Yes, you can get your students to grade level. Here's how.
What do your students know and what don’t they know?
This is a common question we ask teachers, and the way you answer it has a more profound impact than you might imagine. Let me explain.
I’ll begin with the traditional approach. School District A is worried about how much students know or don’t know entering the school year. To find out, the district tests its students.
So, School District A picks a day in August or September and administers the MAP test, i-Ready test, or another universal screener. Administrators believe this diagnostic assessment data will inform how they support each student.
However, the results aren’t so straightforward or accurate.
Student one—let’s call him Tony—wakes up after a good night's sleep. He is rested, had a good breakfast, and is energized. Student two—let’s call her Beth—has a sick parent at home, isn’t getting much sleep, and is taking care of her younger brother most of the time. Beth hasn’t brushed up on her math and hasn’t touched a book in three months. As you can imagine, the results for Tony and Beth are likely to be very different, even if their aptitude is the same.
Tony does well on test day and cruises into grade-level content, while Beth struggles. She’s assigned remedial content and now spends all her free time “catching up” and focusing on below-grade-level learning. Beth now has double the work in the same amount of time as Tony. This spells disaster as she gets further and further behind in her grade-level studies.
Now, imagine a different scenario in which School District B also wants to know what students know and don’t know, but isn’t in a rush to pinpoint these knowledge areas immediately.
This school district also uses a universal screener, but it’s utilized for its intended purposes: to measure growth between two points during the school year and identify students who may need additional support throughout the year. Administrators disregard the initial diagnostic assessment results and move all students into grade-level content (unless students need specialized, targeted interventions like special education services).
When some people hear this approach, they might worry, “But can students performing below-grade level do grade-level work?” If this is you, rest assured. We know that students can indeed do grade-level work.
Our own robust assessment data shows us that nearly 85% of grade-level standards in mathematics don’t require significant prerequisite knowledge, and learning that students do need to recover can be covered quickly in the teaching flow. At the beginning of a unit, teachers can identify the known areas where students tend to struggle and have resources ready to fill in gaps as they appear. Supporting software like MATHia can streamline this process by having these prerequisite “on-ramps” built right into the sequence.
This model of just-in-time support describes formative assessment, a more effective and equitable alternative to the antiquated approach of point-in-time diagnostic assessment. When school districts rely on formative assessment that supports all students to succeed at grade level, more students find themselves successfully completing grade-level work. This success builds confidence, and continued success becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s every educator’s dream!
Let’s think back to our two students and the trajectory of their academic lives in the second scenario. Tony comes into the class fully prepared for the assessment, scores high, and begins the year with grade-level content. As he progresses, it becomes clear that a few concepts are still a little fuzzy or might have been crammed for the assessment. He gets support for these concepts until he’s fully mastered them and continues through the course.
Beth also takes the assessment and doesn’t even complete a few of the topics. Regardless, she also begins the year with grade-level content. As she progresses, little refreshers built into the experience help her get up to speed quickly, and she thrives throughout the year.
It turns out, both students had areas that needed additional support, but the initial assessment didn’t provide enough detail to know where they were in the curriculum. The teacher effectively used formative assessment and delivered a positive learning experience for both students.
We want to help teachers break the cycle of remediation based on a diagnostic assessment, and there is only one way to accomplish this without dramatically remaking our educational system. Teachers should provide just-in-time support guided by formative assessment for students who all start the year at grade level. MATHia makes this possible by bringing learning and assessment together into one experience, just like a tutor would working one-on-one with a student.
Providing high-quality, effective education isn’t always as straightforward as solving an equation. But we do know what works. We must have faith in our students’ ability to learn, understand how knowledge builds on itself, and select resources that help them (and you) succeed. Now, onto a future of assessment that helps every student believe in themselves!
Peter is an educator with over 20 years of strategy, education and product development experience. He led the redesign of a university, built new educational programs, designed content and taught middle school. At Carnegie Learning, Peter shapes our organizational and product strategy and ensures that we continue to develop leading-edge products and services that help all students learn.Explore more related to this author
Formative assessment is a more effective and equitable alternative to the antiquated approach of point-in-time diagnostic assessment.
Peter LaCasse, Chief Strategy Officer, Carnegie Learning