Overview: Academic Assessments in Lower School
Dear Lower School Families,
I’m sure this is something you already know very well, but our Lower School teachers are EXPERTS. They are experts in their grade-level curriculum, in child development, and in knowing how the two converge. A teacher’s ability to meet the needs of each student relies on knowing exactly where each child’s current ability lies within the expected ranges of the curriculum. There are many ways that this knowledge is achieved, including observation of children in whole group discussions, group/partner work, and independent work; conferencing with them 1 on 1; and performing normed academic assessments. When you meet with your child’s teacher(s) next week during your conference, there’s a good chance you’ll hear about some of these observations, conversations, and assessments. I want to provide some background regarding the formal academic assessments we use throughout the Lower School that help to track each individual’s academic progress.
Overview of Assessment Practices
At Brookwood, most of our assessments take place three times during the school year: in the fall (Sept/Oct), winter (Jan/Feb), and spring (May). Performing consistent assessments several times provides data on how students progress throughout the year. This data then drives our instruction: students who fall below the benchmarks might be placed in a small group to focus on the specific skills they need. Students who far exceed grade-level benchmarks might be given opportunities to extend more deeply within the grade-level curriculum.
We use a battery of formal, normed assessments whenever possible. “Normed” means that research has been done to determine predicted performance across a very large number of children from a wide variety of backgrounds. Therefore, we are comparing our students to kids all over the country and not just within our Brookwood perspective. Some assessments are performed in a 1-1 setting, while others can be administered to the whole group at the same time. Administering a formal assessment requires consistency in language to be sure that every participant has the same experience. The directions are scripted, and in some cases the timeframes are pre-determined. Within this formal administration, however, teachers are warm and friendly and students are quite comfortable. Many kids look forward to the 1-1 time with their teacher!
Over MANY years, Lower School teachers have developed a very careful, deliberate philosophy for sharing assessment information with students and parents. You can listen for teachers to indicate that your child fell above the benchmark, met the benchmark, or fell below the benchmark. We have found this more broad description to be more meaningful for parents than specific letters and numbers. The details are used by teachers to guide specific instruction, while the broad understanding of progress is most important for parents. Teachers might also talk about the trajectory of progress– sometimes the pieces come together very quickly and impressive growth happens within a short amount of time, especially when specific interventions are implemented.
Formal assessments are used in addition to informal measures, which again include daily observation and conversation with each student. There is a lot that goes into tracking progress, and the data provided by formal assessments is only a piece of the puzzle.
Here is an overview of the different formal assessments that we use in the Lower School, beginning in Kindergarten:
Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS)
The DIBELS assessment breaks down the foundational skills within literacy learning including letter recognition, sound-symbol correspondence, word decoding and identification, and oral reading fluency. Subtests are timed and administered 1-1, and they change across different grade levels.
Fountas & Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System
An F&P assessment can be done many times during the year. It is a very authentic reading experience. The child reads a book aloud while teachers track oral reading fluency (rate, accuracy, and expression). They engage in a conversation about the book that requires students to draw specific details mentioned in the text and also to go beyond the text to make inferences and connections. Finally, the child is given a prompt and writes a response. While this assessment is untimed, efficiency is noted.
We use the spelling inventory within the Words Their Way curriculum for spelling and vocabulary development. This assessment is administered to the whole group, and involves a list of 26 words. Teachers are able to analyze each child’s mastery of isolated spelling patterns, for example short vowels or common endings. A student’s representation of the words places them into predictable spelling stages, moving across within word patterns to much more complex morphology.
The Acadience Math assessment has many different subtests, which change as students move to each new grade level. It covers number sense, computation, and problem solving skills. The timed element of this assessment also brings efficiency to light. Students are tasked with not only number identification and manipulation, but also applying and understanding a variety of mathematical concepts.
New this spring: ERB
Later this spring, our students in grades 2-4 will participate in the math subtests within the ERB Comprehensives. (Upper School students will use more of the subtests.) The assessments will take place in whole or small groups, and will involve individual iPads. Teachers will be trained in administering the assessment and analyzing the data later this month.