Boost reading proficiency

Reading assessments are critical to ensuring our students are on track, but it can be frustrating for educators when testing halts instruction time. At Camden City Schools, a diverse K-12 district with more than 6,800 students, we implemented a “station rotation” model to make the assessment process more like small group work and less like a test. This shift, which is part of our broader focus on data-driven instruction and standards-aligned intervention, has given teachers more time to teach and helped us make great strides in reading proficiency.

Here’s how this model works in our schools.

Collect baseline data. From the first day of school, our educators’ priority is to understand where students stand academically after the summer break. We make this process fun and interactive for students by cycling small groups through stations, with one station dedicated to students completing the i-Ready Diagnostic. It is critical to get started on the diagnostic ASAP since this data helps teachers understand students’ strengths and put plans in place to help them progress.

Turn data into intervention. Teachers use the comprehensive data collected during the diagnostic to group students based on their skills and learning needs. The ability to group students based on the standards with which they need help makes it easier for our teachers to differentiate instruction and support students where they need it most. Without the diagnostic data, this would be hard to accomplish.

Once teachers have grouped students, they lead specific standards-aligned lessons designed to address learning needs. When the class breaks into small groups, the teacher has the opportunity to spend 10-15 minutes with students who are at the same level so they can really delve into specific standards. This instruction looks different based on the different groupings of students, of course.

Assess throughout the year. As humans, we assess ourselves and our capabilities constantly. When you cook a new recipe, you taste it to test its quality. Just like cooking, it’s important to assess the effectiveness of instruction and make necessary improvements to help students learn. It is also crucial to consider not only the content of the assessment being delivered, but also how it feels to those being tested and those administrating it.

In the past, some of our educators felt that we were giving too many assessments. While we don’t want to over-assess students or take too much instructional time from our teachers, we do still need to gather baseline and progress data to ensure students are on the pathway to proficiency—this can be a difficult balance to achieve.

Throughout the year, our teachers check on students’ mastery of specific learning standards by incorporating quick yet detailed assessments which complement the beginning-of-the-year diagnostic. These assessments are incorporated as part of the station rotation model during the regular classroom day, which makes the assessment feel less like a test and more like an activity. Using the results of these assessments, teachers can adjust their instruction accordingly to make sure students are on track to master individual and grade-level standards.

All of our students have different foundations of learning and many enter the school year two or three levels below where they need to be. While it involves hard work and dedication (on both the part of the teacher and the student) to get up to grade-level, this model has successfully engaged students in the learning process and helped them make great gains. For example, the percent of students in grades 1-8 who were on grade level more than tripled from the beginning of last school year to March of this year—an upward trend we expect to continue!

Taryn Fletcher is the deputy superintendent of Camden City School District. Her district uses i-Ready Diagnostic.

Tech Tips is a weekly column in SmartBrief on EdTech. Have a tech tip to share? Contact us at knamahoe@smartbrief.com.

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