Before 2013, education initiatives across North Dakota had a disjointed approach to improving teaching and learning. Districts within the state ranged widely in size and resources, from one-school rural districts to larger urban ones. Many of the smaller districts had neither the funding nor personnel for rigorous continuous improvement efforts. As a result, educational quality assurance and accountability was very uneven across the state, despite schools’ best efforts.
In 2013, to promote educational excellence for all schools no matter their size or location, the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction (NDDPI) contracted with Cognia to provide one structured statewide system for continuous improvement. That affiliation was the first of its kind and spawned a long-standing partnership between the two organizations. State Superintendent Kirsten Baesler’s favorite sayings are “Progress travels at the speed of trust” and “trust begins with relationships.” She has spearheaded efforts to make Cognia’s work with NDDPI more comprehensive. In addition to working with districts, the nonprofit participated in North Dakota’s 2016 ESSA planning sessions and created a customized student engagement survey for the department’s use. Since then, Cognia’s connection has grown to every office in NDDPI. The Accountability, Support, & Improvement Office has made the Cognia Diagnostic Review available to underperforming schools and the Office of Specially Designed Services had Cognia create the PIER (Planning, Implementing, Evaluating Report) online tool. When the pandemic forced schools to switch to remote instruction, Cognia helped North Dakota educators by providing professional development support in what would become the Cognia Learning Community platform. Cognia also worked with NDDPI’s Office of Academic Support to develop Science of Reading training modules to support the state’s literacy initiative. The partnership between NDDPI and Cognia has driven progress and improvements on both sides. In 2022, Baesler suggested that Cognia improve its Leadership Circle by extending this professional learning community model beyond superintendents by including school principals.
Like other states, North Dakota experienced a decline in students’ academic performance due to the pandemic. However, the existing pedagogical foundation created through NDDPI’s literacy initiatives and its partnership with Cognia, along with new investments has already resulted in some upward trending. In the 2021-22 school year, the state’s ELA assessment data showed a 3-percentage-point gain of students ranked as proficient or advanced compared to the previous year. While the United States in general suffered the largest declines in math scores ever recorded, North Dakota’s fourth graders and eighth graders surpassed national average scores. Additionally, NDDPI’s partnership and input have benefited other Cognia members across the country. For example, after its 2016 work with North Dakota, Cognia made customized versions of the student engagement survey available to other states. Moreover, the Science of Reading and Early Learning labs created for North Dakota educators are now available nationwide. Baesler’s suggestion of including principals in the Leadership Circle has also been implemented for all participating members. Now, North Dakota and Cognia are working together to break new ground: designing the first SEA accreditation process in the nation.
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Of all the partnerships we have, Cognia is one of our most valuable and important partnerships. If we need anything, we can reach out and the response is just phenomenal.”Kirsten BaeslerState SuperintendentNorth Dakota Department of Public Instruction