Educators Wept with Joy at English Language Arts Achievement Gains

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Posted in: Aha! Blog > Wit & Wisdom Blog > Data Stories Student Achievement > Educators Wept with Joy at English Language Arts Achievement Gains

When the principal of Clayton Elementary School in this Denver suburb announced English language arts state test scores in late spring 2021, she and her teachers, paraprofessionals, and support staff were overwhelmed with joy, recalls Assistant Principal Matt Hoganson.

“It was the most exciting news. People were in tears,” he says.Headshot of Matt Hoganson.

As well they should have been. Test scores among grade 5 students—who began using the innovative Wit & Wisdom® ELA curriculum from Great Minds® in the 2020–2021 school year—increased 18 percentage points from 2019 when those students were in grade 3. (The state did not test grade 4 students in ELA last year because of the pandemic.)

Students in grade 5 have struggled historically, so the gains were especially encouraging. “Grade 5 is always challenging, academically and behaviorally," so Hoganson says administrators were “shocked.”

A bar chart showing the improvement in test scores of students from when they were in grade 3 in 2019 to when they were in grade 5 in 2021. Scores on the state test increased by 18 percentage points.

Clayton, the only one of the district’s four elementary schools that uses Wit & Wisdom, outperformed the district in all tested grades, he says. 

School Profile

  • 360 students in grade K–6
  • 65% low income
  • 20% English learners
  • 10% students with disabilities

Adopted Wit & Wisdom and Geodes beginning in the 2020–2021 school year

Rachel Arnold, the school’s literacy interventionist, praises the curriculum’s rich, rigorous content and explicit writing instruction. She adds that the Geodes® books for early readers, which complement the Wit & Wisdom curriculum in K–2, have also been beneficial. (See this blog post for fuller discussion of Clayton’s shift to a knowledge-building curriculum.)

The 2021 success came despite the pandemic, which significantly disrupted instruction. Students lost about a quarter of the school year when they were sent home in spring 2020 and were in and out of school throughout 2020–2021.


Hoganson attributes the impressive gains to several factors. First, the quality of the texts used in Wit & Wisdom prepared students well.

“The rigor, vocabulary, and process are very challenging. Our students went into the state test with confidence and experience,” he says.

"It came down to buy-in. Teachers were excited to make the change once they moved past 'I don't know how I'm going to do this' and heard students getting excited about the materials." 

—Matt Hoganson, Assistant Principal

Hoganson and his colleagues especially appreciate the depth of knowledge in each module. With Wit & Wisdom, students have to read deeply, he says, “not just get the gist and surface understanding.” And Clayton educators and students alike love how science and social studies are integrated into every lesson, allowing students to explore a single big idea from multiple perspectives for nine weeks.

Hoganson also credits the work that educators did with Great Minds® staff in regular coaching sessions that helped them adopt the instructional shifts called for by the new curriculum.

“It came down to buy-in. Teachers were excited to make the change once they moved past ‘I don’t know how I’m going to do this’ and heard students getting excited about the materials,” he says.

Listen to Matt Hoganson in conversation in "Rethinking and Unlearning What We Know About Literacy," an episode of the Melissa and Lori Love Literacy podcast (September 2021). 

Hoganson says Clayton Elementary will focus more on writing during the 2021–2022 school year.

“Everyone is just eager for another opportunity” to work with this knowledge-building curriculum, he says.


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Topics: Data Stories Student Achievement