Renaissance https://www.renaissance.com/ Accelerating learning for all Wed, 30 Nov 2022 17:08:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=6.0.3 https://www.renaissance.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/cropped-R-Color-2-32x32.png Renaissance https://www.renaissance.com/ 32 32 Writing new book quizzes for Accelerated Reader https://www.renaissance.com/2022/10/28/blog-writing-new-book-quizzes-for-accelerated-reader/ Fri, 28 Oct 2022 13:28:49 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=57730 For more than 35 years, educators have relied on Accelerated Reader to help inspire K–12 students’ reading practice. In earlier blogs, we answered two of the most common questions we receive about the AR program: how books are selected for […]

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For more than 35 years, educators have relied on Accelerated Reader to help inspire K–12 students’ reading practice. In earlier blogs, we answered two of the most common questions we receive about the AR program: how books are selected for inclusion and how we ensure AR meets the needs of today’s diverse students and communities. In this blog, we’ll answer two additional questions: Who writes new Reading Practice Quizzes for Accelerated Reader—and what does this process involve?

Read on for the answers, as four members of the AR Content Design team discuss their backgrounds, their working methods, and some favorite—and perhaps overlooked—books. Remember that you, your students, and their families can also visit AR Bookfinder, a free online resource for finding fiction and nonfiction titles that match each learner’s unique interests.

Michelle C: Inspiring middle-grades readers

“I majored in International Studies in college, and I then spent nine years working in the insurance industry. When my older son turned five, I left my position in order to homeschool him, meaning that I spent a lot of time reading children’s books. When I saw a posting for a part-time position writing Accelerated Reader quizzes, I knew it would be a perfect fit!

When writing quizzes, I gravitate toward Middle Grades books, especially those that will appeal to my sons. We’re big fans of the InvestiGator series by John Patrick Green and the Explorers Academy series by Trudi Trueit, as well as the Minecraft series by Max Brooks. The InvestiGator books are full of puns and quirky facts, while the Minecraft series touches on everything from castles to circuitry and has sparked my sons’ interest in learning more about these topics. In fact, my younger son recently asked me what life was like during the Middle Ages—a topic we’ll definitely be exploring this year.

This is a great example of how reading can open doors to new interests, while also teaching students important lessons. The Minecraft books, for example, tackle some big issues within their fictional universe: problem-solving, teamwork, resolving family conflicts, self-expression, and accepting others.

When I’m reading a book, I take detailed notes about plot points and characters, which I then use when writing the quiz. AR quizzes aren’t meant to be scavenger hunts, testing students’ memories of minor details. Instead, I follow the arc of the story, so students will—in a sense—relive the experience of reading the book and focus on what they learned.

One of the most challenging parts of quiz-writing is the distractors—answer choices that are incorrect but appear plausible to students who haven’t read the book. My notes are especially helpful here, so that I can draw on incidents and characters in the book when writing these incorrect (but believable) options.

I’m sometimes asked whether I feel a sense of accomplishment when my quizzes are published. The answer is: Absolutely! Each quiz I write expands the Accelerated Reader library, giving students a new choice in what to read. Our goal as Content Designers is to keep students reading—and to inspire them to follow their interests in choosing their next book.”

Barb F: Sharing a love of sports—and Shakespeare

“I’ve been writing Accelerated Reader quizzes for 28 years, and this would have been my dream job from the beginning—if I’d known it existed! I majored in English Education in college, and I then taught high school English and creative writing. One day I saw a newspaper ad with the headline ‘Read Children’s Books!’ Once I realized it wasn’t a scam, I decided to apply—and the rest is history.

Because I love baseball, I became known as ‘the sports person,’ and I’ve written quizzes for hundreds of sports-related books over the years. I’ve learned a lot, especially about hockey, golf, and other sports I wasn’t necessarily familiar with. I’ve written AR quizzes for at least a dozen books about Tiger Woods, for example, as well as Peyton Manning, Venus and Serena Williams, and many more.

As I’m reading a book, I stop to write potential quiz questions and the correct response—such as ‘How did Tiger Woods get his nickname?’ or ‘How old was he when he won his first tournament?’ Later, I’ll go back and write the distractors. This can be more difficult than people think, and I’ve had to abandon potential questions because it just wasn’t possible to write three plausible distractors to display alongside the correct answer.

Needless to say, the quiz-writing process has changed over the years. When I started, the emphasis was on literature, particularly titles that had won the Newbery Medal or Caldecott Medal. Over the last 15 years, the number of nonfiction books written for the Middle and Upper Grades has increased substantially—partly due to the focus on STEM, and partly due to new state learning standards that emphasize informational texts. We’ve also seen genres like graphic novels become much more popular. The number and variety of quizzes in Accelerated Reader has grown significantly to reflect these changes.

In addition to the sports books, I’ve had the opportunity to write AR quizzes for a wide range of titles during my time at Renaissance. I’ve written quizzes for Shakespeare plays and Stephen King novels, for instance. Recently, I’ve been drawn to biographies, and I created quizzes for books on Shirley Chisholm and Cleve Jones. I learned a lot while reading these books—an obvious ‘perk’ of the job!

Now that my own children are adults, writing AR quizzes also helps me to stay connected with new generations of children. I particularly enjoy the Emmie series of graphic novels by Terri Libenson, which address typical ‘kid’ problems—grades, family strife, bullies—in a very relatable way. I think this is so important today—not only to engage kids with well-written stories, but to remind them that they’re not alone.”

Kelli S: Introducing students to new worlds through books

“I majored in Elementary Education in college, and I taught grades 4 and 5 for several years. I then became a literacy interventionist and, eventually, an instructional coach, working with teachers and administrators on best practices in reading instruction and assessment. I also earned my master’s degree in Educational Administration, and I’m certified in the areas of Director of Instruction and Principal.

When COVID-19 hit, my husband and I made the decision to return to our hometown in central Wisconsin. I was very familiar with Renaissance programs—I’d used Accelerated Reader as a student, and I used Star Assessments, Freckle, and Nearpod as an educator. Joining the AR Content Design team was a natural fit. As a teacher, I made sure my classroom was full of books—from garage sales, thrift shops, book drives, etc. I also worked to ensure diversity in my classroom library, so that all students could see themselves represented while learning about other people’s experiences, too.

Over the past two years, I’ve become well rounded as a Content Designer. I’ve written 3-question quizzes for early reader books, along with quizzes for Lower and Middle Grades titles. I’m most drawn to Upper Grades books, however—especially fantasy novels. This genre has exploded over the last decade, due to the popularity of series like The Hunger Games and the rise of online fandoms.

A recent title that stands out in this genre is This Woven Kingdom by Tahereh Mafi. It’s based on a Persian epic and has some of the best world-building I’ve seen. I was completely immersed in the story, and I’d recommend it to high school students and librarians. It’s the first book in a series, and I’ll absolutely be reading the sequels, whether I get to write the Accelerated Reader quizzes or not!

In terms of process, I read all of the books digitally. As I’m reading, I copy key passages into a separate document, so I have major plot points in one place for later reference. I also write potential quiz questions as I read. Upper Grades books can include sensitive issues—violence, sexual situations, profanity—which I flag as well, so the appropriate trigger warnings can be included in AR Bookfinder.

Writing quizzes is a collaborative process, and I’ve benefitted from other Content Designers sharing their experience with me. We have exemplar quizzes for different genres of books and different types of questions, and I studied these closely when I was getting started. I also get great feedback from my editors, and I don’t hesitate to ask questions if I’m unsure of something.

I often find myself thinking of former students when I’m writing AR quizzes. Sometimes, it’s the realization that a certain student would really enjoy a particular book. In other cases, it’s a matter of empathy—of seeing the quiz from the students’ point of view. How can I ask about a complex topic in a clear way? How can I help students to see reading as a positive experience? As a teacher, my reach was limited to a single classroom. Now, my impact is much larger, reaching students not only in the US but around the world.”

Nikki R: Building excitement for reading, one title at a time

“In college, I studied Family Consumer Education, which focuses on child development, nutrition, sewing, etc. I taught both middle and high school and was also a substitute teacher before I joined Renaissance in 2013.

I’ve written Accelerated Reader quizzes for a wide range of books, although Young Adult novels are my favorite—especially historical fiction. Many of these are Upper Grades titles, but we’re seeing an increasing interest in history in the Middle and Lower Grades as well. The Diary of Anne Frank has been adapted as a graphic novel for middle-grades readers, for instance.

I’d describe myself as a fan of any book that keeps students engaged and makes them want to learn more. When done well, historical fiction hits both points. The characters and plot engage students and keep them guessing about what will happen next. Students also get insight into what life was like in the past, such as the treatment of women in the 1800s, or what civilians and soldiers endured during World War II. In this sense, a novel can really spark students’ interest in nonfiction, making them want to learn more about the American Revolution, the women’s suffrage movement, the moon landing, etc.

