Finding a way to link progress monitoring with state standards
As in districts elsewhere, curriculum directors at Garland ISD in Texas were facing a challenge in their efforts to formalize progress monitoring in classrooms: It was very time-consuming to create assessment questions that accurately reflected state standards.
"We'd purchase assessment items from various sources and then have to spend many, many hours editing and massaging them to make sure they fi t our state standards," said Georgia Beatey, the elementary science coordinator at Garland. "It was always a struggle."
Located north of Dallas, Garland ISD is a large urban district, serving nearly 60,000 students. The need to institute a progress monitoring system that fully synched with TEKS, the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, was particularly important because of the high mobility in the district.
"We have a lot of students moving within the district every year," said Beatey, who supervises science instruction at the district's 49 elementary schools. "We need to address the same content across all the schools and keep all our students on pace with the curriculum."
Several years ago, Garland ISD began working with Peoples Education, a New Jersey company that provides a variety of state-customized assessment products. After a successful pilot of a print-based program for progress monitoring in science, the district adopted an electronic version of the product called ePath Knowledge, which is now used to monitor student progress in fifth-grade science, as well as science and math classes at the middle and high school levels.
"At first, we made it available just to see which teachers would use it and what they thought about it," Beatey recalled. "Most teachers took to it like a duck to water because it was so easy to use. It really requires little or no instruction on how to get it set up and running in a classroom."
The district's elementary science teachers typically log onto ePath once or twice a week from school or home to create short, two- or four-question quizzes during the course of a unit, Beatty explained. They select from an easily searchable bank of assessment questions that are fully aligned to TEKS. "Each year our district gives teachers the choice between using ePath or switching to another assessment program," Beatey said. "Over 90 percent choose to stay with ePath because it is so well-aligned to TEKS."
In the rare instance when teachers find an ePath assessment item that isn't completely aligned to the TEKS standard for a lesson, they're encouraged to contact Peoples Education. "The company is very responsive to any requests to strengthen an item," Beatey said.
Once they create their quizzes from ePath, some teachers project the quiz questions on their whiteboards for students to answer with pencil and paper; others assign the quizzes for students to complete electronically in the school computer lab. The results help guide instruction. "The teachers are using ePath as a diagnostic tool to find out if they can move on to the next topic," Beatey said.
The fact that the science teachers at Garland continue to rely on ePath for progress monitoring year after year is the strongest testament to the program's effectiveness, according to Beatey.
"Without a doubt ePath has made a huge difference in helping to direct instruction," she said. "It helps teachers diagnose weaknesses they might have missed if they had waited until the end of the unit or a district benchmark assessment. It gives them a much truer picture of what children are learning, and that's huge."
For more information about ePath Knowledge, please visit www.epathknowledge.com