Texas District Uses Web-Based Assessment Solutions To Target Instruction

Texas District Uses Web-Based Assessment Solutions To Target Instruction

Standards-based formative assessment and computer-adaptive diagnostic testing provide educators with data to address student needs

Monitoring student progress is key to helping students prepare for high stakes tests. In Channelview Independent School District (ISD), we used to make copies of released Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) tests and hand them out to be administered every six to nine weeks. Since the TAKS is now released every other year, however, it made it difficult to get good, valid, reliable tests to regularly measure student progress.

We needed a platform to easily deploy benchmark testing in grades three through 12 in math, reading, science and social studies. In 2005/2006, our district began using Scantron Achievement Series, a Web-based assessment platform, to develop and administer district benchmark tests both online and on paper, capture results, and produce reports.

Today, with standards-based formative assessment—and the addition of computer-adaptive diagnostic testing—we're providing administrators and teachers with the assessment data they need to target instruction for students district-wide, including those participating in English as a Second Language (ESL) and alternative education programs.

Preparing for state tests with benchmark testing

Channelview ISD is located in Channelview, Texas, an unincorporated area on the Houston Ship Channel approximately 15 miles east of downtown Houston. Our district enrolls approximately 8,000 students across 11 campuses.

Rather than wait for the next version of our state test to be released, we now use AchievementSeries' content neutral testing platform to create our own item banks that are correlated to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) and cross-referenced to the TAKS.

Our district has a primary-level, an elementary-level, and a secondary-level curriculum specialist. They go out to our campuses and ask, "What objectives do you want to see on the next benchmark test?" Then they create the benchmark tests and distribute them to the campuses.

Using the testing platform's online or paper-based options, we can mix and match test delivery methods. At our elementary and middle schools, each campus decides how it would like to deliver the tests. At the high school level, each department head decides.

The benchmark tests are usually delivered every six weeks in math, reading, and science, and every nine weeks in social studies. The Web-based assessment solution makes it easy for teachers and administrators to immediately access the timely data they need to measure growth, make decisions and inform instruction. We use the test results to identify the state standards for which remediation is required and guide instruction in preparation for the TAKS.

By using benchmark and "mini mark" tests, we have been able to focus teaching and learning on what the student needs in preparation for our state assessment . Teachers use the data to readjust teaching strategies or the curriculum to address student learning gaps, and administrators use the data to see how our spiraling curriculum is working in the different grade levels and to find out where strengths or weaknesses are.

With hundreds of report formats built into the system, we can view the data by individual student, class, grade, school, district, or subject, among other things. Our teachers and administrators love the item analysis because it gives them data based on our state standards.

In addition, we can easily collaborate on item development by sharing item banks within and outside the district. In Texas, every school district is in same boat. We all have to meet the same standards. As such, it is a huge benefit to be able to share so we're getting best of both worlds by combining our own item banks with those produced by other districts.

Pinpointing students' proficiency levels in ESL and alternative education programs

In 2006/2007 Channelview ISD added Scantron's Performance Series to help teachers address the individual needs of students participating in ESL and alternative education programs. The Web-based computer-adaptive test allows us to quickly pinpoint students' proficiency levels across a range of subjects that correspond with our state standards.

We give the tests to all limited English proficient (LEP) students in grades six through 12 at the beginning of each year, or as they enter school, as a diagnostic assessment to accurately measure learning levels in reading and math, and guide placement in ESL classes. Teachers use this to create an individualized learning plan based on the student's needs.

The system's Suggested Learning Objectives organize skills and concepts, which are aligned to state standards, by ability level. This helps guide instruction by identifying the next steps for the teacher and student. We also use Scantron's Skills Connection Online, a standards-based bank of objectives and corresponding skill-specific study guides, to help teachers fill in gaps in students' knowledge.

We plan to administer the tests again at the end of the year to measure year-long gains and growth for our LEP students.

This school year, we also began using Performance Series in a pilot program at Apollo Discipline School, an alternative education program that students attend for 15 to 45 days before returning to their regular schools. As students enter Apollo, we test every student in grades four through 12 in reading, language arts, math, and life science.

Apollo provides a more structured environment for students with behavioral problems. Many times, students misbehave as a result of low skill levels in most areas. The computer-adaptive test is a perfect fit for this program because it allows teachers to find out exactly what students know and what students need to work on, so they can individualize instruction to meet each student's needs. It helps the teacher build the student's skill base so when students go back to their schools, they will have learned more of what they missed than ever before.

While we are still in the early phases of our pilot program, we have begun to see improvement. We are finding that we don't have as many repeat students at Apollo school, in comparison to last year. When students go back into the classroom, they no longer feel so far behind. They have had the opportunity to experience success and that is helping to change their attitude about school.

Building a long-term solution

When you implement a comprehensive assessment program, it's important to remember that it's not an overnight solution; it's a long-term solution. While it takes time to measure success, you can build on your program every year and it can only get better. When we create or add new item banks, for example, or add diagnostic tools to a program, we know we're expanding opportunities for our students to succeed. Our administrators and teachers love the new programs because they provide the data they need to impact instruction and, ultimately, the success of our students.

Laurie Bauer is principal of Channelview High School in Texas. She can be reached at [email protected]. Channelview's website can be found at http://www.channelview.isd.esc4.net/campussites/chs/chs_district_site1.htm

This article originally appeared in the 02/01/2007 issue of THE Journal.