How standards-based assessments support data-driven, student-centered instruction
by Cathie Maglio, Blended Learning Specialist
The JFYNet program creates opportunity by using technology in the form of student-centered blended learning to help young people develop the skills to thrive in school and ultimately in the world of work. This is accomplished by working in schools to help students improve their reading, writing and math skills. There are a few ways to measure the skill development of each student: MCAS scores, quizzes embedded in the software programs, scores on SAT and Accuplacer, and finally placements directly into college-level classes without remediation.
MCAS, the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, is the state benchmark assessment that measures skills and governs the issuance of high school diplomas. By the end of 12th grade, all students must achieve a passing score in math, reading and a science subject. The JFYNet program provides preparation for the math and English tests. By using online math and reading comprehension programs, we help students develop their skills to the levels needed to reach the state performance standards. JFYNet creates MCAS-aligned assignments and tasks that enable students to practice the skills and master the content needed for the MCAS.
The MCAS is derived directly from the state curriculum standards that were developed in the 1990s and are constantly updated by hundreds of teachers. Each question on the MCAS refers to a specific curriculum standard. There is a longstanding critique of “teaching to the test.” This critique misses the point that the test is a subset of the state standards. With 70,000 tenth graders, it would be impossible to gauge each student’s skills without some form of assessment. “Standardized” testing actually means testing on the standards. The test tells the teacher where the student needs help. If we want to base instruction on data, we need to collect data. MCAS and other “standardized” tests give us data that enable us to adjust instruction to the actual needs of the student. This is data-driven student-centered instruction.
The JFYNet methodology produces measurable results. One of the schools I support, East Boston High, has an intensive MCAS program for 9th and 10th graders. These students use the JFYNet reading comprehension program 80 minutes a week, two 40- minute periods, to work on reading and writing skills. They read nonfiction articles that are relevant to what is happening in our world today and articles that correlate to skills being taught in the classroom. They answer questions and write responses based on the readings. Thanks to the dedicated teachers who used this program with their students, the school’s Proficient and Advanced MCAS percentages in ELA rose 8 points from 2017 to 2018. This is a significant one-year increase.
9th and 10th grade math classes at East Boston High also use a JFYNet math program two 40-minute periods a week to strengthen math skills. The curriculum is tightly aligned to the curriculum standards on which MCAS is based. The 10th grade students who used this program last year achieved a 9-point increase in Proficient and Advanced percentages, beating the ELA gain.
JFYNet is now preparing the students at East Boston High to take the new NextGen MCAS 2.0 test in spring 2019. 9th and 10th graders in the ELA classes are well on their way to covering the material they will need for the new test in March. These classes have increased their average score on the embedded reading comprehension assignments to 72%, a big improvement over the 65% that was measured on the same internal assessment system a few years ago.
9th and 10th grade math classes are working on assignments based on the Massachusetts Math Frameworks. Students practice one or two standards per week. This preparation will help them on the MCAS 2.0 math test in May.
East Boston High is not the only school that employs the JFYNet program to prepare their students for MCAS by making sure they demonstrate proficiency on the curriculum standards that underly the test. More than 40 schools, mostly high schools but some middle schools too, have used JFYNet since 2000. More than 70,000 students have augmented their skills and improved their chances of entering college at the credit-earning level, or finding employment. The new MCAS 2.0 creates a new set of challenges for schools and students. JFYNet is ready and willing to help them, as we have been since the advent of statewide standards and assessment.
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