Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A Perspective on the FAST Assessment

Guest Blog by Mr. Schlatter

As part of the Early Literacy Act, the State of Iowa has required school districts to start screening their students in grades K-3 for indications of reading struggles. To do this, the Hudson School district has chosen to use the state approved FAST (Formative Assessment System for Teachers) test. This screening tool is a battery of tests which measure different early literacy skills/ abilities at different grade levels. The battery includes…

At Kindergarten – Letter Naming, Letter Sounds, Onset Sounds, Sight Words, Concepts about Print, Word Segmenting, and Nonsense Words
At First Grade- Sight Words, Word Segmenting, Nonsense Words, Sentence Reading, CBM Reading and aReading
At Second & Third Grades – CBM Reading and aReading

The concept of screening students for indicators of reading success is not something new to Hudson. For years, we have used the DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Early Literacy Success) and DIBELS Next tools. Data collected from these screeners has been collected and shared with students/parents. Within the school, data collected from these tools has been used to guide instruction and measure student growth.
                So, you might be asking “What’s new then?” What is new is that the legislation now requires school districts to notify parents/guardians of non-proficient students and let them know that their child is “substantially discrepant” within the area of reading. When parents and I hear that term, it makes us shudder! For parents, it implies a message that says my child is way behind and can’t read. For me, it implies that schools/teachers are not doing their job. And in either case, I don’t believe those messages to be true!
To justify this, let’s look at a few things. First, data shows that student literacy growth is occurring. Many of our students, who were classified as being substantially discrepant, have made great growth since the first testing period. Unfortunately, this growth isn’t what gets all the attention. Instead, we focus on the only term supported by the state (substantially discrepant). And, that’s sad. I recognize that the State is sending a message to everyone that reading counts; and I fully agree and support that. The part that I struggle with is that fact that the one benchmark score is used as the one ultimate indicator from which we declare a student “substantially discrepant”.  The second thing I would like to focus on is the effort that schools/teachers are putting towards meeting the literacy needs of our students. In my years of education, I have never been part of a time when teachers are working harder, and yet feeling so deflated on the public front. For example, this year we have asked our teachers to implement a new English/Language Arts curriculum which brings a new philosophy and a variety of new resources with it. Therefore, year one of implementation has been a year of exploration and survival all at the same time. Because of this, teachers have had to spend a vast amount of time and energy figuring out what to do and how to do it within the new Wonders Program. By itself, this has been a daunting task. Now, add the new FAST tool and all its nuisances of it on top and you can see why many teachers feel a little overwhelmed. Yet, they come with hearts dedicated to doing their best and giving all they can so that their students/your children grow and learn. 
Growing and learning is what schools are all about, and with that I have no debate. At Hudson, we are committed to building an educational system that works. This means we will continue to look at our resources (time, people, curriculum, partnerships with UNI and with families, etc.) and evaluate how we are using them. Meeting the new expectations behind the ELA legislation is challenging, but not unattainable. There are some parts of the new Early Literacy Law that don’t make sense to us who are in the trenches. But this won’t prevent us from giving it our best to attain the lofty expectations that it places on us. So please join forces with us in this journey. Your children are growing and it is our hope that no one ever gets saddled with the label “substantially discrepant”.

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