School District Launches Pilot Assessment Program

Teachers from throughout the School District are using a new assessment tool in select elementary and middle school classrooms to collect data they can use to individualize learning for their students.

A pilot program for i-Ready, an adaptive diagnostic for reading and math that pinpoints students’ needs down to the sub-skill level, has been launched in second, third and sixth-grade classes.

Assistant Superintendent Scott Laliberte told the School Board at its Sept. 22 meeting that students in those grades are completing tests through i-Ready, a game-like computer program that assesses students on curriculum, adapting to their skill level and even to the speed with which they answer questions.

“I was more than surprised with the sixth graders’ response. This is in a format they are very comfortable with. They get to pick a study buddy and pick a background for the program, so it’s individualized to the student; and it adapts how many questions students are asked at a time,” Middle School Curriculum Coordinator Anne Collacchi said. “We didn’t have unhappy faces, or kids who were twisting around in their seats uncomfortably.”

North School Reading Specialist Sandi Brown said data gathered from the students’ responses to the tests they take through i-Ready show teachers strengths and weaknesses down to the sub-level, meaning that while a student may be performing in phonics at a second grade level, his or her vocabulary may be at a fifth grade level.

“This really gives us a better indication of what the instructional level is for all our kids, right down to those sub-skills,” she said.

“We have acquired a lot of baseline information and data, and we will be looking at the data to drive instruction and personalize learning,” North School Principal Paul Dutton said. “Teachers will be spending this and next week looking at the baseline data, and the big question is for students that aren’t there, how will we get them there?”

“What we’re looking for is to take what we already understand, and use technology to leverage it in such a way teachers can really focus their attention on the design of the learning experience rather than on menial tasks,” Laliberte said.

Members John Laferriere and Leitha Reilly asked if the program would overload teachers, and whether there would be enough time for staff to evaluate the data for use in their classrooms.

“I want to make sure we’re not adding more workload onto teachers, but making it easier to target and meet the needs of students,” Laferriere said.

Laliberte said where many teachers find it difficult to wait for scores from other assessments to come in, i-Ready provides instant feedback they can use to get to know their students early in the year.

“I’m really pleased to see this,” member Nancy Hendricks said. “People who know me know I’m passionate about capturing kids if they’re having challenges. I think if we don’t capture them before middle school, if they get to middle school and are having challenges, it’s very difficult for them to catch them up.”

“As we move forward, the intention is to compare data and monitor the long-term efficacy of the program. If we determine it’s something that’s viable for the School District, we’ll come back with a proposal for the roll-out,” Laliberte said. “In the early days of the budget, we will develop a menu of what we would be looking at if we do it. And there’s always the option with a pilot to say we’re not going to do this. The returns we have received have been very promising.”

So far, Brown said both students and staff have shown great enthusiasm for the new program.

“The kids loved it. I can’t walk down the hall without kids asking me when we’re going to do i-Ready again,” she said. “The teachers are excited to get all this data. It takes several weeks to get to know your students. This gives them a ton of information about their students right at the beginning of the school year, so they’ve really hit the ground running.”

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