By Ryan Hetchler, Subject Matter Expert – Curriculum and Instruction at GoGuardian
As state assessment results roll in across the nation this summer and fall, they are confirming what any educator in America already knows — student learning has been impacted in dramatic ways over the last three years. The good news: Recent studies indicate1 there may be encouraging signs students are beginning to halt the “COVID-19 slide.” So how do we continue on this path, towards one where every student can thrive?
The reality is that it will take years to return to pre-pandemic achievement levels, and not all students are showing signs of rebounding. Many are still struggling to regain momentum and it is the most at-risk students who have fallen furthest behind2. Without a doubt, there are dramatic challenges ahead — but by looking at what we have available to help us on this journey, we can see a path forward that will help students thrive.
What is the path forward?
When we talk about the percentage declines in reading and math, we are beginning to make the right diagnosis and understand the extent of the damage — but diagnosis is not the same as recovery.
Luckily, there are organizations that have focused on charting a path forward. Research from TNTP3 and others indicates the best path forward for learning recovery is through learning acceleration. Acceleration is the idea that student learning should be focused on accessing grade-level standards and work, regardless of current gaps or ability level. This is in contrast to remediation, which focuses on going back and teaching all the skills and concepts missing from previous grades. A focus on acceleration provides scaffolding and “just in time” support to allow students to attain grade-level mastery of the standards.
TNTP outlines five guiding principles for acceleration:
- Prioritize the most critical prerequisite skills and knowledge for each subject area and grade level now.
- Plan your approach to diagnosing students’ unfinished learning in that prerequisite content knowledge and those prerequisite skills.
- Adapt your scope and sequence/pacing guidance for each subject area and grade level to reflect where teachers might need to provide acceleration support.
- Train your teachers and leaders to diagnose students’ unfinished learning and provide acceleration support.
- Monitor your students’ progress on grade-appropriate assignments and adjust your supports for teachers and leaders based on student results.
Using a medical analogy, learning acceleration is the treatment plan for learning recovery. As educators know, it can be difficult to prioritize grade level content, diagnose gaps, monitor progress, and differentiate support — even during optimal learning conditions. This is where teachers can utilize already existing tools to make learning acceleration more attainable.
Assessment as a learning acceleration road map
Educators are already familiar with the role of assessment in schools. It’s a complex topic and one that can spark endless debate. How many times a year should students test? Formative or summative? Growth or mastery?
Too often, the debate focuses on the process rather than the outcome. When it comes to learning recovery, we don’t need more data to tell us students are behind — we need better data to move students forward.
This starts with diagnosing what students know and what they need to know, relative to the content a teacher is about to present. Many diagnostic assessments are unnecessarily long. It’s critical to design diagnostics that focus on priority standards and learning goals for grade-level mastery. Educators can use this information to adjust their pacing by targeting key content from previous grade levels, eliminating content students have already mastered, and revising unit plans accordingly.
The next step is a routinized cycle of teaching and ongoing assessment of the standards and content being taught. A study by Wiliam and Black shows classroom formatives can be the most effective assessments when it comes to improving student outcomes4. Unfortunately, classroom and curriculum level assessments often aren’t approached with the same level of structure and resources that large-scale summative assessments and benchmarks receive. Formative assessment can and should be intentionally planned and sequenced over time. When planning for learning recovery, this is a critical piece of the puzzle.
Regular assessment with high-quality, standards-aligned content is key to monitoring student progress on grade-level work. Weekly or biweekly assessments of just a few questions can provide valuable feedback to teachers on student mastery. That data should be analyzed and acted on with the same or even greater urgency than we give large-scale interim assessments or summatives. It’s critical to catch misunderstandings and reteach concepts closer to the original point of delivery. Waiting months for data on standards mastery is a recipe for leaving students behind. When teachers are routinely assessing and adjusting instruction, students are able to quickly make progress towards grade level proficiency.
Assessment made easy
One of the largest barriers to implementing a quality system of regular classroom assessment is the time commitment involved. Finding aligned content, organizing assessments, scoring items, and crunching the data is a significant investment — one educators don’t always have the time and resources to make. That’s where a quality, easy-to-use assessment tool like Edulastic comes into play. With thousands of standard aligned items, easy test creation, and powerful analytics, teachers can implement frequent assessments with ease. Also, student-centered features like redirect and playlists allow assessment to be used for learning instead of just for evaluation of learning. Edulastic allows educators to devote their time and energy to planning and adjusting their instruction and charts a path for learning recovery.
With the right tools and a regular cycle of teaching, assessment, and adjusting instruction based on data, educators have the ability to accelerate learning. The challenges in front of students and educators are significant this year, but learning recovery is attainable. With careful planning, we can assure we aren’t just stopping the “COVID slide,” but giving all students the opportunity to thrive.
4Black PJ and Wiliam D (1998b), Inside the Black Box https://kappanonline.org/inside-the-black-box-raising-standards-through-classroom-assessment/
About the Author
Ryan Hetchler is an experienced teacher, school administrator, and district leader in private and public K-12 schools. He is the Subject Matter Expert – Curriculum and Instruction at GoGuardian where he focuses on empowering educators to drive student outcomes through quality instruction, equitable engagement and actionable assessment. Ryan previously served as the Chief Academic Officer for a high performing Wisconsin district. As CAO, he was responsible for comprehensive instructional strategy including curriculum, systems of assessment, priority setting and professional development. Ryan is a former Teach for America corps member and holds a Masters in Educational Policy and Leadership from Marquette University.