A new data program is giving teachers in Homewood District 153 a look at each student’s test scores – down to the individual question asked and the score received. It’s making assessments of student learning much easier, and it gives teachers information they need to work one-to-one with students to help them overcome deficits.
The program, called Forefront, is being used in kindergarten through fifth grade. It provides Willow and Churchill School administrators schoolwide scores, grade level scores, classroom scores and individual student scores. This first year the district is using Forefront for math assessments. Teachers typically review the information each week.
Forefront uses a student proficiency wheel to keep measurements. The wheel is divided by math units, then by topics, such as multiplication and division. Within those content areas, teachers get additional information on questions presented to students and their individual answers.
The wheel is color coded by red, green and yellow so teachers can immediately detect if a student met expectations, approached expectations or did not yet meet expectations. The coding gives teachers indications of where a student is having a problem and the ability to delve into the Q-A to see how the student struggled.
The computer program allows teachers to click through topics and lessons down to the most minute details. The information pinpoints for the teacher what materials to review with a student. The information is also available for parents.
“It’s really nice for the teachers who are getting all this information and the questions,” math instructional coach Cathryne Czarnecki told school board members at the District 153 board meeting on April 11.
Superintendent Scott McAlister said the program is a radical and most welcome change from testing data of past decades.
“What we do today is by student, by standard,” he said. “Programs like this, Forefront makes it easier for (teachers) to spend time with kids who are struggling.” McAlister said the data program is also “a testament to our teachers here and the work they’re doing.”
Kathy Schaeflein, director of curriculum and instruction, and Czarnecki gave a presentation to the school board on schoolwide testing.
The district is required to administer state-mandated testing in grades 3-8 for the Illinois Assessment of Readiness in reading, writing and math; the Illinois Science Assessment; and the ACCESS Test for students who are not English language proficient. In District 153, only a small number of students do not declare English as their first language.
Schaeflein used bar charts to show how testing has gone the past few years. She reminded board members that the state tests are given once a year. District scores in 2018 were very good. That year the test was given on paper. The following year, the test was switched to computer and scores dropped. Then in 2020, there was no testing due to the pandemic, and in 2021 when classes were remote, so few students came to take the tests that the district didn’t get a high enough participation rate to make an assessment. And during that time, a new math curriculum was introduced.
The 2022 assessments are lower than before the pandemic, but Schaeflein said the scores are on target with other districts and she is confident that things are improving. “We’re really focusing on the standards moving forward,” she said. “We hope to see that rise.”
The state scores don’t help teachers like the STAR assessment test given by the district. STAR registers student growth three times a year – fall, winter and spring – and teachers get the information immediately.
“We can look at how the numbers are moving by student, by standard from what we’re teaching now,” Schaeflein said. Using STAR math scores for fall to winter, Schaeflein pointed out that 61.7% of students showed growth in 2019-20, but when the pandemic hit STAR math scores dropped to 59.6%. They are climbing again and the 2022-23 fall to winter math score shows 67.4% of students had growth.
Schaeflein credited Czarnecki for her work on analyzing the data and giving teachers the data they need for student improvement.
In summer, Czarnecki will be working with teachers on how to use Forefront for charting English/Language Arts learning scores.