Student Assessments – Today’s Hot Topic Discussion with our Director of Curriculum & Instruction

Charter schools remain the most stable and innovative option for families in the state of Michigan in the midst of a pandemic. From pivoting overnight to distance learning in March 2020 to offering customized in-person or virtual instruction for students this school year, charter schools continue to step up to the challenge to educate children. 

Once again, state assessments continue to be a hot topic for today’s educators. Just this week, we learned that the Michigan Department of Education will be exploring federal flexibility announced by the U.S. Department of Education on state assessment and accountability requirements, but what does this mean for charter school students in the state of Michigan? 

Although the assessment process and requirements are ever-changing, we remain relentless in our efforts to support our school leaders and boards to prepare for their annual assessments. This year, more than ever, we are using assessments to measure what matters by using data to improve learning. Today, we will explore how to prepare your school using the techniques and strategies we implement at Choice Schools.  

Whether you’re a board member, administrator, or parent, below you will find some tips on how to prepare your school for assessment season.  

Arrange safe and flexible testing schedules.
This spring, the testing schedule will need to be more complex than it has ever been. Start planning your testing schedule now. The schedule will need to include options for in-person students as well as any virtual students. While students can take the NWEA MAP assessment remotely, it is important to remember that there is not currently an option that allows M-Step or the SAT to be taken virtually. This means that any students that have chosen to be virtual students within your school will need to come into the school in order to take the M-Step or SAT assessment. Additionally, when scheduling, keep testing fatigue in mind. Students in different grade levels have different abilities related to attentiveness. It is a good time to bring together an assessment team in order to begin this work. It would be difficult for any one person to formulate a testing schedule that takes into account all the possible scenarios for testing times, locations, grade levels, and security protocols.

Use NWEA data to support learning.
Think of it as an assessment of instruction instead of an assessment of the student. The past eleven months have been unlike any we have experienced in education. Instruction has been entirely unconventional. The assessment that students participate in needs to be used as a tool to see where those gaps in instruction may be. NWEA allows us to identify the gap from COVID as well as goal areas to focus on in both ELA and math.  The “recovery and goal setting” report identifies which students will struggle to meet the projected growth and how manageable the goal is to meet. The “student profile report” uses the Michigan linking study to project how students will score on the M-Step and SAT based on their most current NWEA testing window.  This report also identifies what standards need to be reinforced or what standard is ready to be introduced to each student.

Continue to align the scope and sequence.
The data will show trends that need to be compared to the intended curriculum. Look at this data on a group level as well as on an individual level. When there is an area that trends lower with all students, look to see if there is a weakness in the curriculum. That gap will need to be addressed immediately with students by reteaching, but planning also needs to be done to improve the instruction on this standard for next year. A good manager of instruction will continually evaluate the curriculum and the classroom instruction to ensure that it is effective for the intended standards.

On an individual level, students will also have gaps in their learning. Data from formal assessments like NWEA will show areas of weakness, but a more in depth diagnostic may be necessary to zero in on the exact need of the student. Once teachers have an understanding of the need, then reteaching or intervention can be provided in order to address the gap(s).

Create a plan for parent/guardian partnership and communication.
As you develop your assessment plan, it is vital that parents understand that this benchmark assessment supports how teachers educate their children and allows them to set achievable goals for academic success, especially students in kindergarten through 3rd grade with the 3rd Grade Reading law currently in place. It is a good idea to have a communication template that provides a framework for teachers to communicate with parents. Keep in mind that communicating a simple score probably isn’t enough. Share details about what the score means as well as the implications it has related to interventions that may take place in order to address the needs of the students.

With new bills and legislation being introduced daily, it is imperative to act on what we can to best serve our students. The time is now! For more than 25 years, Choice Schools has helped schools prepare for assessments. We can help you, too. If you need help creating your assessment plan for 2021, schedule a 30-minute call with our Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Team. Click here.