has developed a suite of evaluative and supportive tools that allow "tailored" instruction for students based on previous performance results. Teachers can easily identify students who would benefit from additional instruction on specific topics, parents can partner with their children's teachers to support district- and school-wide learning objectives, and administrators can create data-driven local-school plans of improvement.

AKS objectives, developed with community, State, and teacher input provide a framework for instruction, while the StART reporting tool supports administrators and teachers in the pursuit of personalized student instruction as the "Prior to StART" and the "Development Using StART" examples indicate:

GCPS has also developed several case studies that relate to the use of instructional, administrative, and parent / community uses of technology to fulfill Quality Core Curriculum (QCC), Georgia Performance Standard (GPS), and the GCPS Academic Knowledge and Skills (AKS) requirements.

Case Study: Alton C. Crews Middle School, Lawrenceville, Georgia

Making Learning Stick the First Time

Dr. Janet Blanchette, LSTC at Alton C. Crews Middle School in Lawrenceville, Georgia, exemplifies the GCPS philosophy that technology should not be taught as a separate entity, but instead should be integrated as a tool to teach curriculum objectives.

No matter how comprehensive it is, having a technology plan is not enough. “You need a school-improvement plan, where technology is one of the tools used to accomplish your plan’s goals,” says the 2003 Crews Teacher of the Year.

No teacher seems to have any “extra time,” and some teachers still think that technology instruction is an extra – something you do “if you have time.”

“These teachers need to realize that you don’t teach out of a book, then if there’s time left over, come to the lab and teach it some more using technology. It makes so much more sense to spend that initial teaching time in the lab, or with the laptops in their classrooms. The lessons will be more effective and more memorable, from the start,” says Dr. Blanchette.

Quantifying the value of technology-based instruction as an effective teaching tool, however, can be very difficult.

Dr. Blanchette had a teacher at Crews MS try an experiment. The teacher had two of her classes each study “The Life Cycle of a Star.” One class was taught from the book, while the other class came to the computer lab to draw the cycle and prepare a presentation. Dr. Blanchette and the teacher, the late Lou Ann Caldwell, planned this lesson together. Dr. Blanchette is convinced that planning with the content objective in mind is the essential ingredient for making technology-integrated lessons effective and meaningful, as well as high-level.

Immediately afterward, “We tested both groups. Both scored equally well. So, we were thinking, ‘We were disappointed … we really had expected the technology-taught kids to do phenomenally better.”

But, six weeks later, she tested both groups again on the same information. “The groups that had drawn the life cycle on their computers remembered the information flawlessly. The classroom-taught group did not.”

Dr. Blanchette observes, “It’s these types of studies that convince us that, when the kids come in and have the opportunity to “draw” different concepts, like the parts of the flower, make it grow, write about it, present it, and celebrate it, they remember it!”

“As teachers, it seems like we spend half of our lives reviewing with the kids the things we taught them the day before. Technology-based instruction can help make the learning stick the first time,” she emphasizes.

Case Study: Lilburn Elementary School, Lilburn, Georgia

Lilburn Elementary School is an example of the way individual Gwinnett County Public Schools take the administrative data supplied by the Information Management Division (IMD) and focus it even more sharply for their local students. Because GCPS grants extensive instructional autonomy and site-based management to each local school, Principal Jackie Beasley is able to, in her words, “...look at the direction of the data, analyze the gaps it reveals, and then based on our students’ individual needs, redeploy some of our resources in ways that benefit my school.”

The challenge at Lilburn Elementary is significant. Over 77 percent of the students speak another language besides English in their homes. Over 85 percent of them are below the poverty line according to federal guidelines. In the past nine years, the school has gone from 32 percent of its students receiving Free and Reduced Lunches to almost to 85 percent today. High mobility is another facet of the challenge: many students fall behind because they don’t attend on a regular basis.