I often describe writing an AR quiz as ‘creative technical writing,’ in the sense that our goal is to engage students while also following best practices and our content appropriateness guidelines. The guidelines are helpful in dealing with sensitive issues—in Upper Grades historical fiction, for example, students might encounter violence, racism, or sexism—and we’re very careful with when and how we reference these issues in the quiz. We also regularly review and update existing book quizzes to ensure they continue to align with our guidelines and best practices.

In terms of process, I take detailed notes as I’m reading, which then help me to plan and write the quiz. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Content Designers went into the office one day per week to pick up print copies of books. Now, everyone works from digital copies, which mirrors many students’ reading experience—especially in schools that are using the myON digital platform alongside Accelerated Reader.

I’ve had the opportunity to write quizzes for some memorable books over the years, many of which I’ve recommended to my local librarian. A recent example is Ten Beautiful Things by Molly Beth Griffin. This is a wonderful title for elementary students, emphasizing gratitude and finding the beauty in everyday life. I know children have a lot of distractions today and may be tempted to scroll through their phones rather than opening a book. I think I can speak for the entire Content Design team when I say that our goal is to help make reading a positive experience for students—and to build a sense of excitement as they look forward to their next great read.”

Looking for new and popular titles to engage your students this year? Check out What Kids Are Reading the world’s largest annual survey of K–12 students’ reading habits. And to see everything today’s Accelerated Reader has to offer, click the button below.

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National Report Shows Signs of Growth, Recovery Among Early Learners and Middle Schoolers https://www.renaissance.com/2022/10/18/news-national-report-shows-signs-of-growth-recovery-among-early-learners-and-middle-schoolers/ Tue, 18 Oct 2022 14:14:45 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=57590 New edition of How Kids Are Performing shows improvements in student growth across nearly all grade levels and groups—particularly in elementary school Bloomington, MN (October 18, 2022) – Renaissance, a global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, today released the latest […]

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New edition of How Kids Are Performing shows improvements in student growth across nearly all grade levels and groups—particularly in elementary school

Bloomington, MN (October 18, 2022) Renaissance, a global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, today released the latest edition of How Kids Are Performing, a report detailing student academic performance and growth during the 2021–2022 school year. The new report reveals that overall, student performance during the past school year continued to fall in reading and was consistent in math—it improved in the elementary grades and declined in the upper grades. Results vary considerably by individual grade level, but the report gives clear reasons for optimism as well as underscoring the need for the action and momentum to continue forward.

Based on the Star Reading assessments of more than 4.6 million students and the Star Math assessments of nearly 3.3 million students, the latest edition of How Kids Are Performing shows improvements in within-year growth compared to the prior school year across nearly all grades and groups, particularly in elementary school.

“In many cases, younger students are now exceeding what we would consider ‘typical’ growth in a single school year,” said Dr. Gene Kerns, chief academic officer at Renaissance. “As we’ve been tracking the impact of the pandemic on student achievement, the two areas of greatest concern have been mathematics among elementary school students and literacy skills among kindergarten students. Yet after initial declines during the 2021–2022 school year, those two areas are now showing the strongest improvements in growth. This suggests that educators have identified and responded to those challenges, which is cause for celebration and continued optimism for the work still ahead.”

Kerns highlighted other “great examples of the progress educators and students have been making over the past year across the country. Compared to growth rates from the prior school year, in math, English language learners and Pacific Islanders had a 15-point improvement in growth, while American Indian, Black, and Hispanic students all showed an increase of 12 points.”

Other key findings in the new report include:

  • Overall, student performance on Star assessments was lower compared to the 2020–2021 school year, with exceptions in certain elementary grades. The largest declines were in the high school grades.
  • Some high school grades also showed declines in growth, but fall-to-spring growth was stronger than in the 2020–2021 school year in many early and middle grades, which reached or exceeded typical growth.
  • Although performance and growth varied among student and school groups, spring performance in reading was equal or lower in the 2021–2022 school year compared to the prior year, while performance in math was equal or higher than the prior year.

“Clearly, the pandemic has impacted all students’ learning outcomes, and now more than ever we need assessment systems that provide meaningful data in a timely manner,” said Ryan McKinnon, assistant principal at Carrollton City Schools in Georgia. “Our students’ potential has not changed, and the new report shows that students make adequate or even above-average growth when we focus on what’s working and modify our instructional techniques accordingly.”

To help educators prioritize their use of classroom time as they work to accelerate learning for their students this school year, Renaissance has released a collection of free resources, including:

  • Focus Skills in English and Spanish, designed to help educators identify the most critical skills for future learning at each grade level;
  • Trip Steps for Reading, which are the most difficult reading skills for students to master across grades K–12; and
  • Trip Steps for Mathematics, showing the most difficult math skills for students to master from pre-K through Algebra 1.

To help educators focus on essential phonics skills, Renaissance is also offering Star Phonics, the first and only web-based assessment that measures the Science of Reading by screening and diagnosing 102 essential phonics skills. Dr. Michelle Hosp, the assessment’s creator, explains how the Science of Reading underlies Star Phonics in the new whitepaper, “The Science Behind Star Phonics.”

The full How Kids Are Performing report is available at renaissance.com/How-Kids-Are-Performing.

About Renaissance

As a global leader in assessment, reading, and math solutions for pre-K–12 schools and districts, Renaissance is committed to providing educators with insights and resources to accelerate growth and help all students build a strong foundation for success. Renaissance solutions reach more than 40% of US schools and more than a half million students in other regions across the world. Our portfolio includes solutions for assessment (Star Assessments, Star Phonics, myIGDIs for Preschool, FastBridge, DnA, and SchoolCity); practice (Accelerated Reader, myON, Freckle, and Lalilo); data-driven insights (eduCLIMBER and Schoolzilla); and teacher-facilitated instructional delivery (Nearpod). For more information, visit renaissance.com.

Media Contact:
Lucy Duffy
Senior Public Relations and Communications Specialist
Renaissance
561-573-6296
pr@renaissance.com

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Kentucky Board of Education Approves Renaissance Assessments for K–3 Early Literacy Screening and Diagnostics https://www.renaissance.com/2022/10/12/news-kentucky-board-of-education-approves-renaissance-assessments-for-k3-early-literacy-screening-and-diagnostics/ Wed, 12 Oct 2022 13:26:22 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=57560 Districts across the state can now use data from Star Early Literacy and Star Reading for universal screening and Star Phonics as an approved reading diagnostic Bloomington, MN (October 12, 2022) – Renaissance, a global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, […]

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Districts across the state can now use data from Star Early Literacy and Star Reading for universal screening and Star Phonics as an approved reading diagnostic

Bloomington, MN (October 12, 2022) Renaissance, a global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, recently announced that Star Assessments have been approved by the Kentucky Department of Education to assist school leaders and teachers to meet the required criteria of the Read to Succeed Act (Senate Bill 9) through valid and reliable assessment as part of a multi-tiered system of supports for students in grades K–3.

“We’re pleased to support the teachers and students of Kentucky with valid and reliable assessments for measuring and monitoring literacy skills proficiency,” said Mark DeFranco, Regional Vice President at Renaissance. “Star Assessments will help teachers to identify students who may be at risk for developing reading difficulties and are in need of additional instruction and intervention, as well as the key foundational literacy skills students are ready to learn next.”

Star Assessments are quick and easy for teachers to administer, and they provide actionable information to support strong foundational literacy development:

Star Early Literacy is a computer-adaptive assessment of phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, phonics, print concepts, fluency, and comprehension for beginning and emergent readers.

Star Reading is computer-adaptive assessment for independent readers in the key domains of vocabulary and comprehension.

Star Phonics is the first and only web-based assessment that screens and diagnoses 12 phonics categories and 102 essential skills. Star Phonics gives educators specific information about students’ development of essential phonics components.

About Renaissance

As a global leader in assessment, reading, and math solutions for pre-K–12 schools and districts, Renaissance is committed to providing educators with insights and resources to accelerate growth and help all students build a strong foundation for success. Our portfolio includes solutions for assessment (Star Assessments, Star Phonics, myIGDIs for Preschool, FastBridge, DnA, and SchoolCity); practice (Accelerated Reader, myON, Freckle, and Lalilo); data-driven insights (eduCLIMBER and Schoolzilla); and teacher-facilitated instructional delivery (Nearpod).

Press contact:
Lucy Duffy
Multi-Media Communications Specialist
Renaissance
561-573-6296
pr@renaissance.com

The post Kentucky Board of Education Approves Renaissance Assessments for K–3 Early Literacy Screening and Diagnostics appeared first on Renaissance.

