Scanning System Lets Clearview Teachers Deliver Focused Instruction

Parents at Clearview Elementary no longer worry about unpleasant surprises when they open their children's report cards. That's because the St. Cloud, Minn. school updates them on students' level of mastery at the end of every learning unit. What's more, the school also sends a letter to each parent at the beginning of every unit explaining their child's current level of understanding of the subject, what the child will be learning and what the parent can do to help the child master the subject. Focused instruction is provided to meet each student's learning needs. This level of individualized instruction was not available four years ago at Clearview. An instructional management system from National Computer Systems (NCS), of Edina, Minn., makes it all possible today. The NCS system includes Abacus software for assessing student needs and prescribing instruction and an OpScan scanner for entry of student test results. It lets teachers instantly gather information from each student's work, evaluate his or her level of understanding and establish an individual learning plan. The Best on the Market Dr. Sandra Darling, Clearview's principal, says she looked at many different products and the NCS system was the only thing that fit the school's needs. "You can't deliver personalized learning programs without this kind of instructional management software and data-collection tool." With ABACUS, teachers can quickly construct multiple-choice or true/false tests and associated answer keys on their PC. Items are hand-picked or randomly selected from test item banks, then formatted using Microsoft Word. The OpScan 5 OMR desktop scanner automates data entry, processing at a speed of nearly one sheet per second. It discriminates between intended and invalid marks, such as smudges and incomplete erasures, to ensure data integrity. Clearview arranges the school year around learning units that typically last two to six weeks, depending on the age of the student. Each unit focuses on a particular theme, such as statistics or the rainforest. "You can't deliver personalized learning programs without this kind of instructional management software and data-collection tool." At the beginning of the unit, teachers use the Abacus database to assess students' existing knowledge and then group kids according to their instructional needs. The OpScan scanner enables teachers and administrators to scan pre-tests of an entire team of 150 to 200 students in 10-15 minutes. Abacus then updates learning plans based on the results. "Every child in this building has a personalized learning plan," Darling says. "We know what tools teachers need to teach these goals; our coursework is linked to that." Eliminates Redundant Learning The NCS system also saves time by eliminating redundant learning. Students whose pre-tests show they've already mastered a subject are placed in a group that provides enriched or accelerated lessons. This reduces the possibility of students spending their time studying something they already know. The NCS system has also helped Clearview implement a standards-based curriculum. Minnesota, for example, has introduced a new basic skills test that students must pass to receive a high school diploma. The standard, which takes full effect for the class of 2005, has sent many districts across the state scrambling. When close to 60,000 Minnesota eighth graders took inaugural math and reading tests last spring, less-than-satisfactory results proved one thing: schools must find ways to successfully help students master the basics. Achieving National Standards When used together, ABACUS software and the OpScan OMR offer schools a solution for achieving their state and national testing goals. Management tools let one monitor each student's progress in relation to performance objectives, diagnose problem areas and prescribe appropriate instruction. Along these lines, Clearview has correlated its curriculum with both national standards and benchmark standards for Minnesota. Darling believes that other schools across the country can similarly apply the NCS products to improve their delivery of targeted instruction.

This article originally appeared in the 11/01/1996 issue of THE Journal.