• Take a customizable approach to power equitable student achievement

    by Published by K-12 Dive

    Illustration of students at laptop computers

    While the 2020-21 school year was a case study in building the airplane while flying it, 2021-22 is shaping up to offer its own challenges. This is because the effects of the pandemic on student achievement have produced a classroom of learners who are less unified than ever. Some excelled in the virtual environment, while others began the year with a larger unfinished learning gap than expected.

    This disparity has led to equity differences among learners in the same cohort, along with difficulty in identifying which interventions are needed on an individual basis. While interim assessments are often used to help identify and shore up learners' needs, this year's exceptional circumstances suggest that a more personalized approach might be necessary. "Educators today need assessments to address the wide variances in student knowledge," said Jeff Hauger, director of Transcend Assessment System. A new type of interim assessment, Transcend, can better allow educators to meet students where they are through its flexible, customized interface that aids in the equitable recovery of unfinished learning.

    Benefits of interim assessments

    Most schools understand the value of interim assessments, but they are particularly important in today's environment; the way districts use them since the pandemic began has changed, Hauger said.

    Previously, most teachers considered them checkpoints to see how students grew throughout the year and as a measure to predict performance on the state summative assessment. "Currently the issue is not whether students are on level to be proficient, but about understanding instructional learning gaps to identify where students would benefit from additional support," Hauger explained. While instructors will still be measuring growth throughout the year, it's vital to identify where students are now to offer them the assistance they need to fill the void and address unfinished learning in specific areas.

    Limitations of conventional assessments

    Not all assessments are created equal, and some existing tools might not adequately address current learning gaps. Transcend, however, offers a number of unique benefits that make it particularly suited to today's instructional realities.

    First, the test is customized to state standards and personalized to the scope and sequence of each district. In the past, districts have noted that assessments aren't aligned to their local curriculum, which means the results wouldn't necessarily paint the picture they need."Transcend has developed an intelligent test blueprint that's aligned to districts' scope and sequence, each of which may be different," Hauger said. "Districts have the opportunity to work with Transcend to ensure the test items are aligned to their instruction and curriculum. "The very nature of the test also supports equitable standards. As an adaptive assessment, it automatically adjusts difficulty levels, which minimizes test anxiety and meets students where they are instructionally.

    Furthermore, the test is tightly aligned to instruction and only includes concepts that students have already learned. Teachers will no longer have to wonder if a student got an answer wrong because they hadn't yet been instructed on it or if it was because they hadn't adequately mastered the subject matter. "Students have the opportunity to show exactly what their skills are, which is important since we know decisions are made based on these assessments," Hauger said. "Transcend meets a need in the market through its design that makes it high touch at scale and ensures reliable, valid and fair results. "Transcend is also designed to be inclusive and accessible to all students, offering accommodations like color contrast, magnification and text-to-speech.

    The importance of timely reporting with actionable insights

    The value of any test lies in its ability to help students get to the next level, and that's where Transcend excels by offering concrete information on where students are in their personal learning journey. "Robust reporting is critical because it's the conduit from the assessment to the teacher to the type of instruction that needs to happen next," Hauger said.

    Dynamic reports allow a district official or educator to make inferences based on different granularities. So, a teacher could look at their entire class or individual students through an item mapping report that shows each question, the standard associated with it, the student's response and the difficulty of the item. With one click, they can view results by different metrics, such as standard or difficulty, to add more complexity to the interpretation.

    These reports allow educators to discern, for example, whether a student understands the concept at the baseline and merely stumbled as questions became increasingly difficult or if they haven't mastered it even at a rudimentary level, given that they missed all the related questions.

    Results are available within 24 hours, so educators can take the learnings and directly apply them to interventions to begin to course correct. "Insights gleaned through Transcend can help uncover student learning gaps," Hauger said.

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  • Learn how personalized video contributes to equity in student and caregiver communication

    by Published by K-12 Dive

    Illustration of a kid riding a bike

    What if your school district had the resources to send a teacher or counselor to personally meet with the family of each student to discuss their academic progress? They'd sit down to review the data, focusing on key takeaways and helping families find additional, targeted resources — all in the family's home language, no less. While that's the dream, it's no secret educators are stretched like never before, which can put this aspirational level of high-touch service outside the realm of possibility.

    Unless technology steps in to help. As educators work tirelessly to quantify and fill learning gaps caused by the pandemic, personalized video can play a key role in promoting equity in communication and advancing learning goals.