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Star Reading and Star Math Approved by Georgia Department of Education as Gifted Identification Screeners https://www.renaissance.com/2022/10/07/news-star-reading-and-star-math-approved-by-georgia-department-of-education-as-gifted-identification-screeners/ Fri, 07 Oct 2022 11:50:29 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=57517 Districts across the state can now use data from their Star Assessments to help identify students eligible for gifted education programs. Bloomington, MN (October 7, 2022) – Renaissance, a global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, recently announced that Star Reading […]

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Districts across the state can now use data from their Star Assessments to help identify students eligible for gifted education programs.

Bloomington, MN (October 7, 2022) Renaissance, a global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, recently announced that Star Reading and Star Math have been added to the approved list of Gifted Education Assessment Measures to identify students’ eligibility for gifted education programs in the achievement domain by the Georgia Department of Education.

Districts across the state can now use data from their Star Assessments for Reading and Math to help identify students eligible for gifted education programs.

“We welcome the opportunity to assist Georgia educators and students and support gifted identification with valid and reliable data from our Star Assessments,” said Darice Keating, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs at Renaissance. “The Georgia Department of Education’s approval of Star Assessments will help districts to personalize instruction informed by data-driven insights to help educators reach every student at the right level.”

The Georgia DOE gifted education screening process requires data for students in four categories including mental ability, achievement, creativity, and motivation. Star assessment data will be used to measure student performance in the achievement category.

Star Reading is a comprehensive online assessment providing all of the insights needed to guide literacy growth for readers at all levels. Star Reading transforms assessment data into action steps for educators, giving teachers helpful insights and tools to strengthen instruction.

Star Math puts assessment data to work for educators so teachers can spend less time analyzing results and more time differentiating instruction. With Star Math, educators can help students increase math mastery with actionable insights into each student’s math skills and subskills.

About Renaissance

As a global leader in assessment, reading, and math solutions for pre-K–12 schools and districts, Renaissance is committed to providing educators with insights and resources to accelerate growth and help all students build a strong foundation for success. Our portfolio includes solutions for assessment (Star Assessments, Star Phonics, myIGDIs for Preschool, FastBridge, DnA, and SchoolCity); practice (Accelerated Reader, myON, Freckle, and Lalilo); data-driven insights (eduCLIMBER and Schoolzilla); and teacher-facilitated instructional delivery (Nearpod).

Press contact:
Lucy Duffy
Multi-Media Communications Specialist
Renaissance
561-573-6296
pr@renaissance.com

The post Star Reading and Star Math Approved by Georgia Department of Education as Gifted Identification Screeners appeared first on Renaissance.

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5 common myths about students with dyslexia https://www.renaissance.com/2022/09/30/blog-5-common-myths-about-students-with-dyslexia/ Fri, 30 Sep 2022 13:29:05 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=57498 By Dr. Michelle Hosp, Director of Foundational Literacy As the creator of Renaissance’s new Star Phonics assessment, I often receive questions from educators and families about how to best support students with dyslexia—and about whether these students can learn to […]

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By Dr. Michelle Hosp, Director of Foundational Literacy

As the creator of Renaissance’s new Star Phonics assessment, I often receive questions from educators and families about how to best support students with dyslexia—and about whether these students can learn to read successfully. The good news is that students with dyslexia can become confident, independent readers, although their journey to literacy may look somewhat different than it does for their peers. I also encounter many myths and misconceptions about dyslexia. In this blog, I’ll discuss five of the most common, and I’ll explain how these myths can stand in the way of providing students with effective reading instruction and supports.

Note: If you’re not familiar with dyslexia, I encourage you to read the International Dyslexia Association’s official definition.

Myth #1: Dyslexia means “seeing things backwards.”

In my experience, this is the most common myth about dyslexia. In fact, when I type “dyslexia and reversals” into Google, I get more than 1.4 million hits. Why do so many people believe this?

The answer is connected to typical reading development and a common error many students make, namely: reversing letters when reading or writing, like “b” and “d” or “p” and “q.” This type of error is common when students are learning how phonemes (sounds) and graphemes (letters) are connected in English. The fact that we have 26 letters in our alphabet and around 44 sounds can make it challenging to keep the letters and sounds straight. It also means that letters that look similar will often be confused until the student has mastered this skill.

It’s true that students with dyslexia are more susceptible to making these types of errors, because a common characteristic of dyslexia is struggling with accurately mapping the correct phonemes to graphemes. That is why it’s not uncommon for these students to continue to make these types of reversals when their peers are not. It does not mean they “see things backwards,” however. Instead, it means they need more help learning how letters and sounds go together.

I can’t help but make one more comment here. If it were true that students with dyslexia see letters and words backwards, wouldn’t this be true for everything they see? Wouldn’t pictures, signs, clothing, food, and everything else be backwards? For example, if they saw traffic signs like the ones below, wouldn’t both the letters/words and the arrows be reversed?

Clearly, this doesn’t happen. The human brain does know to only pinpoint and reverse letters and words, which shows how baseless this myth is.

Myth #2: Dyslexia is a visual impairment.

Like myth #1, there’s no evidence that students with dyslexia have visual impairments that relate to their reading challenges. But I have two theories as to why this myth is so common.

First, it builds on myth #1 that students see things backwards; therefore—dyslexia must have something to do with their vision. If you believe myth #1, then it’s not a stretch to believe that dyslexia results from a visual impairment.

Second, there are many so-called “treatments” for dyslexia that focus on students’ vision. These include color overlays, special glasses, special fonts, and even eye tracking exercises. Because these treatments exist, people conclude that dyslexia must result from a visual impairment.

Unfortunately, we don’t have an FDA to regulate educational treatments, so it can be a case of “anything goes”—even if the treatments don’t actually work. One example relates to Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome, also called Irlen Syndrome for its developer, Helen Irlen. Irlen’s institute claims that this syndrome is a visual processing disorder that can’t be detected by any test other than theirs. The treatment is a color overlay placed on top of text. There are no independent empirical studies to support the existence of this syndrome or the efficacy of the treatment, yet it plays into the notion that vision is involved. This gives people hope that there is a “quick fix” or cure for dyslexia, which leads us to the next myth.

Myth #3: Dyslexia can be cured.

People with dyslexia wish this were true, but they know only too well that dyslexia is a lifelong disability, and there is no cure. However, people with dyslexia can become strong readers, and there are many scientifically based interventions to support K–12 students’ skills in reading. Instead of sharing a list, I’ll describe what makes an intervention effective by discussing the skills it should include and what the instruction should look like. If you keep these points in mind, you won’t have a problem distinguishing effective from ineffective interventions.

Let’s start with the skills students with dyslexia—and, frankly, any student learning to read—will benefit from:

  • Phonemic awareness: E.g., ask students to tell you all of the sounds they hear in the word “sat”. Without looking at any letters, they should say “/s/ /a/ /t/.” This helps them to focus on the phonemes (sounds) that make up words.
  • Phonics/decoding: E.g., ask students to say the sounds in “sat” and to then read the word. Students should look at each letter and say “/s/ /a/ /t/,” and they should then say “/sat/”. This is an extension of phonemic awareness by adding the letters that represent the sounds.
  • Fluency: E.g., ask students to read aloud without making errors, at a pace that is fitting for the text (poems might be slower, novels might be faster), while also using expression to convey meaning.
  • Vocabulary: E.g., ask students to tell you what the word “sat” means. Vocabulary develops over time and should be taught explicitly, even if students aren’t yet reading. This is because they need to know the meaning of the words they’ll encounter in order to comprehend what they read.

Now, let’s discuss how these skills should be taught. This is often referred to as systematic and explicit instruction, or evidence-based instruction. Let’s consider these terms in detail.

Systematic means you have a plan or a system for how you teach, instead of relying on discovery or “in the moment” learning. Your system should include the skills you’ll teach each day and the order in which you’ll teach them. This is often referred to as your scope and sequence. Things to consider when developing a scope and sequence include:

  • The prerequisite skills students need in order to learn a new skill. For example, teaching the sounds of the letters before teaching students how to read words is logical, because their ability to read a word will depend on how well they know their letter sounds.
  • Plans for how much time you’ll need to teach a skill, based on whether you’re teaching it for the first time, providing practice, or reviewing it. Logically, your plan should allow for more time when teaching a skill for the first time versus reviewing a skill.

Explicit: Think of this as crystal clear, black and white, and leaving nothing to chance. You may have heard explicit instruction referred to as “I do, we do, you do.” To show you what this looks like, I’ll provide an example.

“I do” means the teacher shows, demonstrates, and produces the exact response she wants the students to carry out. The goal is to leave nothing to chance. For teaching letter sounds, this would look like the following:

Teacher: Points to the letter S on the board. “Today we’re going to learn the sound for the letter S. The letter S says: ‘sssssssss.’ Listen: ‘sssssssss.’ Now it’s your turn. When I point to the letter, you say the sound.” Points to the letter S.

