Measure student growth: part seven of an assessment plan for back-to-school 2020

By Chris Jarosh

This is the seventh in a series of blogs outlining an assessment plan for back-to-school 2020 after the coronavirus pandemic has forced schools to close their buildings and administer teaching remotely instead. The next blogs in this series will be released weekly and you’ll be able to view them all here.

When talking about assessment, you might find yourself using medical analogies. For example, it’s not uncommon to hear summative testing described as a “post-mortem,” in the sense that summative test results tell us what happened after it’s too late to make changes. What would be beneficial is actually earlier and more frequent formative assessment, which, to continue the analogy, we might compare to regular check-ups with a doctor.

As we’ve noted in earlier blogs, formative and interim assessment will be extremely important during the 2020–2021 school year. Because of the learning loss caused by this year’s school closures, there is a heightened interest in more closely monitoring the progress of all students. This is very much like when a physician tells you, “We need to monitor you more closely due to risk factors.” The disruptions that affected schools this spring have surely created “risk factors” for many students. How do we monitor their performance and progress more closely in the new school year?

Progress monitoring

First, we should note that the topic of this blog is ‘monitoring progress’ in a broad sense, not formal Progress Monitoring. This should not be confused with ‘monitoring the progress’ of all students through formative assessment tools and strategies.

The previous blog in this series also addresses progress monitoring, but it focuses specifically on discrete skills, setting Star Assessment targets and the mastery. This blog focuses on monitoring progress at a higher and broader level, one more appropriate for administrators. In the discussion that follows, we explain how, as an administrator, you can best keep your finger on the pulse in the next school year, particularly in light of the “risk factors” that so many students have experienced.

Before we begin, we want to stress that you can achieve an early win by gathering your pre-COVID data now, as we describe in the third blog in this series. Spending a small amount of time pulling key metrics from 2019–2020 will give you an orientation and immediate insights once your next Star screening is over.

Two options for monitoring students’ progress

As we look at plans for the 2020–2021 school year, we’ll frame our discussion by making reference to two ends of a continuum. You’ll need to decide where your school falls on this continuum based on your systems and tools, your resources, and your data culture. Our goal is to present options; you are best positioned to decide which of these options makes the most sense for you.

Regardless of the option you choose, we suggest adhering to the typical screening windows of autumn, spring, and summer for all students. This represents the standard schedule for in-class tests as well as exams. But beyond these regular “check-ups,” we’ll need closer monitoring of student progress.

Option 1: Monitoring daily reading and maths practice

Digital practice programmes were a tremendous benefit this spring and summer, because they allowed students to continue to practise literacy and maths skills online while schools were working remotely. If your school uses digital practice programmes that report key metrics about student activity and progress, and if you’re actively using formative assessment resources in Star, then you’re receiving a continual flow of information. This information, if it is both regular and robust, provides a way to monitor student progress between your formal screening windows.

For example, schools that use Accelerated Reader and/or the myON digital reading platform receive a regular flow of information about student reading practice. If students are engaged in independent reading and are performing well on comprehension quizzes, there is little to be concerned about with regard to reading performance.

In our previous blog, we explain how the domain checks included in the Star Assessment suite can aid in assessing students at the mastery level. These tools represent a granular level of formative assessment within Star Reading and Star Maths. And with the recent addition of Schoolzilla to the Renaissance family, when it’s launched in the UK, you will be able to present data from our practice programmes to school/trust leaders in intuitive and dynamic ways.

The ultimate question to determine whether you fall on this end of the continuum is: do you feel that you have a regular, robust and sufficiently specific flow of data about the daily/ongoing work of your students? If so, the standard screening windows, plus this flow of data from your practice programmes, is likely all that you need to monitor progress.

Option 2: Adding additional screening windows

If you do not have a regular and reliable flow of data about students’ daily practice, you may instead want to rely a bit more on your interim assessment tools. One possible approach is ‘4+more,’ where the typical screening windows (baseline, autumn, spring and summer) are supplemented by an additional screening that occurs between the usual assessments. Other tests can then be done in the half-terms where you may not usually test.

The rationale behind this approach is that it:

  1. Expands your ability to make proficiency projections in Star (some reports require a specific number of test administrations to generate projections);
  2. Provides an additional school-wide opportunity to plot students’ performance against important benchmarks;
  3. Is an additional early check to ensure that students aren’t sliding;
  4. Provides updated instructional planning information.

That said, our cardinal rule around assessing students with Star is do not give the assessment unless you are actively planning to review and act on the results. Before adding additional screening windows (you can have up to 10 in the system, but we wouldn’t usually recommend more than 6 for an entire cohort), you’ll need to ensure that your data team structure has the capacity to support reviewing and acting on the data that will  be created. If it does, then ‘4+more’ is an option for you. If not, then there’s no point in scheduling an additional screening.

Another option is to create windows that are limited to certain students or year groups. Given common accountability requirements around Year 6 SATs and Year 7 catch-up reading proficiency, for example, you might choose to add the extra screening for students in those years. You might also limit the additional screening to only those students who were below benchmark during autumn screening and who were not placed in a formal intervention. The additional screening would help to ensure that these students are not slipping in terms of performance.

When adding an additional screening window, it is important that your standard screening windows do not shift drastically. The point of ‘4+more’ is to get an additional round of screening in earlier than your main screening windows. This provides sufficient time and data to adjust instruction and address any gaps while there is still time to impact student outcomes.

Also, remember that Star’s Student Growth Percentile (SGP) score requires that tests be administered within certain windows. Keeping these windows in mind when building your assessment calendar is important for making use of this key growth metric.

SGP testing timeframes

SGP testing timeframes

We began this discussion with a reference to medical analogies, and we’ve seen how progress monitoring is like the regular physical exams (‘check-ups’) that are designed to manage different risk factors. Rick Stiggins (2014) takes this analogy one step further. He contends that the pre-service training teachers typically receive on assessment is “akin to training physicians to practise medicine without teaching them what lab tests to request for their patients, or how to interpret the results of such tests.” We hope that this discussion of progress monitoring has shed light on the best ‘lab tests’ for your students and has provided guidance on how to interpret the results.

In our next blog — the last in this series — we’ll explore some final questions about the 2020–2021 school year, including the appropriate benchmarks to use. We’ll also discuss the potential impact as schools consider multiple options for delivering instruction (e.g., all remote, all face-to-face, or a blended learning model), and we’ll explain how to disaggregate your data based on these factors.

The next instalment of this blog will be published on 31st July 2020, and you’ll be able to view it hereFollow us on social media to stay up to date and share your thoughts with us.

  • Stiggins, R. (2014). Revolutionize assessment: Empower students, inspire learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.


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