    "Increasingly, people are turning to their mobile phones for information, and if we want to reach families who have been traditionally neglected by conventional information sources, we've got to do a better job of using mobile-friendly video," said Michael Fee, co-founder of Pearson’s Spotlight Education. Spotlight is a video tool that fosters communication and engagement between school educators and caregivers, without adding an extra layer of work to teachers’ already brimming plates.

    Here's what schools need to know about using video to personalize communication to support learning goals.

    The power of personalized video in family communication

    While communicating with families and caregivers is a vital part of student success, the most recent Parent and Family Involvement in Education survey found that only 66% of respondents said they had received an email or note specifically about their K-12 student, and only 40% had received aphone call. What's striking is that video, an increasingly common form of communication, wasn't involved in the survey at all.

    Video consumption is on the rise, with 68% of consumers in a recent survey saying the pandemic affected how much video content they watched online, and 96% saying it had increased. For schools, personalized video can be a compelling way to contextualize and personalize data, interpreting it so parents can better understand their child’s progress.

    One of the most notable aspects of the Spotlight platform is that it translates videos into the student's home language to better involve caregivers. The need is great; according to the National Center for Education Statistics, roughly 10% — or 5 million students nationwide — were English-language learners in the fall of 2018, and states including California and Texas had significantly higher percentages at 19.4% and 18.7%, respectively.

    "While caregiver engagement is a fundamental piece of ensuring students' academic progress, we know that parents from different backgrounds access and understand traditional forms of information differently, which might hamper their ability to understand a score report," Fee said.

    "Spotlight is flipping the script on this by providing information in their home language by a native-speaking voice actor so it's very approachable and friendly. We've realized it's incredibly powerful since many families are not used to connecting with someone in their home language."

    The role of personalized video in enhancing the learning experience

    Unlike a static report, a video summary provides contextualizing details to help identify learning gaps and offer tools and support. It delivers what Fee describes as the "what," "the so what" and the "now what."

    A typical video after a state test might give a brief background on the goals of the test; explain the child's score in relation to other students in the state, district and/or school; show a sample problem; and offer a summary of how the student has progressed from the previous year (if that data is available). It concludes by summarizing the concepts where the student was particularly strong and offers suggestions for support that would help them achieve even greater success. The student's name is populated throughout the video.

    While video reporting can boost understanding, it provides another key element that helps build bridges between schools and families: "Video lets us deliver information with a tone and sentiment you can't capture with the written word," Fee said. "So even if the parent receives information that might seem discouraging, we can help them understand why they should still feel confident and arm them with information and resources so they can address issues."

    "That's because the focus is on the insights, he said. "It's not just, 'here's the information,' but instead, it's, 'here's what you should care about,' and then we give the families agency by showing them what they can do with that information to support the student."

    Best practices for effective videos that underscore equity

    Using Spotlight's platform allows schools to take a medium that's comfortable to most families and make it easier for teachers to disseminate. The service can mass-produce hundreds of thousands of unique videos in a day, each specifically targeted to an individual student based on their background and needs.

    "Yes, teachers could sit down and record separate videos and send them to parents, but the time burden would be heavy to be familiar with all the data, and it wouldn't necessarily reach them in their home language," Fee said. "This technology supports teachers by doing the heavy lifting so they can focus on what they're really good at, which is putting that data to work in the classroom."

    As Spotlight was developed, Fee sought parent input to ensure the videos delivered the necessary information in the right way. To make the videos most effective, he recommends districts avoid jargon that challenges those outside the educational community. For example, while "growth" is widely used in education, the term is largely meaningless to many parents.

    He also suggests districts share only the most critical background information and then move on to individualized reporting so parents immediately see the relevance to them. That doesn't mean videos have to be short, however. But they should include personalization elements throughout, to retain caregivers' attention. "It turns out, when you're watching something about your kid, you'll watch all day long," Fee said, adding that 90% of parents who have received videos approved of the duration, which is typically five to seven minutes.

    The videos are most engaging when multiple measures are used to convey the information, such as rich animation, charts and graphs, the native-spoken voice-over, and closed captioning.Providing videos to family members comes with a lot of responsibility, Fee cautioned. "We have to choose our language very carefully to ensure parents come away from these videos feeling encouraged, supported and confident, rather than fearful. We can do that uniquely with this technology."

    To Fee, the use of video just makes sense. "We shouldn't expect parents to jump through hoops to find out how their kids are doing in school or how they did on a test. We should give them the data they need in a format that's engaging and understandable to them."

