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CogAT K-12 Education K-12 Ability Assessments Social Emotional Learning student growth

“Stretch or Support” Student Ability with Data – and Games!

Riverside Insights
Written By Riverside Insights
On Jan 5, 2024
5 minute read

Kids like games – but on occasion, they don’t particularly enjoy learning in school. What happens when schools systematically incorporate games into their curriculum as informed by CogAT ability data?


This was the question when Charleston County’s Elizabeth Uptegrove and Corrie Glover set out to enrich their 88 schools and the 49,000 students they serve with the guiding mindset:


Talent is distributed equally; opportunity is not.


Previously, teachers viewed ability tests only as a tool for identifying gifted students, so the first hurdle was to get teachers and administrators to see the immense value in applying CogAT data to every student’s instruction. Therefore, when CogAT results come back in the middle of the school year, Charleston County offers professional development focused on reading the data and employing it in the classroom.


As Elizabeth Uptegrove says, “Sometimes the amount of words or data on a page can be intimidating for both teachers and parents, but when you walk them through it step-by-step, suddenly they’re open to utilizing this new information.”


In those professional development periods, teachers learn Charleston County’s Stretch or Support (SOS!) framework, which is an intervention system with a talent development mindset.  Teachers walk out with their class rosters organized into Stretch groups and Support groups for each of the Verbal, Quantitative, and Nonverbal subsections as determined by CogAT results.


SoS Blog QuoteIn Corrie Glover’s words, “Focusing on ability allows schools to look for students who aren’t living up to their potential, the underachievers, the overachievers, and the outlier students. It helps us apply the intervention and enrichment necessary for their ability level.”


Teachers then have conferences with each student to ensure the students know their own results and can take ownership in both stretching their relative strengths and receiving support in their relative weaknesses. The Stretch groups enable students to challenge themselves in their area of relative strength, while the Support groups provide a safe space for students to know that despite their relative weakness in that given area, they won’t be the only one struggling in that group. Regardless, they get to play games.


Charleston County’s Master List of Games is color coded for Verbal (pink), Quantitative (yellow), and Nonverbal (blue), which also happens to be the most commonly available colors for paper, stickers, and highlighters. It’s tiered out by grade level so that students continue to receive new games as they advance through the system.


When launching their program at a new school, community volunteers come in to provide more hands-on guidance and support until the students can grow comfortable and confident with the games. Teachers always encourage student collaboration and have them play at least in pairs to build communication skills and social-emotional development, and teachers are often taken aback by what unfolds, saying things like, “Wow, I never saw my student in that way.”


Board_gameThrough playing games like Apples to Apples (verbal), Prime Time (quantitative), and Set (nonverbal), students learn to defend their thinking, be more strategic in their choices, and generally develop their critical thinking skills while in a game setting. And the students love it, shown by this video from Stono Park Elementary.


As Glover says, “This is a program that’s not only easy to implement, but also gives teachers a lot of feedback on students that may have been unintentionally ignored in the general curriculum.”


In order to fund the implementation, Uptegrove suggests looking into grants for districts or individual teachers and encourages collaborations with local toy stores. Charleston County partnered with their local toy store, Wonder Works, which now hosts game nights for parents to watch what their kids can do. Wonder Works also handles the ordering and delivery for all the schools to take that legwork out of the equation.


Through intentionally pairing CogAT data with games that advance students’ academic development, Charleston County obtains a more complete understanding of their students and delivers a higher quality education as a result. They hope their model can serve as a springboard for other schools, after-school programs, summer programs, and students’ homes to offer the same deliberate learning through play.


For further reading, Uptegrove recommends three books:

And one pro tip: for ESL students, nonverbal games can open them up and showcase their ability since patterns, shapes, and space are common, unspoken languages. 


Click here to watch a webinar featuring Elizabeth and Corrie
discussing the SOS Program

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