Next Year!

This post is by guest blogger, Chris Birr, EdS. Birr is a member of the ion Board of Directors, a School Psychologist, MTSS Coordinator and deep thinker. Chris lives in suburban Columbus, Ohio with his wife, two daughters and dog.

Disclaimer, this is focused on academic skill attainment. Social-emotional learning is critical and our focus should be on supporting the emotional well-being of all during and following this crisis. The following is a recommended plan for the recovery phase after this pandemic.

Today, I had two conversations about what next year might bring. In both conversations, educators were worried about an onslaught of anxious parents and requests for referrals for special education or academic interventions. We have been off for several weeks now and by the time we return, it could mean missing a quarter or more of instruction. Luckily, most CBM or assessment norms charts indicate that winter to spring is generally the time with the least amount of growth attained. If we had to miss a quarter of school, it was, fortunately, this one.

There has been some online chatter already that fall screening will be critical as we enter the next school year. I hope that the pandemic will behind us and treatments and vaccines are on the way. Regardless, I do predict that many educators will be feeling pressure to respond to justifiably anxious post-homeschool teachers, better known as parents.

Most states will likely cancel state tests for this spring. Personally, I have no issue with a year of lost state test data provided that teachers are supported to use fall screening data to identify gaps or needs for students. In many districts, the practice of triangulation of results will be used to confirm who they believe really needs intervention.

Triangulating data should stop. The more you assess, the more confusing results can become (VanDerHeyden, Burns, & Bonifay, 2018). Eventually, anyone can gather enough data to support a belief. Use a valid and reliable screening assessment and form instructional groups (that do change) for students who will need more instruction primarily using results from that assessment. If you really want to collect more data, use a gated screening method and screen kids who score toward the lower end of the middle and it is undecided whether or not they need more instruction (Van Norman, Nelson, Klingbeil, Cormier, & Lekwa, 2018).

If I ruled the world, I would use this crisis as an opportunity to increase data literacy and strengthen a district’s data-based decision-making framework. Here are the steps I would take, again, if I ruled the district and was focused on academic skill growth.

1. Establish and enforce fidelity to fall screening practices– ensure all students are screened within the same window of time. Identify assessment champions in each school (based on knowledge and interest, not role). Support the champions and encourage principals to advertise them as the assessment go-to in the building.

2. Immediately begin intervention or intensive instruction for students who needed it last year. Form groups for the students with intensive needs but leave room to add or shuffle groups when screening is completed.

· Summer will be a time to look at the previous season of screening and estimate how many students per grade needed interventions. Estimate a few more seats per grade and look at creative ways to schedule groups that begin immediately and accommodate more as needs are clearer. Predicting is possible and necessary.

· Consider a schedule renovation. The schedule drives your school, now is the time to make a change. Create the schedule you always needed.

3. Develop and deploy interpretation guidelines. What is the proficiency target? What is the score that indicates risk or a need for more intensive instruction? What is the score that indicates more information is needed? Set it and create one-page cheat sheets and a plan to roll it out.

4. Create grade-level groups based on performance categories. Oregon RTI has 100% meetings and templates that structure teams to examine how many students are in the minimal, basic, proficient, and advanced ranges by season. This may be the ideal time to implement continuous improvement activities that use this type of tracking system.

5. Select measures to use to collect more information. Keep the menu to one monitoring (CBM) and 2-3 diagnostic assessments. Ensure all assessments have adequate reliability and validity (paging school psychs).

6. Monitor all students in interventions and a selected group of students who are on “the bubble”. Although 12 weeks of data is best, look at trends after 4-6 weeks. If students are not trending up, intensify, add, or create groups based on skill needs. This could be a lot of monitoring, seek online or group administered CBM to increase efficiency. Times are unique, the perceived best case may not be realistic for a while.

We have all heard how unprecedented the last few months have been. As we restart school, beginning a new year will be unlike any of the past. With this, now is the time to increase efficiency and effectiveness. Although restarting will be difficult, planning and allocating resources will give each school the best chance of meeting the needs of ALL students.