To meet those challenges and become Gwinnett’s only School of Excellence in the 2005-2006 school year, Lilburn Elementary relies heavily on technology. “Technology is one of the best vehicles I have,” says Jackie Beasley. “Next to a really good teacher and purposeful staff development, technology is the powerful tool that helps our kids do what they do.”

Once Ms. Beasley has analyzed the data provided by the central office, she works with her staff to fashion Lilburn Elementary’s Local School Plan for Improvement (LSPI). An LSPI is created in each local GCPS school to bring the plan to the local population, an essential step in a county with such a wide spectrum of student levels. Once the LSPI is established, the “individualizing” filters down even further as each classroom teacher develops a Results Based Evaluation System (RBES). The RBES then becomes each teacher’s marching orders for the year.

Ms. Beasley and her staff believe that SuccessMaker, The Star Report, Inspiration, Accelerated Reader, and other instructional software play major roles in their success with their challenging student population. SuccessMaker adds additional value because it is correlated to the learning concepts assessed on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT). LSTC Jane Evans says, “SuccessMaker takes a major burden off our teachers. We test the children at the beginning of the year and get a reading level on them. We enroll them in SuccessMaker for reading and math and target the levels they need to score 320 on the CRCT.”

In a school with such a high ESOL population, a fifth-grade teacher may have students reading anywhere between kindergarten and eighth grade levels. One teacher can hardly meet that many needs. SuccessMaker, with its real-time data, is able to adjust to where each student is functioning today. Accelerated Reader is a reading emphasis software that is especially good at helping second language students acquire vocabulary.

This School of Excellence in Lilburn is bridging the gap through the use of administrative and instructional technology. As Jackie Beasley says, “If there's anything that my kids will need 10 or 15 years from now, it's the ability to deal with whatever technology is out there.”

Case Study: Berkmar High School, Lilburn, Georgia

The diversity within Georgia’s largest school system is as unpredictable as it is pervasive. Growth and migration within the metro Atlanta area has meant that, within any 10-mile circle of Gwinnett County, you will find several schools with totally different populations and needs. The growth is so rapid and transient that two things are necessary to cope with it: (1) autonomy for each school’s instructional approach and (2) a heavy reliance on the tools of technology.

Barbara Marschke, the LSTC at Berkmar High School, is quick to say that technology is the thing that is enabling her school to cope. “We are using technology to identify areas of needed instruction for specific students and student groups. With technology, we can identify in advance the students who are coming to us without the essential skills. The county provides several forms of data – we’ve just found a way to pull all that data onto one screen.”

In Marschke’s first year at Berkmar, her principal described a need. Multiple data sources were available from the county, but teachers and counselors didn’t have the time or the patience to go to each source, record the data about each incoming freshman, and shuffle all those paper notes together to plan student schedules and class sizes. The principal wondered if there were any way Marschke could pull all the data together on a single screen.

The LSTC set to work using Microsoft Excel and ACCESS. She developed a format that put all the IMD-supplied test scores and course histories on one screen. The system made it possible for planners to recognize needs for special class groupings – groupings that probably would have gone unnoticed amid all the paper shuffling that was formerly required. “All I was doing,” Marschke recalls, “was letting technology do the secretarial work so the planners could do their jobs better and faster. That’s the kind of thing that technology does best.”

Of course, one success leads to multiple “opportunities.” In response to another request, Barbara Marschke developed a database that makes it easy for math teachers and their students to track student achievement every three weeks. Instead of waiting until failure is looming, students are entering their scores every three weeks and realizing how each score effects their final grades. The system has helped so much with math performance that Marschke has been asked to set it up for all curriculum areas. By having the resources combined into a database easily accessible by teachers, more time is made available for teachers to focus on instruction.

Another victory for technology at Berkmar has been Barbara Marschke’s “localizing” of the data supplied by the county. Data at the county level cannot possibly include all the factors of each local school. For example, the county’s student scheduling program, part of a larger tool called SASI, may determine that a student is ready to take a certain course without knowing that the student lacks one or more prerequisites for that course or that the course is not offered during a certain time period. Marschke has taken the county’s data and added to it the prerequisites and other requirements of her local school.

