As states grapple with the challenges of safely reopening our economy, district superintendents across the country are wrestling with what may be the hardest decision of their careers: How to safely open school in the fall. Districts are beginning to announce their plans, and families are facing the hard reality that school will not likely return to a normal schedule.
With many districts planning for as few as one or two in-person days per week, time will be our scarcest resource. Teachers are going to have to make difficult decisions about what to teach and what not to teach. They will need guidance on how to address last year’s missed opportunities to learn while focusing on next year’s grade-level work.
To do that well, they are going to need good data.
Better information on learning can help educators make choices about how to target additional supports for missed instruction “just in time” rather than “just in case.” Getting this right is critical. If our schools simply spend the first third of next year going over past missed instruction, we will be setting back a generation of students, many of whom will never have the opportunity to catch up. Research shows that traditional remediation strategies do not work; they trap students in a watered-down, off-grade curriculum that progressively leaves them farther and farther behind. Students of color, lower-income students, and English-language learners are more likely to be taught off-grade content, further expanding achievement gaps.
TNTP’s recently released Learning Acceleration Guide supports this view. “The typical approach to remediation—providing work better suited for earlier grades—won’t come close to catching students up and will likely compound the problem,” the report said, adding that “doubling down on [typical remediation] strategies for catching students up will only widen opportunity and achievement gaps.”
Similar reports from the Alliance for Excellence in Education, the Achievement Network, and The Evidence Project call for districts to use a short, beginning-of-year assessment that focuses on critical precursor skills from prior grades to help teachers make the best use of limited time if classroom hours are reduced. “Some of the most important professional development districts could provide this fall would be to help teachers translate assessment data into specific classroom moves, or find ways to integrate the review of unfinished learning into grade-level content.” (The Evidence Project)
The team at New Meridian is mission committed to provide educators with the tools they will need to meet the demands of this extraordinary moment in students’ lives. As a result, we are launching our Start Strong Assessment that will be available for administration in August.
Identifying Student Needs So Educators Can Make the Most of Limited Time
Start Strong is a beginning-of-year English language arts and mathematics assessment for grades 3 to 8 based on the critical learning standards. It can be delivered in a single class period—or at home, if necessary—and is machine-scorable to provide real-time feedback.
We’ve designed Start Strong with one end in mind: to help schools make the most of limited instructional time and accelerate student learning. We do that by aggregating student-level diagnostic data so that district- and school-level administrators can plan and target resources to students who are most in need. Our standards-level reporting also helps curriculum directors and teaching teams identify where in next year’s scope and sequence students will need additional scaffolding and support due to missed opportunities to learn last year.
For example, if Start Strong shows students in a seventh-grade math class had insufficient instruction and practice with ratios and proportions in sixth grade, teaching teams can plan how to scaffold students’ engagement with those concepts with additional support when teaching those concepts next year. Providing that just-in-time support in the context of on-grade instruction will be critical to keeping students on track.
To reinforce the importance of offering a rich, engaging curriculum to all students next year, Start Strong includes the same types of questions we use to measure the complex thinking called for by today’s academic learning standards. This includes text-based questions in ELA that engage students deeply in close reading of content-rich texts and asking students to demonstrate their solution strategies in mathematics.
It All Starts with a Strong Beginning
We are most certainly facing an extraordinarily challenging school year ahead. While managing all the complexities of hybrid learning, and supporting students who have experienced loss and trauma, teachers are going to have to differentiate and scaffold instruction to a degree previously unseen.
We have faith and confidence in their commitment to students and their ability to adjust teaching. Teachers are, of course, the best diagnosticians, using daily sources of information such as exit tickets, student work, and student discussions to make nuanced instructional choices. We want to help them know where to start so they are better prepared to bring students into rich, on-grade level instruction next year.
Our students and families are counting on it.