The first few weeks of a new school year are full of possibilities. Beneath the excitement of a new school year is always an undercurrent of uncertainty for both teachers and students.
Students who were lagging behind at the end of the previous school year or who did not engage in activities to halt summer learning loss may be anxious that they will fall even further behind. Teachers share this concern, especially as they work to design lessons that will engage all of their students.
One key piece of this design is assessing where students are academically, and these assessments must happen early in the school year. By administering a well-planned assessment at the beginning of the year, teachers can get a snapshot of what skills their students have and what areas they need to review. This information can then be used to drive instruction and identify intervention strategies.
One of the most important things an assessment does is identify gaps in student learning. If you know what skills or concepts your students are struggling with, you can target your instruction to help them close those gaps, especially important at the beginning of the year when there’s more ground to cover and less time to do it.
Identifying Areas of Need
A variety of assessments are available. No matter what type of assessment is used, beginning of the year assessments are an important part of helping students succeed. They provide valuable information for both teachers and students. They also share the same goal: to get a better understanding of where students are at academically and how best to support them.
Standardized assessments are common. Designed by experts, they are appropriate for students at specific grade levels and aligned with state academic standards. As a result, the results of a standardized assessment can be compared across classrooms, schools and even states. Standardized assessments also make it easier to interpret student scores since they have been normed.
As all educators know, student learning is a continuous process that ebbs and flows throughout the year. While some students may excel early on and need less support, others may struggle at the beginning of the year and need more targeted intervention. That’s where beginning of the year assessments come in.
Early assessments provide teachers with data that can be used to inform instruction. With the information from early assessments in hand, you can adjust your instruction accordingly and put intervention strategies in place to help those who are struggling. Data gives teachers the information needed to meet students where they are. Once teachers have identified areas of need, they can create a plan for addressing them. This plan should include both instructional and intervention strategies.
Teachers have a choice of numerous instructional strategies. Two that work well together are differentiation and scaffolding.
- Differentiation. Differentiation, when the teacher adapts the material to meet the needs of each individual student, could involve providing different versions of assignments, using different materials, or giving students different levels of support. Differentiation ensures that all students have a chance to succeed, regardless of their background or abilities. As cited in this study, C.A. Tomlinson “maintains that differentiation is not just an instructional strategy, nor is it a recipe for teaching, rather it is an innovative way of thinking about teaching and learning.”
- Scaffolding. Scaffolding is a technique where the teacher breaks down a task into smaller, more manageable pieces. This can help students feel less overwhelmed and more capable of completing the task. It’s also a great way to provide support without taking over the entire task. As explained by Keith S. Taber, “For something to count as scaffolding it has to relate to a task prescribed in relation to a specific learning goal that a learner is not yet able to succeed in unaided, where the scaffolding has been designed specifically to bridge the task demand in the light of the learners’ current level, and where it actually allows the learner to be more successful than would have been possible otherwise.”
Identifying Intervention Strategies
Like instructional strategies, numerous intervention strategies are being used in schools. Two effective research-based interventions are remedial learning and tutoring.
- Remedial learning. According to EducationWeek 72% of schools use remedial learning: going back to past years’ content to review key concepts and ideas. One study on remediation showed “a significant impact on the academic performance of pupils.”
- Tutoring. According to Hanover Research, “A district- or school-wide high-dosage, one-on-one tutoring program is one of the most cost efficient ways to improve academic performance and learning recovery. Of all educational interventions, one-on-one tutoring multiple times weekly for students struggling in reading and math shows the largest educational performance improvement effect sizes.” One concern for most districts is cost. However, funds from COVID-19 relief bills have provided schools with much-needed monies to pay for interventions. In addition, programs like Skooli provide flexible, equitable on-demand tutoring at an affordable, per-student rate, which grants students unlimited 24/7 access for an entire year (365 days).
Once a plan is developed, whether it focuses on instructional strategies or intervention strategies or a combination of the two, it’s time to implement that plan. This may require some changes in teaching methods and classroom culture.
Teachers must take the time to make sure students understand what is expected of them. As teachers get to know their students and see progress from these strategies, they can then adapt or change the plan as needed.