Teacher-Assigned Standards Mastery Increases Instructional Ownership in Shelby County Schools

By: | 05/13/2021
Categories: Data Culture, Instruction, Leadership

i-Ready Standards Mastery is an assessment tool that gives teachers specific insights on the skills students have or have not mastered, an understanding of the precise areas in which students are struggling, and a combination of detailed reporting paired with the instructional resources necessary to effectively reteach or remediate. Robust reporting on student progress toward standards assessed on state tests makes this a powerful resource at the school and district levels. But with teacher-assigned Standards Mastery, an approach districts across the US are beginning to embrace, classroom-level benefits are enhanced. Most notably, teachers and students demonstrated increased ownership over their respective roles in the teaching and learning process.

Shelby County Schools, the largest district in the state of Tennessee, is one district that has implemented teacher-assigned Standards Mastery to great effect, and in only a short time, the approach has taken off with educators. When we refer to “teacher-assigned” Standards Mastery, this refers to schools and districts that have empowered teachers to make the decision about when to assign Diagnostic assessments as a tool to get an accurate and updated view of students’ progress when they have not yet demonstrated mastery of specific standards. This is in contrast with the traditional approach in which all assessment decisions are made at the institutional level.

Most of Shelby County Schools’ more than 100,000 students live in the city of Memphis, with others residing in unincorporated areas outside the city. The district has used Standards Mastery for four years, and when given the opportunity in January 2021 to implement it at the teacher level, excitement was immediate. Particularly, following the cancellation of state testing in spring 2020, school leaders across the district could see the importance of teachers having more tools to support effective benchmark assessment and reteaching.

“We’ve always had district benchmarks, but we’ve never had a way for teachers to reassess those benchmarks,” shares Rita White, an instructional leadership director for Shelby County’s Zone 10. In practice, this means teachers would be aware that students struggled with a particular standard, but they would have no way of knowing whether learners attained mastery after the standard was retaught.

Increased Ownership for Teachers

Shelby County’s 200 schools are spread across 14 zones, and White oversees the 12 schools that are part of Zone 10. This setup makes it manageable for her and the other 13 instructional leadership directors to schedule training and coordinate teachers around new programs in a focused fashion. To get started with teacher-assigned Standards Mastery in Zone 10, White worked with the Curriculum Associates team to schedule professional development, first for the principals at her schools and then for the teachers. After the training was complete, White scheduled a zone assessment for all schools, which gave teachers a clear perspective on the data they’d be able to access and how they could take ownership of the reteaching process.

“It really created some ownership and some buy-in for this reteaching process that we’ve never seen before,” says White. “Teachers now know they have the support to use something that’s been vetted and has been proven to be standards aligned.”

Previously, teachers had to personally create their own reassessment and could only self-report that they had retaught a standard and students were prepared for the test. There was no reliable, centralized way to demonstrate readiness. With Standards Mastery, teachers have confidence to know for certain that students have learned the standard and are ready to succeed on the assessment. When students aren’t yet ready, the teacher can reteach again until mastery is achieved.

White notes three more things that teachers particularly enjoy about the process:

  • Assigning Assessment to Small Groups: Teachers like that Standards Mastery gives them the ability to assign assessment and reassessment to the individual small groups who need focused attention on a given standard and to continue giving it in small groups until the students have achieved mastery. This gives teachers not only the freedom to do what they feel will work best in their own classroom, but also the security to know they can see it all the way through to mastery.

  • Easy to Master: When teachers first heard they’d be learning about a new online formative assessment program, White says they expected it to be a cumbersome process. Teachers’ hesitation quickly dissipated after receiving onboarding from the Curriculum Associates team (and seeing the results Standards Mastery had in their instruction). They’ve found the program easy to use and highly effective. “I didn’t have anybody complain about difficulty in learning or using the program,” says White.

  • Quality of Assessment Items: When working with an assessment tool, teachers normally notice items in the question bank that aren’t aligned to standards or are too easy for students, White shares. But when they dug into Standards Mastery, teachers were impressed by the quality of the items in the bank and, again, with how easy it was to use the items they knew were most suited to their learners.

Increased Ownership for Students

Teacher-assigned Standards Mastery has also contributed to students’ increased ownership of their learning. When schools have students track progress around individual standards and skills and really understand “where they’re going and where they’ve been,” White notices much more growth. When teachers and students are having proper dialogue about students’ learning, students can communicate their progress and demonstrate true ownership.

An important area in which White notices this impact is with respect to the prerequisite skills that enable a student to complete an assignment independently. “i-Ready helps teachers identify and master prerequisites to scaffold up and be able to [verbalize a standard] independently,” she explains. She adds that often kids can answer orally if the teacher is reading aloud, but when students are placed on a pencil-and-paper or independent test, they have trouble decoding or comprehending independently.

According to White, a teacher can use call-and-response methods all day long in a classroom, but if they stop and ask kids to respond independently to a cold read or passage, sometimes the student does not comprehend. The problem can arise as teachers rely on “think-aloud” practices. “It’s a problem with low scores on benchmark assessments or state testing,” she says. Students may know the main idea but can’t read the passage independently before the test. Through the instructional practices enabled by teacher-assigned Standards Mastery, both the teacher and student understand the component skills of an individual standard. Both parties also have equal visibility to see which skills a student has mastered and which are still a work in progress. This gives students true ownership over the learning, and with students as an empowered partner in the learning process, teachers are likewise better positioned to support student success.

Closing the Gaps

Based on White’s observations across Shelby County Schools, the impact of teacher-assigned Standards Mastery can be summarized simply: it helps close teaching and learning gaps by fostering ownership in the classroom. The standards-aligned data gives teachers the specific insights needed to understand exactly where and why students are struggling, along with the tools to reteach to fill instructional gaps. Because students are engaged in the process as well, they feel ownership of the learning and understand why they are being reassessed or receiving repeat instruction on a particular area. With better understanding comes buy-in and success.

Teacher and students sitting on the floor.

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