Showing posts with label Response to Instruction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Response to Instruction. Show all posts

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Response to Instruction and Too Much Testing

This week I was honored to speak at the Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Oregon. I was asked to talk about evaluation, which is a big issue in the great northwest because of RtI (response to instruction). They are testing the heck out of kids towards ensuring that no one falls behind. It's a grand sentiment, but a poor practice.

Teachers there told me they were testing some kids weekly or biweekly. That is too much. How do I know it is too much?

The answer depends on two variables: the standard error of measurement of the test you are using and the student growth rate. The more certain of the scores (the lower the SEM that is), the more often you could profitably test... And the faster that students improve on the measure relative to the SEM of the test, the more often you can test.

On something like DIBELS, the standard errors are reasonably large compared to the actual student growth rate--thus, on that kind of measure it doesn't make sense to measure growth more than 2-3 times per year. Any more than that, and you won't find out anything about the child (just the test).

The example in my powerpoint below is based on the DIBELS oral reading fluency measure. For that test, kids read a couple of brief passages (1 minute each) and a score is obtained in words correct per minute. Kids in first and second grade make about 1 word improvement per week on that kind of measure.

However, studies reveal this test has a standard error of measurement of 4 to 18 words... that means, under the best circumstances, say the student scores 50 wcpm on the test, then we can be 68 percent certain that this score is someplace between 46 and 54 (under the best conditions when there is a small SEM). That means that it will be at least 4 weeks before we would be able to know whether the child was actually improving. Sooner than that, and any gains or losses that we see will likely be due to the standard error (the normal bouncing around of test scores).

And that is the best of circumstances. As kids grow older, their growth rates decline. Older kids usually improve 1 word every three or four weeks weeks on DIBELS. In those cases, you would not be able to discern anything new for several months. But remember, I'm giving this only 68 percent confidence, not 95 percent, and I am assuming that DIBELS has the smallest SEMs possible (not likely under normal school conditions). Two or three testings per year is all that will be useful under most circumstances.

More frequent testing might seem rigorous, but it is time wasting, misinformative, and simply cannot provide any useful information for monitoring kids learning. Let's not just look highly committed and ethical by testing frequently; let's be highly committed and ethical and avoid unnecessary and potentially damaging testing.

Here is the whole presentation.

Monday, June 8, 2009

RtI on Steroids, or Why I Believe in the 9-Tier Model

The latest rage in the schools is RtI. Special education money (about 15% of it) can now be used for improving classroom instruction and installing preventative intervention programs. I'm a big fan of this movement for several reasons: First, because the best way to determine if someone has a learning problem is to offer really good teaching and if the struggling continues then you know. Second, special education programs simply haven't worked very well for most kids, and the learning disabilities label has been over applied, and those programs are getting expensive.

But even though I like RtI, I have problems with it (as do others, perhaps most notably, Dick Allington--however, his problems emanate from concerns about who will deliver the prevention services). My concern is that RtI is often so mechanistic that nothing good is happening for the children. Schools buy an instructional program and/or a regimen of professional development and they think they have a good Tier 1 response... they set up a reading class a couple of times a week for groups of struggling students and you can check off Tier 2 as well. That won't work and so if RtI is going to cut the case load in special education schools are going to have to be real aggressive about meeting students' learning needs in reading.

This weekend I met with a group of educators from across the country in Santa Fe and I told them about my 9-Tier Model. The first reaction was 9 tiers instead of 3, is this guy crazy? However, once they saw what has been missing from their 3-tier plans, they were more than willing to consider building up their efforts (not by going to 9 tiers, but by implementing a richer set of responses across the three tiers they have been doing). Good for them--and, more importantly, good for the kids whom they are responsible for. Here's my powerpoint on the 9-tier model: