By: Yvette Arañas
Here at FastBridge Learning, we know that things can get quite busy during the first few weeks of school. Most schools have begun benchmarking students for the fall and administering other assessments. We are also aware that important educational decisions are being made about students. During this hectic time, we encourage educators to reflect on the way they are making decisions and to avoid making two common mistakes. The first mistake is assuming that factors that contribute to learning difficulties exist solely within a student. The second is relying on testing as the only way to gather information about a student. Without looking at factors outside a student and considering other methods of collecting data, educators may be missing out on useful information about a student’s skills and needs.
Examining Multiple Sources of Information
When educators see learning difficulties as a problem that primarily lies within a performance, they may be ignoring other factors that could influence the student’s behaviors and academic performance. Examining the learner is necessary to examine his or her strengths, areas of improvement, and unique traits; however, John Hosp (2006) also suggested to investigate instruction, curriculum, and environment in addition to the factors within a student.
- Instruction. How content is being taught could either enhance or interfere with a student’s learning. Thus, we encourage educators to evaluate their teaching strategies and determine whether the strategies work for a student, or should be adjusted to meet his or her needs.
- Curriculum. We should also look at the curriculum, or the skills that students are expected to learn in school. Knowing the curriculum can help teachers identify gaps between expectations and what the student actually knows.
- Environment. Factors in a student’s classroom, school, community, and home also could impact academic success. For instance, being surrounded by certain peers could help or hinder one’s academic performance. At home, having easy access to books could enhance a student’s reading development. Identifying environmental factors could help target a student’s difficulties effectively; altering situations in the classroom can be done much more easily than changing factors within the learner.
Using Multiple Methods to Collect Information
In this day and age, testing is probably the most common way to assess student performance. While we encourage schools to continue using data from tests, there are additional assessment methods that educators should do as they examine the various sources of information mentioned above. Hosp (2006) suggested to review past records, interview people who regularly interact with the student, and observe the student in addition to testing.
- Reviews. The first step in assessing a student is to review past records about the student (e.g., attendance data and past report cards) and any other prior products (e.g., homework samples). Doing so can highlight areas of need and shed light onto reasons why a student is struggling.
- Interviews. Lots of information can be collected from interviewing a student’s teacher or parent. Interviewing the student can also provide valuable information about the student’s strengths and needs.
- Observations. Observing a student in class and during different times of the day could provide some information about the student’s behaviors and factors that could contribute to the student’s performance in school. For instance, a teacher might notice that a student is academically engaged in reading, but not so much during math time.
While FastBridge Learning is a great way to gather data about students’ performance during screening periods and their ongoing progress, we believe it is only one piece of a large puzzle; it is just as important to examine information from other sources and through various methods. Thus, we suggest that academic testing should be used in conjunction with the methods described above to obtain an accurate picture of a student’s needs.
Hosp, J. L. (2006, May) Implementing RTI: Assessment practices and response to intervention. NASP Communiqué, 34. Retrieved September 26, 2015 from: http://www.nasponline.org/publications/cq/cq347rti.aspx
About the Author
Yvette Arañas is a doctoral student at the University of Minnesota. She was a part of FastBridge Learning’s research team for four years and contributed to developing the FAST™ reading assessments. Yvette is currently completing an internship in school psychology at a rural district in Minnesota.