Placing Students at the Heart of School Innovation

Placing Students at the Heart of School Innovation

As a former Summit math teacher, I find patterns and trends incredibly interesting. In fact, I often felt most empowered as an educator when I could make data-driven decisions that accelerated my students’ learning. For these reasons alone, it was exciting this year to shift into a role where I could engage in the relationship between data and school redesign by project managing our blended learning math pilot, or as we call it, Optimized Learning, in Summit’s San Jose schools.

In our Optimized pilot, 400 ninth and tenth grade students spend two hours a day in math, splitting their time between Personalized Learning Time (PTL) and CORE projects. During PLT, students are learning at their own path through a competency-based math progression, utilizing a combination of playlists we have curated, online learning resources, 1:1 tutoring by teachers and peer-to-peer coaching. During CORE, students are engaged in deeper learning projects facilitated by our math team and focused on the development of cognitive skills. Each day, students direct more of their own learning by setting learning goals, making a plan to achieve their learning goals, learning their content, showing what they know when they are ready (taking an assessment on-demand), and then reflecting on their learning and progress.

Although I would love to tell you about each of these elements in detail, I instead want to share with you the iterative process we are using to learn from our students experience, to ensure that we are continuously adapting to meet their evolving needs, and, to ultimately, use this feedback to build out our whole school blended model. As an organization, we have made a deliberate decision to follow a user-centered design process, or in our case, student-centered, to design, test and iterate throughout our Optimized math pilot.

User-centered design adamantly calls for designers to build empathy, understand the users’ experience, identify problems from the user’s point of view, ask questions, create solutions, solicit feedback and repeat. The process in and of itself holds designers accountable to keeping their focus on the user, and in our case, our students.




In order to understand our students’ experience, we have decided to follow a three-pronged approach. First of all, we survey our students every week on their self-directed learning behaviors, their process of learning content and cognitive skills and their overall satisfaction. Additionally every week, we randomly select a group of students for a focus group to dive deeper into their experiences and responses. And finally, the project team has collectively selected a handful of standardized metrics for us to track our students’ progress in these three topics.

After analyzing an entire first semester’s worth of student feedback, we have committed ourselves to focusing on three overarching questions to drive our iterative process, including:


1. How are students progressing in their self-directed learning?

2. What impacts students’ learning of content and cognitive skills?

3. What is our overall user satisfaction?


Every other week, a cross-functional project team meets together to analyze the data and adapt our design of the pilot. Our job is not to simply do exactly what the students ask, but our job is to take their words and determine their needs beyond the surface level. We constantly ask ourselves, what needs are we not yet meeting? If we want to build a student-centered school, we need to allow student feedback to be the drivers of our design process.




Despite the many daily distractions that can naturally appear with running schools, we are holding ourselves accountable every week to including our students voices to hold us true to our vision of building a student-centric school model. Even beyond the data we collect, the process of checking in with our students has been invaluable for our organization.


Here are some of our most valuable lessons:


1. Student-centered data puts authentic data that teachers really care about in their hands. Teachers are here for the betterment of their students. Hearing the stories from the perspective of our students puts all of the quantitative metrics in context and humanizes our data conversations.

2. Student-centered data provides students an avenue to find their voice. In a real and tangible manner, students are directly connected to their learning and success. They are now the drivers, actively participating in the design of their school.

3. Student-centered data holds us accountable to recording what our students are saying along the way. When you are in a continuous state of exploration and iteration, it is easy to forget the progress you have made along the way. Our commitment to weekly data collection allows us to listen to the story real-time and constantly reflect on what we have learned and our student’s progress.

4. Student-centered data structurally reminds us to be… well more student-centered. There is nothing as humbling as listening to what works and doesn’t work from the perspective of your students. Trust me. Dedicated time to listening to our students reminds us that ultimately, it is our students, and not our school system, that is going out into the world and testing our definition of college and career readiness.

5. Student-centered data pushes us to remember the bigger vision and compare growth on a micro and macro level. It’s easy to allow the urgent and the important, such as operations and logistics, to overshadow the vision. Listening to our students keeps us focused on the larger vision.

6. Student-centered data is honest and authentic. Our students’ emotional response is critical to not only their success, but the success of our pilot.  Students are incredibly honest and will let you know their perspective about any class or any structure.

7. Student-centered data pushes us to unearth student needs. We have the privilege of reading through student surveys and focus groups and metrics on a regular basis, which allows us to determine trends, as well as unearth needs and student fears as we teach them to be more self-directed.


I think the most important lesson learned, and perhaps a validation to the intensive effort that goes into an iterative learning process, is that we need to move beyond only seeing data as an evaluative tool, and instead, embrace data as an iterative tool that will bring us that much closer to together disrupting the trajectory of education today.


Read the first and second posts in this series “Embarking on Year Two: Moving Beyond Blended Learning” and “It’s About Self-directed Learning” and stay tuned for our next blog post to learn more!

Written by Lizzie Choi

Project Manager of Optimized Learning, the blended learning math pilot at Summit Public Schools.


  1. We need to move beyond only seeing data as an evaluative tool, and instead, embrace data as an iterative tool

  2. Placing Students at the Heart of School Innovation- lessons from a blended math classroom. @SummitPS @lc_says

  3. It looks like you are basing a lot of decision making on student feedback. What tools do you use for personalized learning including the technology?

  4. .@SummitPS lessons learned re student-centered learning. Part 3 in awesome series. #blendedlearning

  5. Placing Students at the Heart of School Innovation #blendedlearning via @BlndMyLearning

  6. Hi Shelley –

    We have three key platforms we leverage to power our Optimized Learning program.

    To begin, we are currently co-building Activate Education – our platform to house playlists that include a range of resources for students to learn content. This is our way to personalize the math content for students.

    Second, all of our students take on-demand, internally created online assessments when they are ready to demonstrate their knowledge on a math topic. These assessments are created through the Itembank in Illuminate and automatically feed into our Student Information System. The results from these assessments as well as students’ results on the NWEA Map test help shape students’ personalized learning pathways.

    And finally, for the deeper learning projects, we have partnered with an authentic assessment platform, Show Evidence, where students are able to submit their project work online and teachers are able to electronically provide specific and actionable feedback from internally created rubrics.

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