By AMY SCHELLENBERG
— Schools are busy places in the spring. The final months of the academic calendar include ambitious assessment schedules that can sometimes appear overwhelming.
Many parents and community members question the necessity of these tests. However, in a well-rounded, organized educational system, assessments play a vital role in helping administrators and teachers plan strong instruction.
Before we talk about testing, it is important to understand that assessments are just one part of a teaching-learning model. The first section of the model is the curriculum. The curriculum is the “what” the students are supposed to learn. At Greater Clark County Schools and for most schools in Indiana, the curriculum is based on the Indiana Academic Standards and the newly adopted Common Core State Standards that will be used in 45 states across the nation. These standards provide detailed descriptions of the skills students must master at each grade level.
The second section of the model is the instruction. The instruction is the “how” the students are taught the curriculum. There are many teaching strategies that have scientific research to back their effectiveness.
Administrators and teachers spend hours in professional-development activities studying the best methods to ensure they match the best instruction with the content and the needs of their students. Greater Clark administrators and teachers focus much of their time monitoring student engagement and making sure that student understanding is checked regularly.
When schools begin to talk about moving to a 1:1 computer environment, oftentimes it is to increase the amount of student engagement, access and feedback. Technology helps increase efficiency and engagement and encourages students to express themselves in new and creative ways. Additionally, an enhanced technological environment prepares students for the world they will experience in their future work force.
The final stage of the model is assessment. Assessments answer the question “Did my students learn what they were supposed to learn from my instruction?” This stage of the learning cycle provides critical information and data for educators to plan future phases of instruction. These assessments are developed at the classroom, school, district, state or national level.
Regardless of the level of development, the information derived from the assessments informs the classroom teachers and school administrators of the next steps they must take when developing academic plans. Assessments must be a natural part of the teaching and learning model. Good assessments provide valuable data to inform the next steps for instruction. Continually monitoring student progress toward proficiency is just good practice.
School professionals are accountable to the public. The state assessment series, primarily ISTEP+, is used to determine school accountability assignments. The ISTEP+ assessment is administered in two sections. The first section is taken in early March. It requires students to respond in writing to open-ended questions. The second part of the assessment is taken in late April and is typically a computerized, multiple-choice test.
Two additional pieces of information are very important regarding the teaching-learning model. When any change occurs in curriculum, instruction or assessment, it requires the other stages to change as well. For instance, when changes are made to the ISTEP+ test at the state level, changes must be made to the local curriculum, which then requires instructional changes at the classroom level, and additional assessment changes at the classroom, school and corporation level.
Secondly, and of critical importance, when assessments are completed and results are returned, educators must be ready to answer the following question — “What will we do if our students did not learn what they were supposed to learn from our instruction?”
At Greater Clark, we have recently implemented an IMPACT program. This program is designed to provide tiered intervention to students who have fallen behind grade level academically or who have exhibited behavioral issues that have interfered with academic progress.
We are providing additional time and instructional support for students to catch up in language arts and mathematics. Additionally, we have designed interventions to ensure students are matched with key staff members to guide them behaviorally and help get them back on track academically. We want to provide the necessary support for all of our students to succeed.
The professional community in Greater Clark County Schools strives for continual improvement. We have a system in place to constantly review our progress and adjust our programming to make sure we respond to the needs of our students. We will not rest until we reach 100 percent proficiency.
— Amy Schellenberg is executive director for Educational Services and she can be reached at email@example.com