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Lake Oswego pilots assessment tool to track learning during distance learning

When the pandemic hit Oregon and schools closed for in-person instruction, many parents and school officials worried about students falling behind with all their learning being done through a screen. PMG PHOTO: ASIA ALVAREZ ZELLER - Last year, reading intervention was done in person. Now the district is piloting online intervention tools to support students.

Lake Oswego School District Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Schiele said that when it became clear this summer that students would not return to in-person instruction in the fall, the district knew they needed to find new ways to track student learning.

"We thought that it was important to find some sort of diagnostic assessment that would help quickly identify where our students were in their learning," Schiele said.

Since then, the district has been using an online assessment tool called i-Ready that monitors a student's learning. i-Ready is being piloted this year and will be evaluated at the end of the year for further use.

The assessment is given to students in grades kindergarten through eighth every quarter, a big leap from the district's previous way of tracking learning: the Smarter Balanced assessment given to students grades third through fifth at the end of the year.

Schiele said it helps teachers know what gaps need to be filled in during the year, something that's necessary now more than ever with comprehensive distance learning.

i-Ready also is adaptive, meaning that future questions in the assessment are based on how students did answering previous questions.

"As they're taking it, if they miss a few in a row the questions start getting easier," Schiele said. "If they start getting them all right, the questions start getting harder. It really tries to pinpoint the level where each student is."

Ninety-four percent of students in kindergarten through eighth grade completed the math diagnostic this fall and 95% completed the reading diagnostic. The math assessment results showed that 37% of LOSD students are one grade level below where they should be. Nationally, that percentage is 53.

Seven percent are behind by two or more grade levels, compared to 31% nationally.

The reading assessment yielded similar results. Twenty-five percent of students are one grade behind, compared to 42% nationally, and 11% of students are two or more grades behind compared to 41% nationally.

"It's not that surprising. Remember, our students stopped going to our typical school in March, and so being one year behind makes sense for some students," Schiele said.

She said now is the time to start filling in the holes that have been identified through the student assessments.

Brittanie Bates, the response to intervention coordinator at Westridge Elementary School, said i-Ready helped teachers know what to look for.

"It helps us get to know students at a distance," she said.

Kari Montgomery, the principal at Westridge Elementary School, said i-Ready is a significant improvement for the district.

"I think one thing that's really exciting about having an assessment like i-Ready is that it gives us data on our students three times a year … This is a huge improvement for us to have data points that start in kindergarten and are given multiple times during the year," Montgomery said.

Kurt Schultz, the principal at Lakeridge Middle School, said this approach will benefit them in the coming years.

"From a middle school perspective I'm very encouraged to hear Kari (Montgomery) talk about early intervention because it's a nested problem. … If a student is one year behind in second grade and doesn't grow a year or more that year, then they become two years behind. … We end up with problems that become much more difficult to solve as students move through the system," he said.

Students will take the i-Ready assessment again starting in January to track growth — or lack thereof.

Two other tools the district is piloting to help students during distance learning are Lexia Core5 and Lexia Power Up.

These tools are used for students with reading challenges like dyslexia. Specifically, Lexia Core5 helps teachers provide differentiated literacy instruction for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

"Lexia's program provides explicit, systematic, personalized learning in the six areas of reading instruction, targeting skill gaps as they emerge," Schiele said.

Lexia Power Up is for students in grades six through 12 who are struggling with reading.

Learning and reading specialists use the Lexia programs to help students with their reading skills.

Similar interventions are provided to students during a typical year, but prior to these additions the district didn't have a way to do that while in comprehensive distance learning.

"As of last year, we didn't have an intervention tool that could be easily transferred to a computer," Schiele said.

The next steps in the pilot process for both i-Ready and Lexia include a survey to parents and teachers using the programs in January.

From there the district will form a committee of learning and literacy specialists and a committee of teachers in March, and those groups will make recommendations to the school board in May.

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