Students: “ssssssssss.”

“We do” means the teacher continues the lesson but asks the students to respond with her. For example:

Teacher: “Now let’s do it together. When I point to the letter S, you say the sound with me.” Points to the letter S.

Teacher and students: “sssssssss.”

“You do” means the students produce the sound by themselves. For example:

Teacher: “Now it’s your turn! When I point to the letter S, you say the sound by yourselves.” Points to the letter S.

Students: “sssssssss.”

Now, let’s consider what this might look like using a non-explicit—or discovery learning—approach. Imagine a teacher is reading a book about the sun aloud to her class. She interrupts her reading to ask a question:

Teacher: “Who saw the sun today on their way to school?”

Students: Raise their hands.

Teacher: “Does anyone know what letter ‘sun’ begins with?”

Students: Raise their hands.

Teacher: Picks one student and asks, “What sound does ‘sun’ begin with?”

Student: “ssssssss.”

Teacher: Addressing that student only: “Good job!” Continues reading the book aloud.

Both teachers planned to teach the letter S as part of their lesson. The first teacher, using “I do, we do, you do,” makes sure the students look at the letter and hear the correct pronunciation before they all practice producing the sound. The second teacher chooses to teach “in the moment” using a book, meaning the students may or may not have seen the letter S, and not all students are expected to produce the sound.

Now think about our students with dyslexia—or any student learning to read. Which classroom would you want them to be in?

Myth #4: Students with dyslexia are “lazy.” They just need to make more of an effort.

This myth really frustrates me because it blames students for something they can’t control. But I think I can shed light on why this myth is prevalent. It’s because students with dyslexia are, in many ways, just like any other students when it comes to learning other subjects, social skills, and oral language. When you talk to students with dyslexia, you’ll find that they’re like most typically developing students, they have a wide vocabulary, and they’re knowledgeable and articulate.

This means that when it comes to dyslexia, you can’t “see it”—and if you can’t see a person’s disability, it can be harder to understand that they have one. This leads to the misconception that this seemingly capable, articulate student who does well in other subjects should also be doing well in reading. They just need to try harder! For students with dyslexia, nothing stings more than people attributing their struggle to a choice they’re making—as if they’d be able to read successfully if they put in more effort.

Myth #5: Dyslexia is a medical diagnosis.

Have you heard that only doctors can diagnose dyslexia? As a former school psychologist, I can assure you this is not the case. So, how is dyslexia diagnosed? In the US, public schools—as well as private schools receiving federal funds—are required to have a team that includes a school psychologist, speech-language pathologist, special and general education teachers, and others, depending on the circumstances. If there’s reason to suspect a student has any type of disability, including dyslexia, this team is responsible for collecting data using assessments, interviews, and observations to determine whether the student has a disability and, if so, whether the student requires special education services.

Note that dyslexia falls under the definition of “specific learning disability” and is not a separate disability category under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The USDOE’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) issued a “Dear Colleague” letter in 2015 confirming that schools can use the term “dyslexia” when considering whether a student is eligible for special education due to a specific learning disability in reading.

How Renaissance supports universal screening for characteristics of dyslexia

Now that we’ve examined some common myths, let’s turn our attention to dyslexia screening, which nearly every state requires for all K–3 students. As a result of these policies, we can now identify children with dyslexia as early as kindergarten. The purpose of identifying these children is, of course, to intervene—and we know that the earlier this happens, the greater the chances that students will receive instruction and supports to become successful readers.

Skills included in dyslexia screening are phonemic awareness, phonics, rapid automatized naming (RAN), word reading fluency, and spelling. Renaissance offers several assessment options for universal screening in these areas. Star Early Literacy, Star Reading, and Star CBM Reading appear on many states’ lists of approved dyslexia screeners. Star CBM Reading includes several RAN measures, including new measures this school year for Rapid Letter Naming and Rapid Number Naming.

The assessment I created, Star Phonics, is an important companion to a school’s reading screener. Star Phonics is the only assessment that measures 12 of the most common phonics patterns and also provides diagnostic information on 102 specific phonics skills. Because phonics is complex, administering a phonics screener to all students provides detailed information for instructional planning on the skills that are most predictive of learning to read successfully. For students with dyslexia, measuring their phonics skills is one of the best ways we can help them by identifying what they already know and where we need to focus instruction. The faster we can help these students, the greater the success they’ll have in reading, and they deserve to have the best support we can provide.

For more information about dyslexia, including fact sheets, family resources, and responses to frequently asked questions, visit the International Dyslexia Association’s website. To learn more about Renaissance Star Assessments for screening and progress monitoring, click the button below.

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Product Highlights: Enhancing connections to help students grow this year https://www.renaissance.com/2022/09/16/blog-product-highlights-enhancing-connections-to-help-students-grow-this-year/ Fri, 16 Sep 2022 16:49:51 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=57410 Connections are the heart of education. This school year, you’ll find great new features in your Renaissance solutions to more powerfully connect assessment, instruction, and practice—to preserve instructional time while also helping you to drive greater student growth. Read on […]

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Connections are the heart of education. This school year, you’ll find great new features in your Renaissance solutions to more powerfully connect assessment, instruction, and practice—to preserve instructional time while also helping you to drive greater student growth. Read on for a summary of what’s new. For the full details, visit our Product Updates Blog, where you’ll find the latest Renaissance news and resources throughout the year.

Supporting oral reading fluency with myON

myON digital books include natural-voice audio narration to model fluent reading. A new myON feature allows students to also record themselves reading books aloud—and to review the recording before submitting it to their teacher:

This feature provides students with new opportunities for oral reading practice both in and out of the classroom. It also encourages them to self-assess their reading performance to recognize their strengths as well as their miscues. Opportunities to self-assess are essential for literacy growth and help students to take greater ownership of their learning. As an educator, you can listen to the recordings to monitor students’ progress and provide additional feedback. You might also use the recordings to create portfolios, to compare each student’s reading fluency at the beginning, middle, and end of the school year.

In addition to this new read-aloud feature, myON offers more than 100 new titles for Back to School, including decodables, early elementary chapter books, and books in Spanish. And remember that myON provides you and your students with two metrics for identifying students’ current reading levels: ATOS ZPD and Lexile® measures.

Building foundational literacy skills with Lalilo

Lalilo provides K–2 students with engaging practice on foundational literacy skills and is built on Science of Reading research.

Educators using the premium version of Lalilo can now use Star Early Literacy assessment scores to pre-place students into the Lalilo scope and sequence. This new connection saves students time while also helping to ensure they begin their Lalilo journey with the just-right lessons in phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, comprehension, and more.

Administrators also have access to enhanced Lalilo reporting this year, so they can more easily monitor K–2 students’ foundational literacy practice and progress at the district, school, and class levels. Lalilo’s administrator dashboard provides a variety of important metrics, including the amount of time students are practicing in Lalilo and the percentage of students who are On Track, Below Track, or Inactive by grade level and by month:

If you’re not already using Lalilo, we invite you to learn more about the program and to create a free account to get started.

Promoting greater literacy growth with Accelerated Reader

In the past, AR’s Average Book Level metric could be difficult for younger readers to understand. So this school year, we’ve introduced a new metric called reading range. You can set a reading range in English as well as Spanish for each student, using either ATOS or Lexile. Students can refer to their reading range(s) when choosing books for independent reading, and you can quickly see the percentage of their practice that occurs within their reading range.

To support emergent bilingual students, AR offers thousands of quizzes in Spanish. AR’s new Biliteracy Report helps you to more easily monitor these students’ reading practice. On this new report, you can quickly see students’ percentage of reading in English and in Spanish and how they’re performing on AR quizzes in each language. You can use this information when conferencing with students and to support their journey to English-Spanish biliteracy.

We invite you to learn more about how we create Spanish quizzes in Accelerated Reader, as well as our ongoing work to ensure Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in AR.

Introducing the Parts of Speech domain in Freckle

You’ll find a number of new features in our Freckle for ELA K–12 practice program this year, including Targeted Grammar Practice, enhanced reporting, and new ELA Skills learning pathways. You can also take advantage of a new Parts of Speech domain, which provides students with practice on essential building blocks for success in reading and writing.

In addition to multiple-choice and fix-the-sentence question types, Freckle’s Parts of Speech domain also presents students with a new, interactive question type that allows them to select-the-word in the context of the sentence, providing more variety in their practice:

If you’re not currently using Freckle for ELA, we invite you to create a free account to see what the program has to offer. Also, learn more about how Freckle will fit into your ELA classes this year.

