Friedrich L. Jahn Elementary of Fine Arts (Jahn Elementary) is a neighborhood school on Chicago’s North Side. According to the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) Assessment, from the academic years of 2014-15 to 2015-16, the percentage of students in grades 3-8 making the national average growth in reading dropped 9 percentage points, from 61 percent to 52 percent.
Michael Herring, the principal at Jahn Elementary, largely attributed the decrease to how students were being taught and how data was being collected and used to inform literacy instruction. The available assessments for reading provided the school with limited data on student performance and teachers weren’t effectively trained in using the data they did have to influence instruction in a manner that would foster growth among students. Herring decided to restructure how students were being assessed and how teachers engaged with reading data.
Based on NWEA assessment data, Herring realized that it wasn’t sufficient to just restructure literacy assessment and instruction in third-grade classrooms and above. In order to get more students on track to reading proficiency, the school needed to start at the beginning, with Kindergarten, and prepare all K-8 students to meet critical reading milestones. But school-wide change done all at once can be daunting and disruptive to students and teachers. Thus, in 2015, Herring implemented STEP (Strategic Teaching and Evaluation of Progress) in Kindergarten, first and second-grade classrooms only.
STEP is a research-based formative assessment system designed to build teacher capacity for literacy instruction and provide educators with the data and professional learning necessary to improve student achievement in literacy across grade levels. STEP provides educators with clear goals students should meet at each grade level to be considered on-track to reading proficiency. STEP also gives educators the ability to track each students’ progress throughout an academic year and tailor their instruction to student’s individual needs. STEP is offered through UChicago Impact, a nonprofit within the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute.
Jahn Elementary Implemented STEP’s Construct & Stabilize Assessment Series in grades K-2. The Construct & Stabilize Series is a narrative, fiction-based series that supports students performing at the equivalent of kindergarten through third grade. It is designed to inform teachers about student progression against foundational literacy skills necessary to build a strong base for later literacy development. Typical components of the assessment series include letter identification,
reading accuracy, and comprehension. In order to gain rich, meaningful data on individual students’ literacy skills, and allow teachers time in the academic year to implement instructional intervention where needed, the STEP assessment is administered four times a year.
UChicago Impact supported teachers in assessing students’ literacy skills, interpreting the data, monitoring student progress, and implementing interventions where needed. The response from teachers and the improvement in students’ reading was so positive that STEP has since been implemented in grade 3. UChicago Impact’s STEP team has worked with Jahn Elementary for three years and as they begin their fourth year of support, STEP will be expanded to grades 4-5, as well. These grade teams will implement STEP’s Strengthen & Expand Series, focused on nonfiction science and social studies text topics.
Over the course of three years, a cohort of 28 students saw an average increase of one third year’s worth of growth on the critical reading milestones outlined by STEP. At the end of both Kindergarten and First Grade, the students were averaging 2/3 year’s worth of growth. But, by the end of second grade, they were averaging a year’s worth of growth in reading milestones.
By the end of the 2016-17 school year, about 54 percent of second grade students were at/above national average performance, as compared to 29 percent of second graders in 2015-16. So far, those same students from 2016-17 appear to be holding onto their achievement, with about 52 percent of the now third grade students at/above national average performance by the end of 2017-18. These students had teachers who had been using STEP data to drive instruction from when they were in first grade up through and including their third grade year.
Additionally, 78 percent of third graders who have been exposed to STEP and JUMP Math for less than one year had already hit their year’s NWEA growth target by the Winter Assessment.
It is too early to know how well these data will be at indicating longterm growth and attainment, but early shifts in staff mindset about data and assessment are very encouraging initial signs of change. Since implementing STEP and JUMP Math, Jahn Elementary has seen the school’s culture shift from assessing students in order to comply with district and state requirements to assessing and using student data to inform and improve instruction. There is a strong commitment among teachers to use data as a vehicle for getting more of their students on track to proficiency in reading and math.
The data and the way you can disaggregate the data, it’s more than just that you can look at the data and find trends—which you can absolutely do—it’s that those trends help you unpack your teaching moves. That is really a unique place to be after all these years doing the work that I’ve done in reading. To be able to look at data in that way, it makes a big difference. —Terra Ellingson, Former First-Grade Teacher