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  • 4 realizations that will help schools close learning gaps

    by Published by K-12 Dive

    Illustration of virtual instruction on a computer

    As students returned to school this fall, educators grappled with the reality of a disrupted year and its lingering effect on learning. A study from consulting firm McKinsey & Company estimated that K-12 students were an average of five months behind in mathematics and four months behind in reading at the end of last academic year, with vulnerable students experiencing even wider deficits.

    "COVID has exacerbated the situation across the board for students," said Christa Ehmann, vice president of Smarthinking, Pearson’s online tutoring platform. "With such a significant impact on academic achievement, we are seeing a very strong focus on how to catch up learners and improve outcomes for all students.

    "Here are four realizations that will help guide administrators as they aim to bolster student performance.

    Realization 1: Teachers can't do it alone

    The responsibility for filling these gaps can't fall solely on overworked teachers. While they are the best people to identify the particular challenges various student groups face, Ehmann characterizes it as "an almost insurmountable obstacle" for them to address those myriad issues as they work to keep pace with the curriculum and milestones they need to hit.

    That's why school districts should consider supplementary interventions outside the normal school day. One accessible option is online tutoring, which can be viewed as an extension of the classroom by providing a 24/7 human instructional safety net for students, Ehmann said: "When their parents are working and siblings or friends are otherwise occupied, it's important for students to have access to anetwork of additional one-to-one support to get assistance at the moment they need it so they can progress to the next step.

    Realization 2: Families can't always help

    Teachers often rely on caregivers to support their students at home and having a partnership with families is key to learning success. Yet from a tactical perspective, those caregivers frequently deal with their own issues — many work extra hours to put food on the table or are consumed with responsibilities other than helping with homework.

    This lack of availability is just one part of the equation, Ehmann said. Qualification is also an issue. Many parents can help with homework at lower levels, but as students progress, parents often can no longer tackle the increasingly complex math or literacy topics. "It quickly becomes evident that you need someone who is a trained professional educator serving in the role of tutor."

    On a more philosophical level, Ehmann pointed out, the school has a commitment to developing their students into qualified, critically thinking individuals who will ultimately move into the workforce. "Particularly in light of the pandemic, there is an obligation for public schools to extend assistance to support the bigger picture of wanting our kids to be educated and contribute to society in meaningful and valuable ways.

    Realization 3: High-quality tutors can fill the gap

    Not all tutors are similarly equipped, and it's vital to vet a program to ensure it puts the capabilities of the tutor above all else. "Not to minimize the delivery mechanism, but you can have the best technology and marketing out there, but if the tutors are not well-trained educators who care about the students with whom they're working, the service is not going to be beneficial," Ehmann said.

    First, the program should invest in rigorous screening and orientation to ensure tutors are prepared to work with students online. In addition, they should be educators equipped to help students learn, with the ultimate goal of the student being competent enough to operate independently and do the work on their own. "Tutors should be mentors and problem-based helpers who have a fundamental commitment to learning, versus just getting an answer," Ehmann said.

    Training shouldn't stop once the tutors start their job. Ongoing professional development should be a priority for tutoring programs, Ehmann said, along with evaluation and oversight. She's seen many tutors appear to be fantastic upfront but go on to prove unskilled at engaging with students.

    A diverse pool of tutors is also a key criterion because it allows the program to adapt to students who have a wide range of life experiences and learning styles and needs. "Tutors need to identify on an affective level with students, as well as cognitively," Ehmann said. "They should be flexible, with a breadth of experience, understanding and pedagogical approaches." Finally, a program should prioritize security and transparency, Ehmann said. Smarthinking archives every interaction between student and tutor to provide a record for quality control and security, while complying with Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act guidelines and state parameters. It also helps from a learning perspective so students can look back on the notes or share them with their teachers.

    Realization 4: Teachers are a key partner for successful tutoring

    From Smarthinking's inception, Ehmann said, the company prioritized transparency to give teachers assurance in the abilities of the tutors as an extension of their classroom. Besides the transcript of the session that students can share with their teachers, tutors also code every interaction based on the level of engagement and mastery they perceived from the student. For example, they might have no concerns, or they might believe there is still confusion about the concept or even a lack of foundational content knowledge affecting their ability to progress.

    The qualitative assessment is coded in a quantitative fashion and reported immediately back to the institution through a dashboard, which teachers can also use to refer a student who needs extra help. This two-way communication ensures teachers are still maintaining centralized control and oversight.

    That concept of a partnership is most valuable to schools, Ehmann said. "From an equity perspective, fast, flexible online tutoring is a way to make learning accessible as another tool in a large tool kit of interventions that schools are employing as they work to improve student proficiency and confidence and fill the gaps that are so prevalent today."

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