Accessing Nearpod lessons from the Star Record Book

Great news! If you use Star Assessments, you now have access to Nearpod lessons and resources within the Star Record Book. This enables you to easily select engaging instructional resources for individual students, small groups, or an entire class—matching the specific literacy and math skills students are ready to learn next:

As shown in the screenshot above, Focus Skills are marked with an icon, so you can quickly identify the most critical skills at each grade level. With a single click, you can also see the prerequisites for each skill, along with aligned Nearpod resources for students who need further instruction and practice on these prerequisites.

Star users who don’t already have a Nearpod account will be prompted to create one, at no additional cost. If you’re using the Nearpod Math program, you’ll also have access to premium math lessons and resources within Star.

If you’re not familiar with Nearpod, which offers thousands of interactive lessons, activities, and videos that fit how students learn best, you can learn more here.

Introducing Star CBM Lectura for K–6 students

We’re excited to introduce the latest addition to the Star Assessments suite: Star CBM Lectura. Designed authentically in Spanish with input from experts in the field of biliteracy, Star CBM Lectura is a powerful new resource for educators in bilingual and dual language programs. It provides reliable measures that truly reflect K–6 students’ foundational literacy development in Spanish:

You can use Star CBM Lectura alongside Star Early Literacy, Star Reading, and Star CBM Reading to support Spanish-English biliteracy growth and to guide reading instruction in each language. You’ll find intuitive, side-by-side reporting to screen and monitor student progress throughout the year:

We invite you to learn more about the design of Star CBM Lectura and our field testing process. Also, discover how Star Assessments, Accelerated Reader, myON, and other Renaissance solutions work together to support Spanish-English biliteracy development from pre-K through grade 12.

Additional support for your early learners

You’ll find several additional new features in Star Assessments to support your early learners this year:

  • Star CBM includes two new measures of Rapid Automatic Naming (RAN) for grades K–3: Rapid Letter Naming and Rapid Number Naming. Many states and professionals require assessment of Rapid Automatic Naming as part of universal screening for characteristics of dyslexia, and these new measures provide you with additional assessment options.
  • Star Early Literacy includes new national norms for pre-K, and Star Math includes new national norms for kindergarten. Norm-referenced scores—such as Percentile Rank (PR) and Student Growth Percentile (SGP)—help you to compare students’ performance to that of their grade-level peers nationwide. You can learn more about the new norms here.

Accelerating student learning this year

A new school year provides new opportunities for helping all students to learn and grow. If you haven’t already, we invite you to explore strategies for increasing math motivation and strategies for teaching challenging literacy skills in recent blogs by our colleagues Dr. Jan Bryan and Dr. Gene Kerns. We also invite you to use our Focus Skills for literacy and math to help prioritize instruction and practice this year. And please join us for one or more of our complimentary How-to Webinars, which provide professional learning on each of your Renaissance products.

For more insights on connecting your learning data during this school year, watch our new webinar on rethinking the perfect district assessment system, presented by Dr. Gene Kerns. And bookmark our Product Updates Blog for the last Renaissance news and resources.

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Renaissance Releases Star CBM Lectura and Announces Winners of First Ever Student Art Contest, Celebrating Hispanic Culture https://www.renaissance.com/2022/09/13/news-renaissance-releases-star-cbm-lectura-and-announces-winners-of-first-ever-student-art-contest-celebrating-hispanic-culture/ Tue, 13 Sep 2022 14:01:04 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=57385 The company recognizes three contest winners, along with a new Spanish assessment product to further Renaissance’s commitment toward supporting Emergent Bilingual students.  Bloomington, MN (September 13, 2022) – Renaissance, a global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, is excited to announce […]

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The company recognizes three contest winners, along with a new Spanish assessment product to further Renaissance’s commitment toward supporting Emergent Bilingual students. 

Bloomington, MN (September 13, 2022) Renaissance, a global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, is excited to announce the winners of the “Shine a Light on Bilingualism” K–12 student art contest to celebrate Hispanic culture and Spanish-English biliteracy.

The winners, chosen by Renaissance’s RAICES (Respectfully Amplify the Impact of our Culture to Empower and Succeed) employee resource group and Biliteracy Advisory Council, are “Me-et the Hispanic Heritage” by Lenox (grade 3), “Under the Basilica” by Ananya (grade 8), and “Fusion” by Gabriela (grade 10). The student artwork provides a creative depiction of Hispanic culture and bilingualism and will be featured during Renaissance’s celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.

National Hispanic Heritage Month, which takes place between September 15 and October 15, recognizes and honors the cultures, language, and influence of both Hispanic and Latino Americans. Throughout the month Renaissance will highlight how it supports bilingual students and the development of biliteracy through new products and enhancements.

For Back-to-School 2022, Renaissance released Star CBM Lectura, an authentic literacy assessment in Spanish for grades K–6. With Star CBM Lectura, teachers gain actionable insights and data that inform instructional decisions to help guide their students toward reading success in Spanish.

“Renaissance understands that all students bring assets to their literacy journey,” said Doris Chávez-Linville, Director of Linguistic and Culturally Diverse Innovation at Renaissance. “Providing an assessment designed from the ground up in Spanish to assess the way Spanish literacy develops is a testimony to our commitment to uplifting emergent bilinguals.”

Renaissance recognizes students’ variety of language backgrounds and provides assessments, practice, and instructional tools in addition to Star CBM Lectura that support emergent bilinguals. Educators can learn more about how Renaissance products support their emergent bilinguals by visiting the Inspiring Emergent Bilinguals webpage.

For more information about Renaissance, visit www.renaissance.com.

About Renaissance

As a global leader in assessment, reading, and math solutions for pre-K–12 schools and districts, Renaissance is committed to providing educators with insights and resources to accelerate growth and help all students build a strong foundation for success. Renaissance solutions reach more than 40 percent of US schools and more than half a million students in other regions across the world. Our portfolio includes solutions for assessment (Star Assessments, Star Phonics, myIGDIs for Preschool, FastBridge, DnA, and SchoolCity); practice (Accelerated Reader, myON, Freckle, and Lalilo); data-driven insights (eduCLIMBER and Schoolzilla); and teacher-facilitated instructional delivery (Nearpod).

Press contact:
Lucy Duffy
Multi-Media Communications Specialist
Renaissance
561-573-6296
pr@renaissance.com

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Thinking beyond language: Empowering emergent bilingual learners https://www.renaissance.com/2022/08/26/blog-thinking-beyond-language-empowering-emergent-bilingual-learners/ Fri, 26 Aug 2022 12:15:09 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=57262 By Elizabeth Jiménez Salinas, Bilingual Education Advocate and Author When I first began working as a bilingual teacher, a colleague asked me to join her parent conference as an interpreter. During the conference, my colleague told the parent that her […]

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By Elizabeth Jiménez Salinas, Bilingual Education Advocate and Author

When I first began working as a bilingual teacher, a colleague asked me to join her parent conference as an interpreter. During the conference, my colleague told the parent that her third-grade son was performing at a first-grade level. The parent got confused and asked, “Then why isn’t he in first grade?” My colleague was perplexed by this question.

Having attended school in Costa Rica, I understood immediately and explained that globally, students are often retained in the same grade until they pass that grade level’s curriculum. So, in the US, when a student annually advances to the next grade, parents assume their child is performing on grade-level, based on their own school experience. US educators may not be aware of this difference, so part of our work is to share this information with students, their families, and our colleagues.

I begin with this story because it highlights the important distinction between language proficiency and cultural intelligence. When discussing emergent bilingual learners, it’s common to speak about these students’ English language proficiency—in fact, “ELP level” is a common acronym. In many schools, it’s far less common to hear educators discussing their own cultural intelligence, meaning their appreciation and understanding of students’ and their families’ backgrounds and language assets. As a bilingual educator, I believe that educators’ cultural intelligence is vital to supporting students’ academic success—a point I’ll explore in this blog.

Building on emergent bilingual students’ assets

When I taught first grade in California, I read aloud to my students daily after lunch. One day, I chose El zapatero y los duendes (The Shoemaker and the Elves). To elicit students’ prior knowledge, I asked, “Where do shoes come from?” Most children called out the names of local stores like Payless or K-Mart, but one student raised his hand and said that when his family lived in Mexico, his papá was a shoemaker. I invited him to come forward and share with us. José told us about the tools, materials, and shoemaking process he was familiar with. Thoroughly fascinated, I asked him how his papá figured out the size of the shoe to make. José took a piece of paper and slipped off his shoe, stood on the paper and traced around it with a pencil. What an incredible asset we had in our midst! And what a valuable lesson I learned that day.

Had José not offered to share what he knew, I would not have thought to ask, and the class would have missed an amazing learning opportunity. In this case, the life-experience asset he brought to the classroom was expertise that exceeded what even I—the teacher—knew.

In some cultures, this might be looked down upon as the student trying to out-shine the adult, and some children may be hesitant to speak up like José did. But we can still elicit these assets in other ways—provided we understand their value to student learning.

