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Higher frequency and adaptive nature helps teachers and students use NWEA results for academic achievement

Research-based, differentiated instruction and frequent assessment are the foundations of District 150’s approach to achieving another of its 2014-15 priorities: Increase the number of students meeting or exceeding standards in reading and math. 


In years past, reading and math standards have been determined by the ISAT/PSAE, a state-mandated test given once each school year.  As of 2014, the State of Illinois has discontinued the ISAT/PSAE, leaving the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) and the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) as the primary tools of student assessment in District 150. While they remain the most stable and continuous form of testing for District students, the State of Illinois is adopting The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), a  common set of assessments to measure student achievement and preparedness for college and careers collaboratively designed by a consortium of states, to replace ISAT/PSAE in 2015. Specific attributes of these tests, particularly the NWEA, allow school interventionists and teachers to design instruction to address a student’s exact needs because the results are immediate and because the students are tested three time each school year, rather than just once.


Many Peoria Public Schools have charts with color-coded stickers posted prominently in their entry hallways. These charts detail students’ NWEA scores from the beginning of the year (BOY).  Each student knows what the data means and which sticker is theirs.  As they test again at the mid- and end-points of the year, they can track their own progress.


“From the children’s standpoint, each test has a purpose,” explains Whittier Primary School Interventionist Anna Rose.  School interventionists like Rose work closely with classroom teachers to translate NWEA and DIBELS test results into individualized or differentiated instruction for students.  The NWEA assessments are computerized and adaptive, so the difficulty of each test is based on how well a student answers all of the previous questions.  If a student proceeds through the test answering questions correctly, the questions become more difficult.  Conversely, if a student consistently answers incorrectly, the questions become easier, giving interventionists and teachers specific areas of deficiency to address. 


According to Whittier Principal Doug Atkins, because students understand the adaptive quality of the test, they recognize that if questions are becoming more difficult it is because they are answering correctly.  Difficult questions become a source of pride and a motivation rather than a source of anxiety. “We teach the children, if you get a tough question, that means you’re smart.  It’s like a video game in that you want to get to the next level.  We’ve even taught the students to literally give themselves a ‘pat on the back’ during the test when they get to more difficult questions.”


The more frequent use of the NWEA test is another advantage in that students can monitor their progress throughout the school year.  At Rolling Acres Middle School, student and teachers use the ten-minute morning homebase period and a daily intervention period to review areas that need special attention.  For some students, that may mean focusing on math goals, for others, corrective reading or more advanced work for High Ability Learners.  The results of NWEA MAP are closely aligned with the Compass Learning program so students can focus on specific skills or areas of instruction through Compass Learning at school, home or the public library.


Whittier Primary School has combined NWEA assessments, student portfolios and student-led Parent Teacher Conferences to give students a sense of ownership over their academic progress and to create an ongoing, quality conversation with parents.  Since instituting the student-led portfolio presentations, Whittier has achieved nearly 100 percent participation in Parent-Teacher Conferences.

 move to the right  PHS banner
Whittier third grade students, Principal Doug Atkins and Interventionist Anna Rose want their scores to "move to the right!"  Peoria High School touts the rise in its NWEA scores at the school's main entrance.

The higher frequency and adaptive nature of the NWEA also allows schools to work smarter,  not harder, says Atkins.  “We have so many great resources.  We have Title I tutors, Reading Buddies for our third grade students, parent volunteers and volunteers from Bradley University.  The NWEA assessments and student portfolios help us ensure that we are all on the same page and that each of these resources is addressing each students individual needs.  We are not wasting any of those valuable resources.”


The value of frequent assessment and monitoring continues at the high school level as well.  At Peoria High School, students meet in weekly “Pride Time” periods to review their individual academic and behavioral performance.  Each week, students review with their Pride Time teacher their class assignments, quizzes, homework, overall grades and assess negative or positive choices they made during the previous week to interfere with or advance specific goals. Working with Pride Time teachers, students develop written goals to be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely (SMART).  The Pride Time inventory tracks academic progress reports and NWEA test scores as well as behavioral factors such as referrals, absences and tardies.  Continual communication is essential, says Principal Brett Elliott.  All of this data including NWEA results, grades and behavioral data is shared with parents through frequent phone conversations.  As a result of consistent assessment and monitoring of students progress, says Elliott, Peoria High School has had the highest growth in NWEA scores of all three high schools as well as a 50 percent reduction in referrals in three years.


Giving students a sense of ownership in their own achievement is the purpose to frequent assessment.  “You can make it fun and grade-level appropriate,” says Atkins.  “Our students know that on the scatter-plot we want their scores to ‘move to the right’ and they get excited when they see that happen.”