An LSTC’s primary job is to train teachers. In a large high school like Berkmar, the myriad schedules of teachers and department heads make it almost impossible to schedule training sessions. So Barbara Marschke has made creative use of technology to meet that need. She began sending out short emails with "Tech Tips." Everyone liked the tips. A few people saved them but others began to flood Marschke with emails asking: "What was that Tech Tip you sent about..." or "I can't remember how to do..." Next step: Marschke created an Intranet housed on the school’s shared drive so that faculty members could easily access all the Tech Tips, links to all the testing sites, links to various curriculum resources, and even links to the local database such as the online checks for Progress Reports. Marschke says she tries to create “one-stop-shopping.”

Another Berkmar need has been met through online classes. Advance Placement students and others frequently need to take classes that are not available. There may not be enough students for a class or there may not be a teacher qualified to teach it. So Berkmar utilizes classes available online to meet those needs. Students can take remedial courses or any number of AP courses online. Some of the courses are offered by GCPS and others are taken through joint-enrollment with Gwinnett Tech and other schools. Since many students don't have computers at home, a bank of computers has been set up at school just for online classes. Some come in before or after school to use these computers. Others have periods specified in their schedules for online classwork. The Media Center stays open an extra hour so students can work after the school day.

Case Study: Live Homework Help

Gwinnett students in grades 4-12 have a personal online tutor as close as their home computer or the Gwinnett County Public Library, thanks to Live Homework Help. The service is free, easy to use, and available to students when they need homework help the most… between 2 p.m. and midnight, seven days a week. And now, Spanish-language tutoring also is available between the hours of 4:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m., Sunday through Thursday.

The online tutors-- teachers, college professors, and graduate students-- undergo a background check and extensive training before they are certified by, the nation's largest online tutoring service and provider of Live Homework Help. Tutors specialize in mathematics, language arts, social studies, or science. Spanish-language tutoring is available for mathematics and science.

Here’s how it works:

  • From home, the student logs onto the library web site-- clicks on the "Live Homework Help?" icon; then, enters his library card and personal ID number. (Students using a computer at one of the library's 11 branches, simply click on the icon on the main screen. No card or ID required.)
  • First-time users at home are prompted to download software, which is an easy process.
  • The student selects the subject and grade level. Then, it takes just a minute or so to connect with a tutor.
  • The average session lasts about 15-20 minutes, but a tutor will stay online until the student understands the concepts. In the electronic sessions, participants use an interactive white board where they can draw a graph, work through a mathematical equation, or diagram a sentence. Tutor and student communicate via a chat function.

Live Homework Help is funded by a grant secured by Gwinnett County Public Schools and Gwinnett County Public Library.

Administrative Use of Technology

Technology is used to access and manage GCPS data resources for the effective and efficient management of instruction. As detailed in Section 3c, there are a number of system-, school-, and classroom-level data resources used to monitor and adjust student learning activities. Each teacher and administrator is provided with a combination of tools to help them in their tasks, such as the following:

While this list is not comprehensive, GCPS is constantly working to improve and augment the electronic resources available to the local schools and teachers. Each resource is introduced to schools via staff development conducted by the school's LSTC. Additionally, each school can also purchase technology resources, such as calling systems to send out messages to students' homes.

Technology Use by Parents and Community

Parents and community members are invited to use technology to support student learning through a variety of activities and resources. Many schools host Technology Nights to showcase student technology use. Some schools with diverse ethnicities are also hosting "family" literacy classes that include the whole family in the use of ESOL software. Still other schools provide parents-only training on basic technology concepts so that parents have enough skills to encourage the use of technology in the home. A recent addition to technology resources includes CRCT Online, which supports the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT). Schools use the CRCT Online resource to help students get comfortable with the content and style found on the CRCT by taking mini-assessments.

Some other technology-related resources available through GCPS include the following:

Copyright 2006 Gwinnett County Public Schools. All Rights Reserved.
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