Should we be assessing our students during this time of school closures?
By James Bell, Director of Professional Services
As one of the leading assessment providers in the UK, and across the world, it was inevitable that we’d receive this question. With schools closed but learning continuing, many school and trust leaders have reached out to us to ask whether Star Assessments can be administered remotely.
From a technical perspective, the answer is: absolutely. With appropriate IP restrictions lifted (as you may have already done for Accelerated Reader), Star Assessments can be administered in a remote learning environment. The more nuanced considerations, however, are why schools would or would not want to administer the tests remotely, and how the results from a remote administration might be impacted.
Under normal circumstances, we would not recommend that schools administer Star Assessments remotely. However, we have created a helpful guide that provides clear information to help you make the decisions about whether to include assessments as part of your instruction plans. You can view the guide here.
Why would schools want to administer Star Assessments from home?
Let’s begin with the reasons why some schools have considered remote administration of Star Assessments.
During regular school operations, data from Star Assessments is used for a variety of purposes, including formal progress monitoring of interventions and setting of classes. Because a lot of national testing requirements for summer 2020, like GCSE exams, have been dropped, many of these considerations have fallen by the wayside — but this means that educators could miss out on valuable information. Educators have asked us, in particular, about scores like Student Growth Percentile (SGP) and specific Star reports they rely on that require tests to be taken within certain time windows.
What would a school gain from testing remotely in the summer term? By administered a Star test during the summer term, schools would be able to collect the following student data:
1. Winter to summer and autumn to summer SGP scores
SGPs are growth scores based on detailed calculations, and so require tests to be administered within specific time frames, as shown in the graphic below. If no tests occur in the summer timeframe, generating winter to summer and autumn to summer SGP scores becomes impossible. (However, we discuss later in this blog how you might work around this.)
2. Forecasts of high-stakes test performance
You might use Star to forecast student performance in a variety of areas, including the likelihood of meeting or exceeding KS2 SATs expectations. These KS2 projections can be generated at any point during the school year: but if a Star test occurs, for example, six months before the original SATs testing dates, the test can only make a projection based on typical (not actual) student growth over those six months until the SATs test. It is logical, therefore, that many educators prefer to Star test much closer to the date when the KS2 SATs would have occurred: to minimise the need of any statistical projections of ‘typical’ student growth.
3. Instructional planning information
Once a Star test is administered, educators can access detailed reports showing the specific skills that individual students — as well as groups and entire classes — are ready to learn next.
However, instructional planning information based on a test that was administered yesterday is one thing; information based on a test that was administered three months ago is something very different. To the extent that what’s occurring with your students now is or is not “typical,” instructional planning recommendations based on a Star test given months ago risk becoming a bit stale.
If you do not administer Star Assessments from home
Now that we’ve reviewed these points, it’s worth pointing out that the opposite is also true: if schools do not administer Star tests during the summer timeframe (1st April – 31st July), they risk missing out on the above information.
Knowing that SGP scores are of particular interest to many educators, this point is worth noting. If your students took Star tests in the regular autumn and winter windows, you’ll have an autumn to winter SGP for 2019–2020: in other words, an SGP score for the first half of the school year, before schools closed. Then, when students return to school this September (assuming that they do), you’ll be provided with an autumn to autumn SGP that will depict growth across the full academic year and the summer. Comparing the ‘normal’ period (autumn to winter) to the whole, disrupted one (autumn 2019 to autumn 2020) will provide some insight on the extent to which student growth was impacted by school closures.
Of course, to ensure all key metrics are available to you in autumn, it is advisable to save or print hard copies now of key Star reports that list SGP or produce graphs, as many of these will not be accessible once the new academic year starts. You’ll find helpful information on this topic, including a list of the relevant Star reports, here.
Additional remote testing considerations
Beyond this, we must also consider current conditions. Most schools have rarely, if ever, administered Star Assessments remotely, so the following key questions come into play:
- Will all students have access to a testing environment that will be controlled and free of distractions?
- Do all students have internet connectivity and access to a device that meets the technical requirements for administering a Star test?
- Have you consulted all relevant SLT who need to be involved in the decision-making process regarding testing students remotely?
- Do you have processes in place to ensure fidelity of testing in a remote setting?
These and other considerations are covered in our Remote Testing Considerations document, but the ultimate question may be this:
Does the benefit of having summer assessment data outweigh the time and effort needed to administer the test with fidelity?
Finally, any consideration of remote testing must also acknowledge that, given these atypical testing conditions, there is likely to be greater variability in test results. Some students will inevitably test with distractions, and others will receive more outside assistance than appropriate. While scores from a remote administration can be an informative data point, we should not interpret them too rigidly through the lens of traditional norms. Norms suggest controlled conditions and, clearly, much of education has been disrupted.
Conversations about whether to test remotely are not unique to Renaissance or to Star Assessments. Every assessment provider from nursery through university and professional levels is similarly advising its customers. Some have even gone so far as to say that their assessments are absolutely not available for remote administration.
At Renaissance, we believe that the decision of whether to administer Star tests from home is one that belongs with you. You know your specific needs and your capabilities far better than we do, and we stand ready to support you with advice and resources to support your successful use of Star Assessments, no matter which decision you ultimately make.
This blog was adapted from a post on our US site, Considerations for remote testing.
Watch our on-demand webinar for more insights on using other Renaissance products at home.
Director of Professional Services
James Bell has worked for Renaissance Learning for over 15 years. He is responsible for co-ordinating product development and research in the UK, as well as holding overall responsibility for the implementation and customer services departments.