By Erin Rains, Bradley County Schools
Why am I giving this test? How can it be useful to me? For me, these questions, and the resulting answers, are integral to the process of evaluating an instructional tool or activity. I must have purpose in order to determine action. Most recently I posed these questions regarding the use of the new TNReady score reports to help plan instruction.
TNReady is, like any assessment, a snapshot of what students have learned. It is a checkpoint, and I treat it as such. Evaluate the results, learn the lesson it has to convey, and use the information to grow and improve.
TNReady helps me ensure my students are receiving what they need to understand in order to have an equal opportunity to succeed on a state, national, or global level. My job as a teacher is to give my students the best foundation possible to help them achieve their goals. It would be easy to teach what I love most about language arts and forget about the rest, but that would be a disservice to my students. TNReady helps keep me on track in my curricular focus by providing multiple user-friendly reports I can utilize to target areas of instruction to strengthen as well as areas where I am equipped to offer support to peers.
School Standards Analysis Summary Reports and Class Roster Reports
Both the school-level standards analysis summary reports and class roster reports (example here) foster collaboration in my department. In January, our grade-level teams used the school-level standards analysis summary reports to look at the achievement results related to each standard and began the process of determining where we might have curriculum gaps and/or pacing issues. My team has continued this work utilizing our score reports from the 2016-2017 assessment administration. These reports are used to strengthen our vertical planning. At this meeting, each teacher also shares her class roster report with the next grade level where these reports provide actionable information about incoming students. These rosters serve as a tool for instructional design before that cohort of students even enters the classroom. Using these reports ahead of time protects the precious instructional time we have with our students, as we don’t need to devote class time to administering a separate diagnostic tool. Being transparent with our “numbers” among colleagues may seem intimidating at first, but data-sharing is an important first step to full-scale collaboration within departments. It is only when we are honest about where we are as teachers that we can receive the support we need to be nurtured and ultimately grow in our profession.
Class-level Standards Analysis Summary Reports
For my personal instruction, I analyze my class-level Standards Analysis Summary Report (example here), which shows how my own students performed on each standard. These reports allow me to pinpoint areas of my instruction that need refinement. Once I identify a weak area, I look at what I am already doing to address the particular standard and then decide whether the work needs to be supplemented, scaffolded, or replaced. For instance, the reports from 2015-2016 revealed that those students didn’t perform well when asked how details help develop a text’s main idea. Before I even began the following semester, I was able to look closely at my practice and gear several more activities toward meeting this standard. My 2016-2017 reports reflected positive results in that area of our standards. If I had discovered that little improvement was made, my next steps would have been (and may still be…there’s always room for refinement!) peer discussions or seeking advice from my school’s instructional coach.
Attitude is Everything
It’s also important to remember that teacher attitude influences the classroom environment. I once overheard one of my students say, “Oh, man. Mrs. Rains is so stressed, and I can’t deal.” She looked to me to set the tone and help her keep her cool under pressure. Try to focus on the small victories that can be gleaned from the information; avoid making it a high-pressure situation for students and yourself. Grounding conversations in the data from reports and focusing on data to inform growth takes away the high-stakes stress and frustration. The more I can emphasize TNReady’s worth as a tool for teachers, as well as parents and students, the better!
Erin Rains has been teaching English language arts at Walker Valley High School in the Bradley County school system since 2004. Erin is a graduate of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She is also a 2016-2017 alumna of the SCORE Tennessee Educator Fellowship. You can follow Erin on Twitter @erains1.