I think of assets as the valuables we own, beyond money, property, cars, etc. Learners’ assets include their name, language, family, knowledge, and life experience. An asset in mainstream US culture may not be equally appreciated in other cultures and may even be uncomfortable for some students to adopt. For example, individual accomplishment is highly valued in mainstream US culture, but in other cultures, group achievement is more highly prized. When we understand this, we can incorporate this asset into our teaching by setting up group activities and projects where students work together and contribute to the team’s success. We can also introduce the idea of competition as, for example, the whole class beating the clock rather than individual students competing against each other.

Standards: A goal or a hurdle for emergent bilingual students?

Our content standards set rigorous grade-level expectations for all—in English. If these are challenging for students who are native English speakers, how much more so for children who are acquiring English?

Dr. Jim Cummins (2008) tells us that it takes 5–7 years to learn a new language, and often longer if the learner has had little formal education and begins after their elementary school years. During this time, they are expected to catch up to peers in English, to annually meet a set of rigorous grade-level standards in English, to complete homework in English, and to read on grade level in English. Even when emergent bilingual students arrive in US schools in pre-K or kindergarten, data and teacher observations have shown that large percentages of these students take far longer than 5–7 years to become Fluent English Proficient. Instead, they become Long-Term English Learners (LTEL).

Why does this happen? Some students become “stuck” at intermediate-level English proficiency for several years, have low scores on standardized tests, and receive low grades. Curiously, they may be quite proficient in conversational English, attend school regularly, and even want to go to college, despite having a low GPA. Thankfully, there are steps we can take to prevent students from becoming LTELs.

In gathering data—including interviews and secondary classroom visits—for the 2010 research study “Reparable Harm” led by Dr. Laurie Olsen, we found that many LTEL students were passive in class. They didn’t raise their hands when the teacher asked a question. When working on group activities, they would frequently listen to others in the group without saying anything, or would answer with “That’s what I was going to say…”

Some well-meaning teachers try to engage LTEL students by using “equity sticks,” which are popsicle sticks with students’ names written on them. Rather than having students raise their hands, the teacher asks a question and then randomly draws a stick. Unfortunately, when called upon, LTEL students tend to not respond, or to say they don’t know, or to be afraid that other students will make fun of them. This passive response is then reinforced when the teacher moves on to another student or simply provides the answer, eliminating any motivation to engage.

LTEL students quickly learn in the early grades that passivity works. It’s a learned behavior, not a cultural characteristic. This is why Think/Pair/Share activities, group discussions, and the use of white boards by all students to show their responses are far more productive than calling on students individually. Students learn that they are all going to have to answer, but not necessarily with the spotlight focused on them.

Using emergent bilinguals’ home language

Another great piece of news is that the research is clear and undisputed regarding dual-language instruction (see, for example, Collier & Thomas, 2004; Collier & Thomas, 2017; and Butvilofsky et al., 2017). Students who learn in both their home language and in English, in a planned, designed program such as dual-language immersion, achieve outstanding results in English acquisition and content learning, as well as in their home language. Then why do so many schools in the US employ an English-only approach that forces students to struggle and to fall further behind, and their home language to atrophy?

One of the reasons is that educators are held accountable for their school’s progress based on annual summative tests…in English. The flawed logic follows that if the tests are administered in English, instruction should be English-only. But we know from years of research that what is learned in one language transfers to the new language—what Cummins (2008) calls Common Underlying Proficiency. So, an English-only system is endorsing inefficiency and stressing learners by not utilizing the asset of the language they already understand.

I’m reminded of Albert Einstein’s remark that when he moved to the US, he only had to learn English. He didn’t have to relearn physics—just the English vocabulary for the concepts he already knew.

Teachers don’t need to be able to speak every student’s language, but the more they can learn about the language and how it both differs from and is similar to English, the more they can help students make important connections. Providing resources in the student’s home language for them to read and listen to in order to reinforce their understanding of content—and having parents or older children regularly read aloud to them—are an incredible use of the assets they bring and actually bolsters their English reading comprehension.

Doing the math—and promoting educational equity

One of the questions I hear most often is, “Why does it take so long for these students to learn English?” Remember, emergent bilinguals’ focus is two-fold: learning English and also learning new content. In my projection below, I compare the amount of English input between emergent bilinguals and native English speakers as a strong rationale for using dual languages in education:

In the first five years of life, children average about 12 waking hours per day where they are potentially receiving home language input. I multiplied this by 365 days per year. At 5 years old, children enter kindergarten with over 20,000 hours of language foundation.

  • If the home language is English, that’s over 20,000 hours of English exposure when entering kindergarten.
  • If the home language is not English, that’s potentially very few hours of English exposure before entering kindergarten, but a large amount of rich home language input. For schools to simply set aside this 20,000-hour family language investment makes no sense. By ignoring this asset, a huge language disparity gap is created.

As shown in the chart, this gap continues to widen. Each school year, native English speakers receive up to 14 waking hours of exposure to English each day, between school, home, sports, clubs, and time spent online.

Emergent bilinguals, who now attend school 180 days per year, receive about 6 hours per day of English input. Some students may also get exposure to English at home and in other venues, but the school hours are assured. This results in the following comparison:

  • 6 hours per day x 180 school days per year = 1,080 hours of English annually for emergent bilinguals
  • 14 hours per day x 365 days per year = 5,110 hours of English annually for native speakers

The disparity grows annually. Some observers might suggest that emergent bilinguals and their families need to immediately switch to English-only at home. This is culturally offensive and deeply damaging, for the reasons I’ve noted. Instead, schools should work to better address these students’ needs by:

  • Offering L1 instruction, resources, and supports
  • Uncovering and utilizing students’ cultural assets
  • Replacing learned passivity with interactivity— empowering all students to be confident, self-directed learners

Resources to support emergent bilingual learners

Following is a list of free resources that I regularly recommend to educators:

Colorín Colorado is a well-known bilingual website offering resources to both educators and families. This includes an overview of bilingual and dual-language education, tips for creating a welcoming classroom, family outreach strategies, and more.

The Steinhardt Center at New York University provides bilingual glossaries in more than 25 languages. Unite for Literacy offers online access to nonfiction books written in English, with read-aloud provided in English, Spanish, and other languages. Story Online features videos of well-known actors reading children’s books in English. Each video includes an accompanying teacher’s guide with discussion questions and suggested classroom activities.

The Internet TESL Journal hosts a wide variety of quizzes, activities, and puzzles for emergent bilingual students of all levels. Learn American English Online and the British Council’s LearnEnglish Teens provide helpful activities, videos, and lessons aimed at middle and high school students.

Finally, Californians Together hosts a variety of helpful publications, including the “Reparable Harm” research study I mentioned earlier.

Discover how Star Assessments, myON, Accelerated Reader, and other Renaissance solutions will help you to better understand and build on your emergent bilingual students’ assets this school year.

References

Butvilofsky, S., Hopewell, S., Escamilla, K., & Sparrow, W. (2017). Shifting deficit paradigms of Latino emerging bilingual students’ literacy achievement: Documenting biliterate trajectories. Journal of Latinos and Education, 16:2, 85–97.
Collier, V.P., & Thomas, W.P. (2004). The astounding effectiveness of dual language education for all. NABE Journal of Research and Practice, 2:1, 1–20.
Collier, V.P., & Thomas, W.P. (2017). Validating the power of bilingual schooling: Thirty-two years of large-scale, longitudinal research. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 37, 203–217.
Cummins, J. (2008). Teaching for transfer: Challenging the two solitudes assumption in bilingual education. In: Cummins, J., and Hornberger, N., eds. Encyclopedia of language and education: Vol. 5. Bilingual education. New York: Springer, 65–75.
Olsen, L. (2010). Reparable harm: Fulfilling the unkept promise of educational opportunity for California’s long term English Learners. Retrieved from: https://californianstogether.org/publications-2/#LTEL

About the author

Elizabeth Jiménez Salinas is a pioneer in bilingual education and a tireless advocate for emergent bilingual students, with projects such as launching the Seal of Biliteracy in California and Hawaii. She has authored several Spanish-language children’s books, as well as handbooks for teachers and English Learner support materials for more than 25 K–12 textbooks. In addition to her experience as a bilingual educator, she served as Legislative Aide to California Assembly Member Peter Chacón, working on ground-breaking legislation for emergent bilinguals. She holds a master’s degree from Claremont Graduate University and currently works in the College of Education at the University of Hawaii. She started her own consulting firm, GEMAS, in 2000. The word GEMAS means “gems” in Spanish and is made up of the initials of her five children.

