By: Sarah Brown, Ph.D.
Educators know that all students can learn. Yet, even seasoned educators can be surprised by just how different students’ needs can be in order to grow.
In almost every classroom, you’ll find students who are successful and learning at a pace they need to have continued academic success — this is often called making “a year’s worth of growth in a year’s worth of time.” You’ll also encounter students who are on that course, but are growing less than their peers. These students fall into three groups:
- Students performing below expectations who are at-risk for reading or math failure and fail to close the achievement gap
- Students who are on track but don’t grow enough and slip into an at-risk status for reading or math failure
- Students who are high-achieving and fail to make exceptional growth
Historically, we’ve reacted differently to each students’ lack of sufficient growth.
Students Performing Below Expectations
Students who are at-risk for not achieving state standards in reading and math often receive additional service, either in the form of intervention through special education, Title 1 or other local programming. In addition, their teachers often offer differentiated instruction to help them be successful. For these students to achieve grade-level standards, they need to make more than a year’s worth of growth in a year.
These students face barriers to achieving this necessary learning. First, in some schools, students’ intervention services are provided instead of core instruction. In that case, they aren’t really receiving extra instruction. This often doesn’t result in improved growth trajectories as students who are performing below standards typically need more instruction, as opposed to only instruction on their skill gaps. If a school infrastructure doesn’t support the delivery of intensive intervention, it will be challenging for students to make the amount of growth needed to close their skill gaps.
Additionally, many educators don’t have a lot of experience working with students who started behind and then became proficient in reading or math. Therefore, complacency can set in and teachers may start accepting lower rates of improvement for students who are below standards. In reality though, these students are getting extra resources and time learning: Of course more progress should be expected! It’s essential to these students’ success that educators have high expectations for their learning and push themselves to support the students to make accelerated academic growth.
Students Who are On Track
Most schools often don’t realize that they have a group of students who start the year on track but don’t make a year’s worth of progress in a year’s time. These students are often missed until their skill gaps are noticeable in the classroom after one or more years of little growth.
To combat this, universal screening is essential. The data allow each student to be evaluated to make sure that those who start the year on track end the year on track. When students aren’t making strong growth from fall to winter, schools can intervene at that point to ensure that winter to spring growth keeps students on track in their learning outcomes.
Students Who are High-Achieving
Students who are high-achieving are typically not a school’s biggest concern, as they are doing well and continue to learn and be high-performing year after year. However these students have their own struggles. When we examine growth for this group of students, we sometimes see that not all of them make similar growth rates as typically developing students. It is to be expected that when instruction is matched to their needs, students who start the year exceeding expectations will also make a year’s worth of growth over the course of the year.
Using the Formative Assessment System for Teachers (FAST™) to Support Data Analysis About Growth
To measure student growth, it’s important to understand student growth data. The Group Growth Report within FAST can inform educators about student growth to allow time in the school year to change students’ learning trajectories. This report shows how much growth each student is making and provides a prediction about their end-of-year score on FAST screening assessments.
For instance, in the above example, you can see that Mark and Eddie are making aggressive and typical growth respectively. However, though they are making good progress, their starting scores were such that their end-of-year score is still expected to be below benchmark targets. Since Eddie is making aggressive growth and is expected to move from high risk in the fall to some risk in the spring, his team is celebrating his progress.
As another school year begins, we challenge educators to ensure that every student they support makes one year’s growth in one year’s time. How can you start the year planning for their success, and then make a plan to review their progress in winter? The FAST Group Growth Report can support this work.
FAST users can learn more about the Group Growth Report in Knowledge Base articles and videos. Not a user? Request a FAST demo to learn more about using FAST to ensure all students make sufficient growth.