Since March of 2019 and the onslaught of the Coronavirus, educators have found themselves in a uniquely precarious position. Undeniably, during these past two years, teachers and administrators have been met with unparalleled challenges and continue to do so. Perhaps, however, our greatest challenge lies ahead. How will we, as educators, meet the outcry to “catch our students up,” “to accelerate their learning,” and “to get them back on track?” All are valid statements, and ones we truly need to think about before we begin looking at adopting programs and purchasing services.
Anyone who knows me knows that my first question is, “What does your data look like?” The only way to make progressive instructional change is to drill down and truly study what our data is telling us. This is nothing new for educators, but my contention is we need to view our reading data in two different ways, through the analysis of both foundational literacy and comprehension skills.
Foundational skills (phonemic awareness, phonics and fluency) are definitely a prerequisite and the necessary basis for the ultimate goal of deep comprehension. These skills are the bedrock of the Science of Reading and the IDOE’s Early Literacy Plan. They are primarily assessed on the IREAD assessment. According to the IDOE, in regards to the IREAD assessment:
“Of the approximately 81,000 third grade students who took the IREAD-3 assessment in spring 2021 (following the initial pandemic year), 81% passed.”
When first reading this statistic, one might think that 81% during a pandemic is a fairly impressive statistic. However, as educators, our thoughts inevitably move to the other 19% who did not pass. What happened to those students, and what are we going to do about it? As educators, we must also consider the following statement from the IDOE in our reflections:
“Student populations, including students receiving free or reduced lunch, racially and ethnically diverse populations and English learners have consistently performed at least 10 percentage points behind their peers on IREAD-3.”
Once again, what are we doing to help our students progress? What does the research tell us how students of diverse populations learn the best? We, as educators, know not every program works the same for every child.
The next step in the reading process, comprehension (literal, inferential, evaluative) is equally as complex as foundational skills. This skill set requires our students to understand text complexity, take in different types of information, and coordinate their own background knowledge. In addition, readers are required to make sure they understand the words and meanings. This step in reading, comprehension, is evaluated on the ILEARN assessment.
According to the IDOE, in their ILEARN 2019 – Grades 3-9 Final Statewide Summary, “47.9% of the students in Indiana were proficient in ELA and only 40.5% of our students in Indiana were proficient in the ILEARN assessment in 2021.”
This is even more alarming! Once again, as educators, we would be remiss not to ask, “What of the 59.5% that did not pass? What are we doing to help them become comprehenders?”
We need to move on to move forward.
A question we all face in our current classroom climate, and one I have heard countless times as I have visited school systems across the state of Indiana is, “What data do we use and how valid is it?” My contention is that we need to move on to move forward. We can continue to debate if the “high stakes” assessments were reliable or valid, but the bottom line is, our students need all of us, together, to progress. Thus, when looking at data, it is absolutely essential we utilize at least three data points, and one that is crucial in the equation is teacher data. Teachers are and will always be, an important part of the equation. What teachers are assessing and observing, on a daily basis, needs to be taken into account. Those “low stakes,” informal, formative and summative assessments as well as observations, tell us more now than ever before! They need to be part of the equation, along with our statewide assessments. When having data talks or when determining the needs of our students in our building, our teachers need to be a part of the conversation. First examining the state test scores and really drilling down to answer the questions “what” and “why” will help us gain more clarity to then examine our other data sources. Truly looking at all data, and what it is telling us, will help our teachers use their instructional time more effectively for student progression.
Next month, I will be writing about utilizing data to make informed decisions when purchasing programs and/or materials, thus being good consumers for our students…stay tuned!