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Star Assessments Now Connect to Nearpod to Accelerate Student Growth https://www.renaissance.com/2022/08/15/news-star-assessments-now-connect-to-nearpod-to-accelerate-student-growth/ Mon, 15 Aug 2022 14:46:52 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=57072 Renaissance delivers on its promise to empower teachers with this powerful connection, along with other impactful product enhancements for Back to School Bloomington, MN (August 15, 2022) – Renaissance, a global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, is pleased to introduce […]

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Renaissance delivers on its promise to empower teachers with this powerful connection, along with other impactful product enhancements for Back to School

Bloomington, MN (August 15, 2022) Renaissance, a global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, is pleased to introduce a powerful new connection between its industry-leading Star Assessments and Nearpod platforms to accelerate learning in the 2022–2023 school year. This is just one of the many exciting new product features that schools and districts can access for Back to School. Renaissance has also curated fun, engaging, and helpful resources for its products to help ensure a strong start for both educators and students as they are together again in the new school year.

To better connect assessment, instruction, and practice, Star Assessments users now have one-click access to Nearpod’s lesson library and learning resources within the Star platform. This streamlines the lesson-planning process and helps educators to more easily differentiate instruction for individual students, small groups, and entire classes in both literacy and mathematics. Educators who are using Nearpod Math have access to additional content and tools within Star to support students’ math achievement.

In addition, Renaissance is thrilled to introduce two foundational literacy assessments for the new year:

  • Star Phonics is the first and only web-based assessment of 12 phonics categories and 102 essential skills. Focusing on these critical categories and skills saves educators time and ensures students are secure in the phonics patterns they’ll need and use the most.
  • Star CBM Lectura is an assessment of literacy development in Spanish for K–6 students in bilingual and dual-language programs. Star CBM Lectura provides screening as well as real-time data on foundational literacy components in Spanish, which is data many teachers have never had access to before.

Star Phonics and Star CBM Lectura complement the company’s other assessment offerings, providing educators with detailed insights on students’ achievement and instructional needs.

Renaissance has also released a number of impactful product features for the new school year, including:

  • Student-recorded read-aloud in the myON digital platform, to provide new opportunities for oral reading practice and to build reading fluency;
  • A Parts of Speech domain in Freckle for ELA, to provide students with in-depth practice on essential components of grammar;
  • A Biliteracy Report in Accelerated Reader, to help educators monitor emergent bilingual students’ reading practice in English and Spanish; and
  • The ability to use Star Early Literacy scores to automatically match students with foundational literacy lessons in Lalilo.

“This is the biggest Back-to-School product release in Renaissance’s history, and we’re excited for educators and students to take advantage of the new products and new functionality this year,” said Todd Brekhus, chief product officer at Renaissance. “Our company mission is to accelerate learning for all, and we’re proud to offer so many new ways of engaging students and supporting the important work that teachers do every day.”

To further support educators and students during Back to School, Renaissance has curated product-specific checklists, step-by-step instructions, rostering information, and more for each of its products. Educators can access this information on the Back-to-School 2022 resources page. This webpage also provides access to new Student and Family Engagement Kits for Accelerated Reader, Freckle, Lalilo, and myON for the 2022–2023 school year. In each kit, educators will find fun activities and resources that help keep students motivated to learn in any environment this school year.

To kick off the new school year, Renaissance will host a LinkedIn Live event on Tuesday, September 20, to showcase the new product features and share strategies for accelerating student growth this year. All educators and administrators are welcome to attend this special presentation.

For more information about Renaissance products, visit www.renaissance.com.

About Renaissance

As a global leader in assessment, reading, and math solutions for pre-K–12 schools and districts, Renaissance is committed to providing educators with insights and resources to accelerate growth and help all students build a strong foundation for success. Renaissance solutions reach more than 40 percent of US schools and more than half a million students in other regions across the world. Our portfolio includes solutions for assessment (Star Assessments, Star Phonics, and myIGDIs for Preschool); practice (Accelerated Reader, myON, Freckle, and Lalilo); data-driven insights (Schoolzilla); and teacher-facilitated instructional delivery (Nearpod).

Press contact:
Tracy Stewart
Director, Marketing Development
Renaissance
(832) 651-1189
pr@renaissance.com

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What does progress really look like in K–12 literacy? https://www.renaissance.com/2022/07/22/blog-what-does-progress-really-look-like-in-k12-literacy/ Fri, 22 Jul 2022 13:03:11 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=56821 By Dr. Gene Kerns, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer For me, as for so many others, the last couple of years have brought a lot of unanticipated work. When I say that, I’m referring more to the nature of […]

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By Dr. Gene Kerns, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer

For me, as for so many others, the last couple of years have brought a lot of unanticipated work. When I say that, I’m referring more to the nature of the work I’ve been doing than to the quantity—although I’ve had plenty to do. As the COVID-19 pandemic dragged on, we all found that some of our projects were far less relevant than we’d initially thought. Others, perhaps considered secondary at first, became essential.

My work has revolved around three major Renaissance projects—Focus Skills, Trip Steps, and How Kids Are Performing, our ongoing analysis of how students’ performance and growth have been impacted by the disruptions. Perhaps surprisingly, working on these projects has given me new insight into what sustained progress in literacy looks like for K–12 students. It’s like climbing a sheer rock face—and then climbing a mountain.

In this blog, I’ll explain how I reached this conclusion. I’ll also explain why an understanding of these two feats will be so important this school year, given the pandemic’s ongoing effects on many students’ learning journeys.

1. Foundational literacy skills: Climbing the rock face

In the summer of 2020, Renaissance made the decision to provide all educators with free access to our Focus Skills for reading and math. Focus Skills are the most essential skills at each grade level—the skills that students must master in order to progress. Focus Skills are tailored to the learning standards of each state, and they provide powerful guidance for prioritizing our work with students.

Despite some minor differences in standards across the states, Focus Skills tell a remarkably similar story, that of a sheer rock face that students must climb in relation to literacy right as their schooling begins. The following figure shows this rock face:

I’ve chosen to use Delaware as an example, but in every instance—across all 50 states and Washington DC—kindergarten and grade 1 have the highest number of reading Focus Skills. This makes sense because, at these grade levels, students are building the foundational skills that are critical for literacy development. These skills are, in other words, essential to students’ progress, which is the definition of a Focus Skill.

This rock face awaits students right as they begin their schooling. It’s as if the literacy content says to them, “Welcome to school. I hope you ate a hearty breakfast because we have a lot of work to do!” This also helps to contextualize the finding in How Kids Are Performing that students in the early grades have been disproportionately impacted by the disruptions. Missing out on even one essential skill in phonemic awareness, phonics, word recognition, and other foundational literacy domains can greatly impede students’ progress.

2. Ongoing literacy growth: Climbing the mountain

Focus Skills told us about the sheer rock face, but we learned about the second element—the mountain—from our work with Trip Steps for Reading.

Trips Steps are those Focus Skills that are also very challenging for students to learn. Our teams identified Trip Steps during the empirical validation process for our state-specific learning progressions. When we presented students with Star assessment items linked to the various skills represented in their state’s standards, we found that some skills are significantly more difficult than others. To put this another way: If learning is a staircase, then not all steps are of equal height. Some require a bit more of a climb—and these are the Trip Steps.

It may be easiest to illustrate this concept with an example from mathematics. The most challenging math Trip Step is in grade 3: Find the area of a rectangle by multiplying side lengths. If you’re familiar with the grade 3 math curriculum, you’ll understand why this is so challenging. Grade 3 students have just learned multiplication. And while they may have encountered the concept of area before, it would have been mostly through using tiles, not a formula of length times width. Then, the product of the calculation results in something else new, square units.

This is a lot of new content: a new operation (multiplication) coupled with an expanding concept (area computed via a formula) and resulting in a new unit (e.g., square inches/centimeters). To borrow a phrase from an earlier blog: new skill + new process = potential for some students to “trip.”

When we look at Trip Steps for Reading, we see that they add to the story of the sheer rock face while also telling us about “the mountain.” How so? The most challenging reading Trip Step is in kindergarten: Distinguish between similarly spelled words by identifying the sounds of the vowels that differ (e.g., pick the word that has the /a/ sound: cat, cot, cut). Phonemic awareness—which can be extraordinarily difficult for young children—is part of the rock face I mentioned earlier, meaning the large number of essential literacy skills that students encounter at the beginning of their schooling.

But when we look at the distribution of reading Trip Steps across the grades, the mountain emerges. In fact, students don’t reach the “peak” until grade 7, where the largest number of Trip Steps awaits them:

Armed with the knowledge of where the most disproportionately difficult content is found—in grade 7 and around it—we began to explore the Trip Steps in these grades looking for common elements. And we found two aspects of “the mountain.”

First, even a cursory review of the reading Trip Steps at this level reveals the rigor associated with them. They begin with verbs like “Analyze” or “Interpret” or “Explain.” As many of us will remember from our undergraduate days, these verbs are associated with the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy or the deeper levels of Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK).

