Guest Blog #2: My journey with Star as an Accelerated Reader School…
By Joe Neale, English Subject Leader
Back in March, Joe Neale, English Subject Leader at River Beach Primary School, shared the first in a series of guest blogs which are plotting the school’s journey from being confident users of Accelerated Reader to using Star as the backbone for reading assessment in the school. Here, we welcome Joe back for his latest blog on the key learnings that have been made over the past term.
Like any primary school in England, the last term has been somewhat dominated by SATs, which makes it a good place to start when it comes to how we’ve developed our use of Star Reading since my first report on the value of Star beyond AR.
Say goodbye to past papers
The biggest learning for me has been the exploration of using Star Scaled Scores to predict SATs results. Now, it’s obviously too early to say whether the predictions we made using the correlation methodology pioneered by Gary Alexander are accurate, but the data insights we gained did give us reassurance as the Year 6 pupils went in to sit the SATs reading tests. Unlike previous years, we don’t feel blinded as to what might materialise once the results are published, which ultimately helps to reduce teacher stress levels.
Given that SATs have dominated the headlines this year, with a lot of negativity and calls for them to be abolished, I want to be clear that we didn’t seek to predict SATs scores for any other reason than for insight and to help inform pupil progression. For Year 6 pupils it was more a matter of interest to help validate teacher judgement. But the power of prediction really comes in to play with the younger pupils. By correlating Star Scaled Scores from Year 2 onwards, we’re able to better pinpoint those children who are not at the ‘expected standard’ or above, and can then introduce and track intervention programmes to help them achieve the growth needed.
Information is incredibly powerful these days, and it doesn’t need to be all about accountability. Instead, we should be using it to inform pupil progression – and that’s exactly what the Star data enables us to do.
Standardising Star Assessment
We were lucky enough to spend some time with Gary Alexander, who as well as assisting us with correlating Star scores with SATs, shared some really practical advice on managing Star Assessments in school to achieve a more accurate assessment picture.
One of the tips that we’re looking to implement from next year is the standardisation of how the Star tests are administered, to make sure that every pupil has the exact same test experience. This will require some work on my part, in terms of scheduling and having the same teacher coordinate the Star tests, but I believe that the value that will be gained through improved accuracy of results will be worth it.
We’re also looking to dispense with the use of paper-based reading tests for every year apart from Year 6. This is for several reasons. First and foremost, Star is a more accurate method of assessing and tracking reading progress. Secondly, if a pupil sits a Star test and we believe the results are skewed for some reason, we can easily arrange for a repeat test to be taken. Unlike paper-based re-sits, which would incur additional costs and marking time, we can retest with Star for free. Plus by removing the paper-based tests from Year 2 through to Year 5, we will dramatically reduce teacher workload without compromising on assessment insight.
But why are we retaining the past SATs papers for Year 6? Well, quite simply as a preparation exercise for the pupils. While the computer-adaptive nature of Star makes it a robust and reliable assessment tool, SATs are still a paper-based test, so we need pupils to become familiar with such a testing scenario.
From formative to summative assessment
At the start of our journey we only really used Star Reading as a placeholder for Accelerated Reader, so my advice to other schools who might be in a similar position is this: Not only can you achieve even greater results with AR by getting to grips with Star… but Star is an assessment programme in its own right that addresses very different objectives and provides data and reports to support wider teaching objectives. In our school, we’ve started to talk about Star as supporting summative assessment, while Accelerated Reader is very much for formative assessment.
Finally, if you’re an assessment lead in school or are the champion/owner of Accelerated Reader, as you’re learning about the wider benefits of Star for assessment, make sure you share the detail with the wider teaching team so that they can start to talk in the same language. At our last staff meeting, we focused on Student Growth Percentiles (SGPs) and now we are all comfortably and confidently using consistent terminology and analysing data in the same way – all to support pupil’s reading progression.
I’m still very enthusiastic and excited about what we’re achieving with the development of Star Reading in school, it’s fast becoming our most important assessment tool for reading.
So, as we all look forward to the half term break (well deserved), I’ll leave you with some links to resources that any Accelerated Reader school will find invaluable for starting or progressing your Star journey beyond AR:
English Subject Leader
Joe Neale is the English Subject Leader at River Beach Primary School in West Sussex. He is also the Lead English Teacher for the Schoolsworks Multi-Academy Trust.