I usually try to write these blogs as focused on instruction as possible so that they apply to a variety of educators from anywhere, but I've had some requests and questions about benchmarking, assessments, and progress monitoring over the last few months, so I've decided to dedicate this early-in-the-year blog to explaining the process that we use at our middle school to assess for reading and plan the proper programs for our students. I'll also talk a little about how we are using lexile scores, as lexiles were recently under question by Tween Tribune and Fox News in the last month, for those of you who saw the reports.
The last few years, our district has chosen to use Scantron Performance Series as our benchmarking and screening tool for reading comprehension at the middle school level. This test uses a combination of vocabulary, non-fiction, long and short passages to assess a student's reading comprehension and provides a National Percentile Ranking (NPR), Scaled Score (Scantron's own scoring system), a lexile score, and a lexile (research) score. I do a few things with these scores.
First off, if a student's NPR is below the fiftieth percentile (out of 100 students, his scaled score fell below at least fifty of them), his language arts teacher is then required to run the AIMSWEB Oral Reading Fluency (ORF), which is a three minute test of oral reading where the teacher listens to the student read, out loud, three different passages (on grade level) at one minute each. From the ORF, we can determine whether a student reads at an acceptable pace or not and whether she is an accurate reader (misreading words). AIMSWEB gives us specific benchmark scores that show where students should be at different times of the year (depending on their grade level), and these scores are used to guide us in choosing the correct program for the students. We are just finishing up Performance Series right now, and I've already started going through rosters and highlighting students who need AIMSWEB benchmarking for teachers so I can get those out early next week.
Here is where things start to get tricky. Often, a student will read below the fiftieth percentile but his fluency has met the benchmark. At this point, as long as the student's score is above the twenty-fifth percentile (still talking Performance Series), then no intervention is recommended. I will sometimes put kiddos on my monitor list (unofficially) if they are below the thirtieth.
Fluency scores that fall below the twenty-fifth percentile (on the AIMSWEB ORF) are flagged, and we place those students into a Small Learning Community (SLC, which is like a homeroom. Ours is sixteen fantastic minutes.) where they will participate in the (super easily implemented) program The 6 Minute Solution (Adams and Brown). We are lucky to have teachers across content areas who are willing to work programs like this. They're scripted and easy and don't require the implementing teacher to know a lot about reading fluency, as long as I'm around for consultation and direction.
Yet there are still students who need more. The ORF also tells us how accurately a student reads a passage. For example, if a seventh grader reads her passages and miscues (gets them wrong) more than five percent (sometimes I will check over three percent) of the words for that benchmarking period, I will pull that student to run a few different screening tests on the student to see if she has some gaps in her phonics skills (putting letters together to make words).
We use 95% Group's PSI to start. Our high school reading specialist also developed a syllable-types screener (to determine if the student may just have trouble with identifying/reading a specific type of syllable). But one thing that I'm starting to learn is that basic sight words are a source of trouble for a small group of our middle schoolers, especially those who are still learning the language. Because of this, I started using the Scholastic Phonics Inventory (SPI) to gather information on sight word recognition and fluency, and wouldn't you know it? My theory about sight words tended to be true. At this point, we haven't developed a specific intervention that targets those students with sight word deficiencies. This is on my list of things on which to research. I've also used the SPI to identify students for placement in System44, one of our Tier 3 programs, which takes the place of the student's exploratory class. I hate to use that time because the exploratory cycle is so important for so many of these kiddos, but time is not on our side, and this is the most logical place to insert a Tier 3 intervention.
I also look at Performance Series scores to see if students need extra support in reading. Sometimes I'll catch an incoming student on the opposite side of the spectrum who may need to be referred to our Gifted Coordinator so she can take a look at the student's scores. This doesn't happen very often, however. Ironically these students seem to come in with all of their paperwork lined up, every I dotted and every T crossed. Its our new struggling readers who end up popping up in November, and then we shake our heads trying to figure out how we missed them. Usually its because they came in after Performance Series or they're on my To-Do list, but we DO eventually pick them up and get them what they need.
