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A room in the St. Croix Central Elementary School houses reading materials specific to reading and literacy levels of students, ranging from level A to level Z.

Teacher collaboration, student data improve instruction at SCC Elementary School

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Teachers at the St. Croix Central Elementary School are using teacher collaboration and student data to improve instruction.

Since the school purchased the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System, teachers have been able to keep their instruction very focused by grade level, through the use of resources to track and assess student progress.

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"It's sequential so they can look back in third grade and see 'Oh, this is what they're coming to me with.When I look at fifth grade, this is what they need to be able to do,'" said Shirley Arneson, director of teaching and learning.

Arneson said the focus has been on "What do kids need to know?" Based on Common Core Standards, "How do you know when they know it?" Through data gathered from assessments. And "What do you do if they don't know it?" And "What do you do if they do know it?" Which is where interventions or extensions are used to help students progress.

Levels

The assessment program provides goal level areas for each grade.

Target levels tell teachers where students should be at certain times during the school year.

Students in kindergarten through fifth grade are given a reading and literacy assessment composed of 26 levels of difficulty corresponding to the letters of the alphabet; with A being the easiest level and Z being the most challenging.

An example of a growth target for a kindergarten student would be in between level A and C; for first grade, level B to H or I; and second grade somewhere in the H to M range; with levels overlapping in spots.

At each assessment level students read a fiction and a non-fiction book. While many students are familiar and comfortable with fiction reading, Arneson said "We want to build on that non-fiction, because that's what you do in school for your learning. As you go into the science and social studies you're reading more and more non-fiction. We want to make sure our students are getting more of that at the elementary level, preparing them for that."

According to Arneson, the assessment requires teachers to look at each students knowledge "within, beyond and about the text" to show where students are at.

Through the assessments, teachers are able to track student and class progress through a variety of charts and specific grade-level goals.

Arneson said the grade level goals help to ensure students in all classes are receiving the same instruction.

"If we have five or six teachers at any grade level, we want to make sure that every student has non-negotiable learning. It doesn't matter who your teacher is, when you're in kindergarten you are going to learn these non-negotiables. And that also correlates with Common Core Standards."

Teacher collaboration

Arneson said teachers are now working in teams and sharing student data to improve instruction within their grade.

She said teachers are no longer sticking with just the 20-some students designated to their classroom at the start of the year.

"That's the goal: To have it feel like, instead of a classroom teacher being responsible for 21 or 22 students, this almost sounds like it would be harder, but it's not, Now they're responsible for 120 students. But they're responsible for those 120 students with five or six other teachers. So you have that collaboration of 'I've tried these strategies, but for some reason this student isn't moving. What do you do in your classroom? What strategies do you use?'" said Arneson.

She said teachers use their individual strengths to help one another improve their instruction in the classroom.

Arneson said teachers are working in collaboration and challenging each other as well.

"A teacher good at teaching fluency works together with a teacher really good at teaching compound words working together to improve each others skills," Arneson said.

Arneson said during the hour of common planning time each week, "Teachers are able to do just that. Now they have time to talk about students that are excelling, students that are struggling, and strategies. You're sharing information to help move students forward no matter where they're falling on that continuum of abilities."

Arneson said a teacher discussion might be something like:"This is what I've done. This is where they've reached. And this is where they're stuck and I'm not sure a next step to go. What have you done to help your students?"

While teachers at each grade level are sharing information amongst their "Teacher Teams," Arneson said student confidentiality is a priority. Only those teachers responsible for students are using actual names while discussing data and intervention or acceleration strategies.

Intervention and extension

Arneson said the new assessment and record keeping strategies are not solely focused on those students that are struggling.

SCC teachers are giving additional instruction to students who need intervention while moving the other students along.

With less whole group instruction and more small groups, teachers are able to focus on the specific needs of each student.

Arneson said the school is allowing students to go above and beyond their level based on assessment data.

"We're careful to make sure we're also challenging. So even if you're at level L we may give students an opportunity to read a book at a higher level based on student interest in a particular topic."

Arneson said those students not meeting their target goals are put into "intervention groups."

The interventions often consist of small groups of five or six students. Students are given intensified instruction specific to that skill they seem to be struggling with.

Arneson said some teachers have found that it works best for their schedule to work with their specific students on interventions. Other teachers are sharing their classroom intervention time by dividing their groups of students amongst each other, which also uses classroom time more efficiently.

"One teacher might take the extension kids; the kids that are ready to move on and have extra. Someone else is taking the kids that are struggling. The other three teachers are taking the rest and talking more in depth about a skill or moving them on a little bit, but not as much as that extension group. It's a combination of everything."

Arneson said while the teachers are still trying to figure out the best scheduling methods, the goal is to have a 30 minute intervention each day with students that are struggling.

Student Profile

Arneson said when a student comes in for conferences at the elementary school, the discussion is no longer primarily focused on an A, B or C grade. "We're still using letter grades, so they are still getting A, B or C, but now we can say, 'Your child has really grown in their fluency. Look at where they started and look at the numbers.' We're charting the information so we can be more specific about what they might be doing at home to progress their sons and daughters at home."

While the level system helps teachers create a student profile and track progress, Arneson said, "We don't want kids to be a level. So, even though we're aware of what level the students are, we're trying to get kids so that they're excited about reading, not excited about being a level."

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Gretta Stark
Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.
(715) 426-1048
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