Potential is a terrible thing to waste. Due to a lack of reliable data about individual students’ skills and progress, schools can miss golden opportunities to help struggling readers succeed or inspire advanced learners to do even more. However, ensuring accurate performance assessments can be challenging, particularly with variations in testing standards across states and from one year to the next.
Sherrilynn Bair, curriculum director for the Snake River School District in Blackfoot, Idaho, says Renaissance® solutions have helped fill the information gap at the district’s six schools. “The Renaissance Star 360® suite provides the granular, consistent data teachers need to set realistic goals that honor every student’s unique level of knowledge and ability. Using Star data in conjunction with Renaissance learning tools, we’re steadily improving proficiency levels across the district. More importantly, we’re able to focus on growth, targeting resources to help each student experience success and be encouraged to perform to their potential.”
The challenge: Accurate assessment
Bair emphasizes that Idaho students have great potential for success. However, state rankings have not always reflected that capacity for achievement. Historically, the state has not scored well on indicator measurements, from funding levels for education to early education, academic testing, and go-on rates.
“To address the problem,” Bair states, “we needed an affordable, nationally normed screening system that would give teachers more detailed insight. At the time, educators had to rely on a mixed bag of achievement data garnered from back-of-the-book tests, teacher-developed assessments, and a changing portfolio of state accountability tests. We also lacked national information—we could only compare performance data against other schools in our district and other Idaho schools.
Bair says a turning point came when the district implemented the Star assessment solution, which it purchased with Title 1 funding and funds set aside by the state legislature for literacy programs. “Using Star data to inform instruction, we’re now able to set achievable goals, challenge Snake River students to perform on par with their peers, and ultimately ensure that Idaho students enjoy the same academic opportunities they’d have at top-ranked schools across the country.”
The results: Improving scores, valid data, and continuous growth
Today, all Snake River schools use Star 360 and the Renaissance Accelerated Math® program. Grades 2 through 8 also utilize the Renaissance Accelerated Reader 360® program. Schools use these Renaissance assessment and learning tools to determine students’ skill levels, assign students to appropriate programs and intervention groups, assist with planning via suggested skills and standards correlation, and track progress against goals.
Overall, Bair estimates that the district has achieved a 15 percent increase in proficiency rates since the implementation of Star 360. Schools report continuing, notable improvements in Star scores, and they are setting increasingly aggressive yearly improvement goals. During the most recent school year, one elementary school had met its goals for the entire school year by the winter benchmark. Teachers indicate that they take full advantage of Star data to “reflect, adjust, and move forward in doing what’s best for students.”
Bair affirms that the “true north” assessments and granular data provided by Star 360 give educators a consistent, detailed means to measure growth and set goals for progress. “Over the past several years, our district has transitioned from the Idaho Standards Achievement Tests (ISAT) to a Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) online exam, changed SBAC test-grading vendors, and switched from recommending that students take the ACT college admissions test to recommending and paying for the alternative Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). And now there’s a move afoot to revert back to the ACT test. The one constant during all this change has been our Star assessments. It’s the only assessment tool that enables critical year-to-year comparisons and accurate measurement against academic-peer growth.”
Fresh opportunities to grow
All Star 360 solutions—including Star Early Literacy and Star Custom tools—are available throughout the Snake River School District, giving educators maximum flexibility to schedule assessments or apply learning resources for unique opportunities. Bair continues, “Other assessment tools apply grade-based caps—for example, we can’t give a kindergarten student the first-grade Idaho Reading Indicator (IRI) assessment. In contrast, Star tools let teachers exercise their own judgement to, for example, give an early Star Reading assessment to a probable reader. The teacher can more quickly collect meaningful skills data to appropriately challenge the student and provide opportunities to accelerate development.”
Star Custom allows Snake River educators to pinpoint students’ mastery of individual standards and assess specific skills. For example, teachers use the tool to create short assessments to evaluate students based on just one or two standards. With the Star results, the teacher can then use Renaissance instructional resources targeted to those standards to help a student or a group of students work on that foundational skill. “Teachers really appreciate the ability to develop short quizzes that students can typically complete in just 10 or 15 minutes,” adds Bair. “It’s a very effective method for monitoring progress on the specific standards where a student might be struggling—as well as ensuring that no one gets left behind as the class moves on to the next skill level.”
No untapped potential
Bair believes encouragement and motivation play critical roles in student growth across the spectrum of abilities. “While achievement at grade level is an important goal, growth is perhaps the more crucial objective. We need to serve all of our students, from struggling readers requiring extra help to top-end performers who thrive on challenges. Using Star data, teachers can more accurately assess each student’s particular skills and progress, applying resources so that no one gets overly discouraged or bored.”
Epiphanies and defining moments
In summarizing the district’s experience with Renaissance solutions, Bair offers some valuable observations:
- Particularly during their first year of using Star Assessments, teachers were occasionally perplexed to find discrepancies between assessment data and their classroom observations, such as a high schooler who got all As but could not actually read at grade level, and a failing student who turned out to be highly proficient in math and reading. In every case, the Star data helped drive deeper, more meaningful discussions about causes, remedies, and results. The more teachers used the Star data, the more they trusted its validity.
- It’s not just about achievement; it’s about achievement and growth. Star data helps shift the focus to mastery-based learning, a strategy that not only ensures better skill development but also more effectively encourages—and ultimately motivates—students and their parents by concentrating on progress.
- It’s more about learning than teaching.
- Good data galvanizes growth.
- Legislators and other influencers respond more generously to positive results.