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Mapping Instruction
With Interim Assessments

School officials in Widefield School District No. 3 in Widefield, Colorado, realized they needed more student data and needed to see it more often in order to improve instruction. An online assessment tool has led to improvements in instruction and test scores. Included: A description of an interim assessment program.

With No Child Left Behind accountability requirements looming, officials in Widefield School District No. 3 in Colorado Springs, Colorado, decided they could no longer rely solely on data from the annual state tests to guide instruction.

So district staff members worked with a company to develop an online assessment tool aligned with the math and reading standards on Colorados state tests, which teachers now administer monthly to monitor students progress and to make adjustments in instructional strategies. The result has been more targeted instruction and higher test scores.

We needed to know if instructional interventions were helping to improve student learning, Suzanne Royer, the districts director of student achievement, told educators at the 2007 Association for School Curriculum Development (ASCD) conference. This is to aid teachers in ensuring that their students are making progress toward the end-of-the-year standards for Colorado.


District officials realized a few years ago that they had to do something to accelerate progress on the states high stakes tests, the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) for third-through-tenth grades.

This is teaching with your eyes wide open.

Improvement on the state tests was at a slow pace, Royer explained. Data was coming in too late to be useful instructionally -- the state assessments are in March, and we dont get the scores until July -- how does that help those kids [who took the test in March]? And we were facing the pressure of NCLB requirements.

As a result of using interim monthly assessments, the districts math scores have improved significantly and students have showed gains in reading, although not to the same extent as in math. More students also are scoring in the advanced range on assessment tests.

Teachers have learned to do analysis; they see what kids need, Royer said to Education World about the use of interim assessments. We tell them this is not a test -- this is a tool to drive instruction. Teachers are talking more about individuals skills and embedding skills and strands into instruction, so were starting to see a long-term effect.


Widefield district officials worked with Tungsten Learning to develop the interim assessment tool for reading and math. The program was piloted in 2005 in an elementary and junior high school, after teachers took part in 2 hours of training to launch the program. Based on the piloting experience, administrators smoothed out the glitches, technologically and instructionally, Royer told Education World.

The following year the program was launched feet first throughout the district in grades 2 to 10, she added. The results gave teachers meaningful diagnostic data to inform instruction, Royer said. Teachers use the information to identify progress or setbacks every month and every quarter.

The big plus is having our second graders begin this online program so they experience the computer and utilize the format that prepares them for their first year of the CSAP in third grade, she added.

"Teachers are talking more about individuals skills and embedding skills and strands into instruction, so were starting to see a long-term effect.

Involving students in setting goals is critical to the program as well. The assessment program includes tools to help students personalize their own data, providing intrinsic motivation. Classroom teachers also are offering students more meaningful rewards for improvement, said Royer. To get student buy-in, move from Jolly Ranchers to homework passes.


Targets for Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and Safe Harbor, benchmarks for NCLB, are set at the school level, while individual teachers set their own goals. Prior to adopting interim assessments, Widefield teachers rarely used student performance data in planning their instruction, according to Royer. Now they have to implement change.

Teachers now can generate reports on individual students skill levels. They also use the data, which Royer described as user-friendly, as in teacher, real-time data, for mapping student longitudinal progress. Teachers rely on the data to group students who need to work on particular skills and to predict how students will perform on proficiency tests.

In addition, classroom teachers work with site-based data teams, also called professional learning communities (PLC). The data teams, which are comprised of teachers, administrators, literacy coaches, and special education teachers, extract data and analyze reports so grade-level teachers are able to plan and predict effective instructional strategies to meet the needs of their students, explained Royer. Schools hold follow-up data analysis session in late fall and early spring.

All of the schools conducted formal PLC training with their staff members to help build data teams. At the secondary level, the teams often are departmentalized by content area, and at the elementary level, team members work across grade levels to communicate about what instructional strategies are working. These efforts have led to collaboration among teams and strategies that can be employed by instructional support teams, Royer noted.

This is teaching with your eyes wide open."


Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
Copyright © 2009 Education World

Originally published 09/10/2007
Last updated 11/26/2009