Teachers who take a good look at their data will often look at lexiles and NPRs and email me about kiddos about whom they have immediate concern. I will then consult my vast spreadsheet of scores over the last two years and let the teacher know if the kid tanked the test or if maybe there is more to the student.
The big question is - What would cause immediate concern? Well, that's another tricky question that comes with a variety of tricky answers. I try to use lexile.com's CCSS Text measures (at the bottom of that link), but most of our kiddos struggle to hit those, so I also take into consideration their past years' growth and what classes they were taking at the time. For example: if I'm looking at an eighth grader in a regular language arts class with a lexile score of 700, this is undoubtedly low for eight grade. The teacher may question the student's placement, but what the teacher may not know is that in sixth grade the student was at a 500 all year and had been receiving support in the intervention language arts classroom. The following year we decided to place the student in a regular language arts classroom around peers who were great models of reading and give this student a vocabulary intervention in SLC. In seventh grade we saw that lexile score creep up to 700, so we decided on the same program for this student for eighth grade. This is how the scores can be used to shift students around in the Tiers.
Language arts teachers who have these growing strugglers have options of using material of different text complexities for instruction. Our current text book has text selections that are paired and labeled for more accessible vs. more complex text. Teachers can choose selections and differentiate right in their classrooms if need be. Plus, all of this data is available to any of our content area teachers, as well, and if there are students who need support, we try to make people available for that (Special Education teachers, paraprofessionals, myself, support staff).
One last thing I like to do with lexiles before I sign off for the weekend. Tween Tribune and Fox News went on a lexile rampage about a month ago, talking about teachers who get lexile scores and make kids read only at that level, and it frustrated me. I think we truly have a good thing going in our use of these scores. The reason I bring this up in this blog is because I think its important that everybody understand how they're used in relation to the testing process.
First off, many of our teachers share the most recent lexile scores with students and will often use this score as a springboard for conversations about what students can do to maintain or improve. But lexiles were not designed originally as a benchmarking measurement. Just like so many of our educational tools, the lexile score morphed into something it was never intended to do. Lexiles were designed to match a student with a piece of text. Period. Now there's all sorts of research out there that tells us that students should read at their independent level, and now we're seeing stuff come out that we should instruct students at their frustration level.
I'm talking strictly independent reading now, friends. Put yourself in the shoes of a thirteen year old. If you didn't like to read, and you were given a book where thirty percent of the words were a challenge for you and the sentences were lengthy, what would you do? I know what I would do, and it isn't pick up the book and read for twenty minutes a day! I'd chuck that baby at the bottom of my locker and put on my bad-girl face as I walked to language arts. Struggling students need to feel success before they can choose to grapple! They need to want to wrestle with the text before they do it. It's like learning to do anything for fun. If I don't want to do it, why would I do it?
So when we walk into the library of 10,000 books with a class of students who are all struggling to read, the last thing I want them to have to do is decide which one out of the 10,000 they will hate the least. So we take their lexile score (Not their lexile research score from Performance Series - the lexile score from Performance Series considers the student's grade level and will give us books that are more age appropriate because some of these kids have scores that are so low there is nothing available for them that is age appropriate. This works in our ET classes also where we have some students whose lexile research scores max out at 1400, but the only thing we have to give them at that level would be a college text book from one of our grad classes!) and we plug it into our computer catalog along with information from an interest inventory that we have given them before we go to the library, and Voila! A short list of books at an attainable level that might be interesting enough to crack open this week. And then we look at them, read the back, analyze whether the length will be something they want to tackle, and maybe even check it out with a smile.
And that, my friends, is my long winded narrative of how we acquire the scores, how we use them, and how they can work for us. Please ask if you have questions, as I am open to answering. Also, if you're reading this and disagreeing with something, I'm also open to having that conversation as well.