A Pre-Kindergarten - Grade 12 co-educational independent day school in Westchester, New York

Lower School Principal Column: Assessing Learning in the Lower School

The difference between teaching and learning can be a wide divide. As a teacher, I may feel that I have given my best lesson, but if the students have not absorbed the material that is presented, it is for naught! Here at RCDS, our goal is not in the teaching but the learning that the students gain. But how do we measure that progress? 
 
To glean information about a student’s academic growth, we use a variety of assessment tools. In the midst of the lesson, teacher-directed questions provide student feedback to guide the learning and determine how much review is needed, the pace of the lesson, whether visuals or activities could be helpful reinforcements, and the various ways students may share their understanding. Assessments are also used to determine students’ cumulative level of understanding and skills, which are reflected in our trimester conference reports.

Last spring, our teachers quickly transferred their lessons online, and their teaching changed dramatically. Teachers could deliver material to the students, but they faced more of a challenge providing activities to elicit student exploration and discovery. Ultimately, our teachers’ creativity and dedication shone through as they honed their lessons to essential concepts and used Zoom breakout rooms for small group work. Through those teacher engagements, students learned to communicate their understanding across the screen. 

This fall, an altered school day in the interest of de-densification, remote classmates, mask wearing, and social distancing have presented a different set of challenges. Our teachers have once again proven themselves up to the task. We approached the transition to this year in an intentionally gradual manner, and once students acclimated to their new school routines, the homeroom teachers, together with the learning specialists and the math coordinators, collaborated to assess each students’ skill levels, plan the lessons, and address any gaps.

 

 

An important objective at the beginning of the fall was to ensure that we had a tool in place for K –  Grade 2 students to easily send in their work should we be teaching remotely. While students in Grades 3 and 4 are able to follow guiding comments via Google Drive, for younger students (K – Grade 2), receiving feedback in real time is an especially critical component to learning. We have adopted Seesaw, which allows the students, even in Kindergarten, to take a picture of their work and post it for their teachers. This tool has facilitated more seamless teacher/student communication and collaboration.

One of the primary goals for the fall is to assess each of our students in the areas of reading, writing, and math. In reading, we use Fountas and Pinnell tools to gauge fluency and comprehension and determine student independent reading levels vs instructional reading levels. This allows teachers to provide the book that is “just right” for each student to ensure reading success. In writing, teachers use dictations, daily journal entries, reading responses, and expository writing assignments to appraise writing fluency, grammar, and sentence structure. Assessments in math happen daily through discussions, word problems, and activities, and regularly with a cumulative worksheet at the end of each unit. 

Our students’ ability to grasp the curricular content allows teachers to determine how much or how little time should be spent on the lesson. When teachers assess student learning, they are looking at the growth of the student since the last assessment and how the student’s progress is reflected vis-à-vis the benchmarks for the trimester. Our conference reports reflect both learning observations: The checkmarks designate student progress in relation to the benchmarks for that trimester, and the comments reflect the individual student’s growth over the last few months and their engagement in the work.
 
Friday, December 4, is our Lower School Conference Day during which the teachers will share their observations and insights into your child’s learning. These conversations are a key component to the home-school relationships that are so integral to success. Your teachers look forward to virtually meeting with you.

Sincerely, 

Barbara Shea
Lower School Principal

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