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Meeting Students Where They Are: High-Stakes Assessments in Our Current Environment

by Therese Pickett on Jan 6, 2022

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Therese Pickett

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There has been much debate about high-stakes testing in this past year and particularly as students have returned to in-person learning with the uncertainty of remaining in person. Worry about the great learning loss has caused an increase in pressure to ensure proper administration of high stakes testing and an increase in anxiety regarding the results. Now, more than ever, it is critical to attempt to determine students’ strengths, weaknesses, and academic needs so educators can change instruction to meet those needs. Rather than focusing on the learning loss, let’s focus on meeting students where they are and moving forward from there. Following are strategies to assist in making the most of high-stakes assessment data given our current situation.

Assessing in Hybrid/Virtual Environments


If teaching is still occurring in a hybrid or remote-learning environment, there are several factors to consider. Administering assessments should take place in person, when possible, to ensure validity. Of course, this is not the case in full-remote learning. One question to consider then is: “Are there unintentional consequences of assessing virtually?” Some children may have stress factors at home of which educators may not have knowledge. Some children may feel pressured by parents watching them take the assessments. Others may not take the assessments as seriously as they would if in a classroom. All these factors are out of an educator’s control. So, what can we do to get the most accurate results? If possible, test in smaller groups at a time and ask students (if allowed in your district) to leave their web cameras on during the tests. Does your district have software that allows educators to see what screens are open on students’ devices (i.e. Go Guardian)? Once the results are in, examine the scores to see if they are typical of students’ past performances. Are there major discrepancies? Additionally, do you have multiple data points across time that show a more complete picture of the student’s learning?

Use the Data to Inform Instruction


Throughout the school year, whole-class instruction can be scaffolded with reviewing prerequisite skills, making activities more multisensory, and breaking down concepts into smaller chunks. Small learning groups are opportunities to address the gaps in learning as well as challenge students in their areas of strengths. Ask yourself: “What research-based explicit instruction will give us the best instructional bang for the buck?” Purposeful instructional activities at the teacher-led table and practice at instructional and independent levels at other centers can target specific areas of concern as well as extending learning for those who are ready for more challenging extensions. If multiple teachers have the same subject area simultaneously, you might consider a walk-to model to form more homogenous academic groups during small-group learning times. Instruction based in the science of reading and best practices in other content areas will go a long way to improve student achievement.

Create Test Readiness for Benchmarks 2 and 3


Instruction can include strategies that will not only assist students in performing well in the classroom, but well on high-stakes assessments. Teaching skills to best answer multiple-choice questions and explicitly teaching the Depth of Knowledge (DOK) can easily be woven into everyday instruction in all content areas. Do students know what words like generalize, analyze, and infer mean? Do they know how to find the answers in the text and include evidence in their answers? Modeling and providing guided practice as new DOK words goes a long way.

During any reading, comprehension strategies can be taught and practiced. Previewing the text for features such as headings, pictures and captions, graphs, charts, and bold or italicized vocabulary words can bolster comprehension. Previewing the questions prior to reading can focus attention. Most science and social studies assessments have reading passages, and math assessments may include lengthy word problems. So, direct instruction in text structure and comprehension strategies is beneficial.

As well as reading sections, most assessments ask students to produce constructed responses or essays. Sometimes, students have no trouble demonstrating understanding of content on the multiple-choice questions, but struggle with the writing portions. Many students begin their drafts and do not go back to revise or edit. Since some assessments are timed, the responses produced may be disorganized or even off target when students rush to complete them. Explicitly teaching students how to plan their writing can assist them with creating better organized drafts that stay on topic and include the evidence needed. Consistently using the same graphic organizer or tool for planning informative and opinion/argument pieces in class can help students internalize those structures, and students may draw out that graphic organizer in the planning space on the assessments. Quick and easy-to-use effective strategies may be utilized across grade levels and across content areas.

Last, but not least, help students and parents understand the positive aspects of test taking. These are opportunities for students to see their growth, to see how far they have come. The data from high-stakes assessments, like the data garnered from Acadience Learning assessments, including Acadience® Reading K-6 and Acadience® Math, is used to drive instruction to help students. Tests are not simply given just because someone says they must be given. Create a positive can-do spirit and teach students how to deal with the stress of test taking. Celebrate even small increments of gains. Set realistic goals for improvements and readdress goals after each testing period. Even better, include students and parents in the goal setting and celebrations.

Since the pandemic began, administering high-stakes testing may have proven challenging. However, having a clear picture of students’ strengths and learning challenges is more critical than ever. Incorporating these strategies can set our students up for more success on high-stakes assessments and in class.

Acadience Learning assessments give educators evidence-based assessment tools that support data-driven instructional decisions and improve student outcomes. These solutions feature quick, reliable, and valid measures for all students, including those with dyslexia, that indicate if they are on track for reading and math success and pinpoint where they are struggling.

Therese Pickett has served as an implementation specialist for Voyager Sopris Learning for the past 15 years. During this time, she has enjoyed training, supporting, and collaborating with districts across the country to help students achieve their full academic potential. Before joining Voyager Sopris Learning, Pickett taught junior and senior high school ELA and history in general education and special education classrooms. She lives in the Blue Water area of southeast Michigan with her husband and two children..

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