Many of our informative assessments are administered individually. The benefit of these assessments is the opportunity they provide to notice which reading strategies each student uses, what the child comprehends, which texts are a good match, and how the student is progressing on specific learning goals. The downside is the amount of time they take -– and if they take too long, we lose valuable instructional time in the classroom. So how can schools administer individual assessments and minimize the loss of instructional time? Leave it to teachers to find clever ways to make the process of administering these assessments more manageable. Here are some ideas we have seen used in schools.
All Hands on Deck
In this system the entire school faculty (classroom teachers, special educators, reading specialists, paraprofessionals, art/music/PE/media teachers and administrators) work together to complete assessments. The school sets up a schedule so that each grade level has a specific week for administering assessments. Classroom teachers, reading specialists, interventionists, and special educators assess students while the other staff members focus on classroom instruction. Some schools plan assemblies, cultural events or grade-level activities during formal assessment weeks so that all teachers at the grade level can be assessing simultaneously. Once the assessments are completed in one grade level the process is repeated for the next grade-level team.
Some teachers combine their classes during particular times of the day so that one teacher can assess while the other teaches. We have seen teachers combine classes during read alouds, recess, handwriting, science and social studies. Typically, each teacher instructs the combined block for a week while the other teacher assesses. During the following week the teachers switch roles. Combining classes can have benefits beyond efficiency. Teachers get to know all of the students in the grade level rather just their own students. When teachers know all of the students firsthand it is easier to analyze assessments together and share instructional strategies for specific students.
Partner Reading with Varying Grade Levels
Some schools set up a partner or buddy reading system during formal assessment cycles. The partnering classrooms typically read together once a week all year. During assessment cycles, however, partner reading happens daily. While one teacher administers assessments, the other teacher facilitates partner reading. This system has benefits beyond freeing up time to administer assessments. The younger and older students get to know one another quickly and this can help everyone feel more connected to the school community. Students see more familiar faces as they are walking down the hallway, riding the bus, or eating lunch. It also provides older students an opportunity to mentor younger readers by recommending books, talking with them about texts, and sharing their excitement for reading.
Scheduling Assessment Times Throughout the Day
Some teachers don’t administer individual reading assessments only during their literacy block. They look over their entire schedule to identify times when students will be working independently or in small groups. Varying the time we assess each day assures that students are not continually losing instructional time from the same subject area.
Making the Most of the End of the Day Transition
In many classrooms, the last block of time is dedicated to students cleaning up, organizing materials, and getting ready to go home. Some schools use this time to free up classroom teachers to administer assessments. Specialists (special educators, reading specialists, paraprofessionals, art/music/PE/media teachers, and administrators) take over the classroom and dismiss students, while teachers administer assessments to students who might be staying afterschool, taking a late bus, or walking home.
Some schools hire substitutes during formal assessment cycles. The substitutes free up teachers so they can administer assessments. These schools set up a schedule so that each teacher has a half-day or a full-day to administer assessments. Although the teacher may not finish assessing all of his or her students during this time, she or he is able to complete a good chunk so finishing the rest feels more manageable.
Some teachers take advantage of assessing students who participate in before- or after-school programs. Because teachers are already at school, they can use some of this time to assess these readers outside of the school day. Although a teacher can’t assess everyone at these times, she or he can complete a few assessments during these time blocks.
It is amazing the creative energy that happens in schools when faculty members collaboratively problem solve. In Pathways to the Common Core, Lucy Calkins states, “Any school reform effort must be deeply connected to the learning culture of the school, the collaboration of its teachers and school leaders, and also assessment — the true understanding of where our children are in their learning process and of what they need in order to progress.” Finding effective ways to assess students can be an important first step for developing a learning culture and systems of collaboration between all faculty members.