Purdy teachers find value in new assessment tools

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Renaissance Learning programs provide instant feedback

Purdy school continue to use more innovative programs to support and extend student learning.

Mindi Gates, instructional coach, said the new tools from Renaissance Learning have proven effective in the classroom.

For several years, Purdy has used STAR 360, which provides programs for reading and literacy for kindergarten through second grade, and a math program for students from first grade through high school. This year, Gates introduced STAR Custom, which allows teachers at every grade level to build assessments that target classroom instruction. In their response to intervention periods, teachers can custom shape evaluations to measure student learning and the beginning, middle and end of instruction.

"STAR Custom came on our radar early last year," Gates said. "The pieces became available to us. As a long-term customer, they let us look at the new components. Renaissance Learning hosts a lot of professional development activities. We attended local workshops on more information."

Unlike traditional tests that make take several days to grade and return, the computer-based assessments provide instant feedback. STAR Custom focuses on formative assessments, building snapshots of student learning. The views provide a forecast of what to expect at the end of study units, at mid-year and at year-end universal assessments.

"Within minutes, teachers and students can confer," Gates said. "Sometimes, students do all the grading by themselves. It's been really helpful. A teacher knows what to do and where to go the next day. It works with individuals, small groups and whole groups."

The program has specific questions prepared for English language, math and science studies. Most of the prepared material targets elementary and early middle school students. Faculty members are uploading as many as 200 items a day to expand the program's application.

"The questions in STAR Custom are more rigorous than what teachers were doing on their own," Gates said. "It has more student application than just recall. Even PE teachers can assess performance. There are pre- and post-tests. We're seeing it used at all levels."

The item analysis will assess how students handle a battery of questions. If, for example, a student does well on all the questions but one, the program will identify that shortcoming, enabling the teacher to question the wording and the instruction on that point.

Outside of the regular classroom, teachers can use available time to target areas identified through the assessments.

During Late Start Mondays, Gates said middle school and high school students are able to come to teachers and ask for assistance on assignments and projects.

"We've always had something for assessment," Gates said. "This gives us more. It's opened the door to other content areas."

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