Southwest to begin using STAR assessments

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

District aims to better track student progress in reading, math, literacy

The Southwest school district recently approved for the 2016-2017 school year the selection of STAR assessments, a group of reading, math and early literacy student assessments to track student learning for grades kindergarten through 12, and the Accelerated Reader 360 reading program for grades kindergarten through fourth grade.

The assessment program will replace the district's previously-used programs, Discovery and SRI.

"In the elementary, the STAR reading program will be used to place students appropriately in the Accelerated Reader program," said Kara Hendrix, curriculum director. "The Accelerated Reader program will be replacing our current Reading Counts program."

STAR assessments are used to determine a student's level of reading, math and literacy achievement. Based on scores, students may be placed into Accelerated Reader and math programs. Each program tracks progress in key areas. For instance, STAR reading tracks development in five areas, including word knowledge and skills, comprehension strategies and constructing meaning, analyzing literacy text, understanding author's craft and analyzing argument and evaluating text.

"Benchmark assessments are like tests students take at different times throughout the year to check on their level of understanding of the different curricula areas," said Bob Walker, Southwest superintendent. "Results will help staff members identify weak areas and thus know what to focus on for improved student performance. These programs are used to complement the other assessments that teachers use such as quizzes and chapter tests."

Kara Hendrix, Southwest curriculum director, said the program greatly benefits teachers because it gives them the information they need to make informed decisions about differentiating instruction so they can best meet students' needs and adapt the curriculum as needed.

"The STAR assessment is a benchmark assessment tool, which is given three to four times a year," Hendrix said. "The data it generates will be used to determine where students are academically in relation to the assessed grade-level Missouri Learning Standards, to determine student academic growth and to guide instruction. Furthermore, the final assessment will be used as a predictor for students' MAP and EOC scores."

The Accelerated Reader 360 program is a component of the assessment that focuses on reading improvement, and provides another tool for teachers to help students learn.

"Its software provides multiple tools for teachers to utilize in the different areas of reading instruction, as well as materials that can be used in other subjects," Hendrix said.

Some examples of those tools include a wide variety of non-fiction articles, reading activities and lesson plan activities.

Other local school districts also use the program, and say it has proven to be money well spent.

"We have been using them for several years," said Jill LeCompte, assistant superintendent for the Cassville School District. "I know that many of our local schools use the STAR program. We looked at data on assessments, and [supposedly], STAR is one of the most reliable and economical assessments out there right now."

The cost to the district for both programs during its initial year will be $23,262.90.

"Since our kindergarten through fourth grade site is designated as a Title 1 school-wide program, we will use federal funds to pay for $10,137.90 of the overall cost," Walker said. "All schools are eligible for Title I funds if their characteristics reflect high percentages of students from low-income families. Allocations are based on census and poverty information, as well as education costs from state to state."

Hendrix said that, come assessment time, parents are informed so they can help their child do their best.

"They are asked to participate by ensuring students are well-rested and have had a good breakfast before testing," Hendrix said.

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