Achieve3000: The missing piece for Rowan-Salisbury’s digital conversion

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Last year, the Rowan-Salisbury School System put digital devices into the hands of its students. This year, the district will be adding Achieve3000 to those devices – a literacy software program that some call the missing piece.

“It’s the next step in our digital conversion,” said Crystal Merck, Rowan-Salisbury’s instructional lead teacher. “It’s one of the pieces we’re missing.”

Achieve3000 is a software program that assesses each student’s reading level, then provides them with reading content on their level in a wide variety of informational topics.

“This is to meet the needs of every child, every day,” said Superintendent Dr. Lynn Moody. “It is succinct. It is a K-12 product. It truly meets the needs of every child.”

Teachers will be able to assign an article on a particular topic to their entire class, and each student will be able to read it on their own reading level. Not only does Achieve3000 personalize the reading level for each student, it provides detailed reports to teachers on each student’s progress.

“The program is constantly updating and measuring” each student’s reading level, Merck said. “As their reading ability grows, the program grows with them.”

She said the program’s ability to constantly update is “a real selling point,” because it allows students to grow at their own pace.

“There’s a lot of power to having a product that’s consistent across all our schools,” said Alesia Burnett, director of elementary education.

She said that many Rowan-Salisbury students are transient and move from school to school throughout the academic year.

“Their information would travel with them,” she said.

Another plus for students living in poverty is that Achieve3000 doesn’t require Internet access at home.

Merck added that the program is easy to use for both teachers and students.

“For our digital natives, it’s engaging for them,” she said, explaining that it allows them to measure their own success.

The decision to go with Achieve3000 wasn’t made lightly.

“We were exploring tons of digital content,” Merck said.

Last year, Merck and a team of Rowan-Salisbury principals and instructional coaches went to South Carolina to visit a district already using Achieve3000.

While there, they visited an elementary, middle and high school to see how they had implemented Achieve3000 in the classroom.

The elementary school was in its third year of using the product, and its administrators were able to point to data to show their school’s growth.

“They have made tremendous growth,” Merck said.

Administrators at the middle school, in its second year of implementation, and high school, in its first year, had less data to share, but were happy with the progress they’d seen in their students. Achieve3000 isn’t cheap. Over the next three years, the district will spend nearly $1.5 million on the software and professional development to support its implementation, and that’s with a steep discount.

It will cost $481,516 each year – $139,333 for professional development and $342,182 for licenses.

Some of the funding comes from repurposing professional development funds, but most of the funding will come from students’ technology user fees.

“I don’t think there was a single board member more hating of user fees than me. I can justify this to any voter – any person,” school board member Travis Allen said at last week’s school board meeting. “My user fee can be used for this all day long.”

Allen said his children are weak readers, and after seeing how the program works, he was “really very impressed.”

Moody said Achieve3000 is “far superior” to the state’s alternative program, which is only available for students in remediation.

“Our No. 1 priority in this district is reading,” Moody said. “You need to put your money on this.”

The Board of Education voted 5-1 in favor of approving the purchase of Achieve3000, with Allen, Jean Kennedy, Susan Cox, Dr. Richard Miller and Chuck Hughes voting in favor, and Chairman Josh Wagner voting against. Vice Chairman Dean Hunter was not in attendance.