New student assessment tools target pandemic learning loss

Jun 18, 2023

Wareham Public Schools has taken new steps to identify the needs of students who are struggling with learning loss due to the Covid pandemic, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Andrea Schwamb said at the School Committee meeting on Thursday, June 15.  

Based on new assessment tools from the Northwest Evaluation Association, many Wareham Elementary School students are not meeting expectations for literacy skills. 

The Northwest Evaluation Association is a nonprofit research-based organization that aims to create assessment tools for Pre-K-12.

Its Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) Growth Reading Assessment tests students on foundational skills, including language, writing, literature, information, vocabulary and functions.

In assessments, 42% of kindergarteners, 51% of first graders, 47% of second graders, 43% of third graders, and 48% of fourth graders met or exceeded expectations.

The MAP Growth Reading Assessment is a standards-based assessment that is able to identify and test a higher level of learning in students, said Schwamb.

“A skills-based test is, ‘Do you know this letter?’ ‘Do you know how this letter sounds?’ ‘How fast can you read this sentence?’” She said. 

Standards of language and writing is “identifying vocabulary and how well can you write a word and how well can you write a sentence and if you read this bit of literature, how much information we retain from that literature.”

Though students have previously been tested using the association’s skills-driven assessments, Schwamb said a standards-based assessment will give the district a better understanding of what students need.

Previously, students scored high marks on the association’s skills-driven Oral Reading Fluency Assessment, but Schwamb said that scores on standards-based tests provide a more accurate picture of where students are in their learning. 

Wareham Public Schools will continue to use both types of assessments. 

Schwamb collaborated with district teachers to create a list of standards designed to identify the skills and knowledge a student should possess when they complete a grade. These standards act as a guide for the assessments.

She added that for the most part, the curriculum already aligns with these standards. However, some may need to be adjusted to reach necessary goals.

For example, there was a discussion held on how many high-frequency words kindergarteners should know as they move on to first grade. 

High-frequency words are the words most commonly used in the English language, such as “the” or “and.” Learning this helps students develop the ability to identify the words automatically as they read.

Schwamb said she believed this number should be 150, and teachers believed it should be 50. Therefore, a compromise was made for 100 high frequency words. Kindergarten curricula were then adjusted to align with this goal.

Using the standards and the assessments, Schwamb said she created a calendar to “identify precisely where every student is along their journey in every grade,” as well as where they should be.

She added that this work “gives us a really keen understanding of where every student is at a very important time in their life at school that year and it's been transformational.”

With this information, teachers are able to better articulate a student’s needs to a parent or guardian, which allows them to provide targeted help at home, according to Schwamb.

She added it has also benefited students with IEPs, or individualized education programs. 

“Having this information available helps people to really tighten up their goal statements and be able to say, ‘By this time, as a result of this work, you or your child will be able to do these things,’” said Schwamb.

These assessments also help the district identify students who could benefit from additional learning opportunities over the summer, including school-based programs like BOOST and CARE.

BOOST is a literacy program for grades K-3 and CARE is a program designed to help students who are economically disadvantaged, who are at-risk academically or who have disabilities.

Schwamb said the middle school and high school have their own assessment practices, but also use the association's MAP Growth tool.

She said, “Now, we have a consistent data set that we can use all through up to grade seven and then next year it will go up to grade 10, which is pretty exciting.”