It’s personal

How personalized learning became VITAL in a rural Tennessee district

Tennessee's Putnam County School District began its journey into digital learning when they realized that the missing link for student success in this vast rural district was greater access to high-quality learning materials, and the need to provide improved flexibility and differentiation.

Putnam County + Shmoop

The solution came in 2008 with the launch of the Virtual Instruction to Accentuate Learning (VITAL) program, which introduced a number of innovative online learning resources to teachers and students.

Fast forward to 2012, better known as "the beginning of an epic partnership between Shmoop and Putnam County,” when the district began investigating options for online course content that would help teachers increase student engagement, both inside the classroom and at home.

Discovering new opportunities to meet state requirements

Tennessee is one of five states that requires all students to complete a personal finance course. While developing the online course in 2012, inspiration struck. What if the course could also present another opportunity to set up students for long-term success? The answer came in the form of integrating Shmoop's ACT Test Prep into the course curriculum.

"We built our own online personal finance course and paired it with Shmoop's ACT Prep course, which guaranteed every student in Putnam County would receive ACT prep before taking their required free ACT test in 11th grade," says Sam Brooks, Personal Learning Supervisor for Putnam County Schools.

Many postsecondary institutions in the area use the ACT as a determining factor in student acceptance. Five years after integrating Shmoop's ACT Test Prep into the personal finance course, Putnam County continued to outpace the state average in ACT scores. Putnam County's average ACT score increased 1.3 points compared to the state's 1 point increase over a five year period and, in 2017, Putnam County scores were over a point higher than the state average.

The proof is in the pudding—well, really it's in the table below.

School Year Average Composite ACT Score for Putnam County Average Composite ACT Score in Tennessee
2012-2013 19.9 19.1
2013-2014 19.8 19.3
2014-2015 19.6 19.4
2015-2016 20.5 19.9
2016-2017 21.2 20.1
  1.3 point growth over 5 years 1 point growth over 5 years
*Results are from the Tennessee State of Education Report Card

Putnam County adds more Shmoop solutions

ACT® Prep was only the beginning of the story. Soon, the district's teachers and students took it upon themselves to investigate other ways Shmoop could support classroom instruction. Today, all Putnam County teachers have access to Shmoop's suite of digital resources, which includes comprehensive curriculum materials for grades 5-12.

The following elements highlight Putnam County’s unique Shmoop curriculum:

  • Teachers leverage Shmoop’s English language arts literature guides to enhance their lessons. These online resources support critical thinking and the student-centered language with ever-present humor to drive engagement.
  • Teachers actively leverage Shmoop’s online learning materials in subjects including history and Mythology. These supplement traditional learning materials with fun and interactive content.
  • Math teachers are using Shmoop's Math Shack to support students who need extra reinforcement of foundational skills. The online program uses assessments to diagnose where students are in their learning and, based on these individual results, provide additional materials to help them progress in the right direction. Meanwhile, advanced math students are able to leapfrog ahead by accessing Shmoop's AP course curriculum.

"When it's your teachers and students that are going above and beyond what's required to investigate different ways to use a platform, you know it is making a difference," says Lance Key, teacher and Instructional Technology Specialist for Putnam County. "The value of the program and the many ways we can use it in Putnam County was the deciding factor in our decision to move forward. The fact is that Shmoop is different—not only does it include test prep plus instruction, but it takes it a step further by injecting humor into the lessons. Both our students and teachers love it."


Putnam County spans more than 400 square miles across central Tennessee, with the closest major metropolitan city (Nashville) more than an hour drive away. Today, the rural school district serves over 11,000 students and includes three non-traditional schools plus twelve elementary, five middle, and three high schools spread across the county.


ACT is a federally registered trademark of ACT, Inc. Shmoop University is not affiliated with or endorsed by ACT, Inc

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