The Trip Steps individually reveal this aspect of rigor, but when we look at reading Trip Steps collectively, another insight emerges with important instructional implications: They require extensive experience with text to be successful.

The most important reading standard of all

Why is this the case? Looking at the Trip Steps in and around grade 7, we see they’re generally found within the skill areas of Argumentation, Conventions and Range of Reading, and Author’s Word Choice and Figurative Language.

How can students ever be successful in the skills associated with Argumentation if they’ve read very few arguments? Similarly, being successful with the skills related to Conventions and Range of Reading requires that students have interacted with texts where they’ve seen manifestations of varying conventions, as well as applications of Author’s Word Choice and Figurative Language.

Students who have read widely are primed to learn the labels and terms for various genres (e.g., satire, parody) and those for Word Choice and Figurative Language (e.g., hyperbole, connotation, denotation). Without the text exposure and context provided through wide reading, our instruction targeting these concepts is difficult to follow. Students without wide print experience will find the ideas too abstract. They have no prior understanding or experience to which they can connect the new ideas we are presenting.

Consider a lesson where a teacher presents the concept of satire for the first time. Perhaps the teacher assigns Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal where, writing to chastise the English aristocracy, Swift satirically proposes that the famine in Ireland could be solved and poor children prevented from “being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country” if the English simply ate the poor Irish children, “making them Beneficial to the Publick.”

The astute reader quickly realizes that Swift is using a clever literary technique to shame the English for their inaction and indifference. A student who has read widely and encountered several satirical works finds both the concept and the new term easy to take in. “I’ve read things like this before. I just didn’t know what it was called.” A student with limited text experience, however, struggles to even take in the concept. “What’s this guy saying? That they should really eat the kids?”

This makes me think of Mike Schmoker’s comment that “symbolism, figurative language, setting, mood, or structure have their place but are absurdly overemphasized” in most standards sets. He adds that many of our standards “do very little to clarify the amount of reading and writing students must do to become truly literate—which may be the most important ‘standard’ of all.” In other words: We unquestionably need to teach about literary devices and techniques, but if our teaching of skills takes up so much time that students are not reading widely, then we’re creating learning dynamics that are far from optimal for progress in literacy.

How Renaissance can help—this school year and beyond

Within our literacy offerings, Renaissance has a collection of tools ideally suited for climbing both the rock face and the mountain.

When helping students to ascend the rock face of foundational literacy skills, the critical consideration is that every student must master every essential skill to be successful. Our new Star Phonics assessment fits perfectly into this space by supporting teachers as they track students’ progress in acquiring 102 phonics skills clustered in 12 categories (shown below). Through the use of short screening and diagnostic measures, teachers are provided with detailed feedback as to which students are struggling with which specific phonics patterns. Then, our Lalilo and Freckle programs can be used to help provide the right foundational literacy practice.

Used together, Star Phonics, Lalilo, and Freckle provide powerful assistance in tracking and supporting students as they ascend the rock face. But once they’ve finished this ascent, they must then climb the mountain. This is where Accelerated Reader and the myON digital reading platform come in, to help ensure that students have easy access to text and that they’re reading with a high level of comprehension.

What we’ve learned about progress in literacy

You know the old adage: Hindsight is 20/20. If we’d known in early 2020 what we know now, we could have used Focus Skills and Trip Steps to predict where we’d see the most significant impacts on literacy development due to the pandemic. In fact, this analysis of Focus Skills and Trip Steps aligns nearly perfectly with our How Kid Are Performing studies, where we found that early grades readers and students in late middle school—the times when learners encounter either the rock face or the mountain—have been the most impacted in terms of literacy.

No mountain climber would ascend Mt. Everest without a skilled guide, and there are no better guides for that journey than the Sherpa, a Himalayan people who are renowned for their skill in mountaineering. If the journey to literacy involves ascending both a sheer rock face and a mountain, then teachers—if they fully understand the path and the possible pitfalls along it—can be students’ guides on this essential journey.

Watch Dr. Kerns’s new webinar for more insights on the 2022–2023 school year—including why we need to rethink our assessment practices in order to best address the ongoing pandemic impacts.

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3 essential components of math motivation https://www.renaissance.com/2022/07/08/blog-3-essential-components-of-math-motivation/ Fri, 08 Jul 2022 13:14:16 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=56793 By Dr. Jan Bryan, Vice President and National Education Officer Last year, Renaissance released Trip Steps for Mathematics, which are essential math skills that are also disproportionately difficult for students to learn. The Trip Steps begin in pre-K, with the […]

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By Dr. Jan Bryan, Vice President and National Education Officer

Last year, Renaissance released Trip Steps for Mathematics, which are essential math skills that are also disproportionately difficult for students to learn. The Trip Steps begin in pre-K, with the skill Count on with numbers 1 to 10, and continue through Algebra 1, with the skill Complete the square in a quadratic expression to find the maximum or minimum value of the function it defines. In between, students encounter challenging skills in multiple domains, from Whole Number Operations to Fraction Concepts to Geometry and Measurement. Identifying the challenges that students will face from counting to 10 to defining the function supports their learning journey, but more is required. The will, or motivation, to do the work and tackle the setbacks is essential.

In an earlier blog, a colleague and I describe Renaissance’s process for identifying Trip Steps for Mathematics. In this blog, I’ll continue the conversation by addressing a question I often receive from educators when I share Trip Steps: How can we motivate students to learn these challenging skills—especially students who already struggle with math?

It’s an important question. Perhaps math motivation can be thought of as the instructional counterpoint to a Trip Step. Just as a Trip Step is disproportionately difficult for students to learn, motivation can be a disproportionately difficult instructional practice for teachers to implement. In the same way that students dig deeper into a challenging Trip Step, teachers seek resources, advice, and proven strategies to motivate students. So, how do we build math confidence and stamina among all learners? In this blog, I’ll explore three key factors—executive, emotional, and environmental—at work in math motivation. I’ll also share strategies to inspire, motivate, and engage growing mathematicians in the new school year.

1. Executive function and mathematics

As Stanislas Dehaene (2011) explains, newborns are equipped with some degree of number sense. They’re able to distinguish two objects from three and three objects from four—although most show a preference for groups of three. At six months of age, children recognize groups of objects and even play by combining and separating them—a precursor to learning addition and subtraction (Dehaene, 2017). This is impressive, but they lack the ability to order numbers. In other words, three blocks intrigue them, but they have no concept of the number “3” or what this represents. Why not? Because ordinal competency (i.e., counting ability) depends on executive function—in particular, organizing, planning, and updating working memory. Between 6 and 15 months, however, children are continually updating their working memories to the point that ordinal competency—associating quantity with number—is well underway.

In fact, executive function rather than IQ supports counting ability, planning, organizing objects, and subitizing—which is the ability to immediately recognize the quantity of a group of objects without physically counting each one (Kroesbergen et al., 2009).

Motivation with executive function in mind

Why does this insight matter? Let’s return to the very first math Trip Step from pre-K: Count on with numbers 1 to 10. With our youngest learners, games focused on counting and subitizing build both math skill and executive function. Simply counting objects requires emerging mathematicians to keep track of the number of objects and the word(s) that describe numbers (e.g., three, four, five). Students who struggle with working memory—in this case, counting memory—benefit from simple counting games throughout the day and playing games with subitizing (Hutchison & Phillips, n.d.).

Intermediate students benefit when executive function is focused on organization, updating working memory, and flexibility. The well-known Principal’s Math Challenge offers a motivator focused on flexibility. Students work in pairs to create an expression for each number from 0–50, using only 1, 2, 3, and 4. All operations can be used, but each of the four numbers must be used—and used only once. Negative numbers are fair game, too. Here is one example: (4 × 3) ÷ (1+2) = 4. Try a few expressions to gauge your own executive level of flexibility in mathematical thinking.

2. Emotional sense of belonging and mathematics

In a previous blog, I explored two ways that students describe themselves as mathematicians. According to Kimball and Smith (2013), there is one key difference between students who achieve in math and those who don’t—entity orientation. Entity orientation is the belief that math ability is innate: you’re either born with the circuitry for math or you’re not, and nothing can change this. The opposite approach is known as incremental orientation. Students with incremental math orientations believe that math is difficult, but if they take it one skill at a time, they can learn it.

With this distinction in mind, let’s consider the most difficult math Trip Step. It’s found in grade 3: Find the area of a rectangle by multiplying side lengths. While this skill seems straightforward to adults, it’s extraordinarily difficult for many third graders to learn, given that multiplication is new, as is the idea of finding area by multiplying rather than by tiling. Yet we often forget this. With the best of intentions, we might begin a lesson on this skill by explaining that it’s easy: Just multiply! But as mathematician and author Jordan Ellenberg (2021) brilliantly explains, “When we say a lesson is ‘easy’ or ‘simple,’ and it manifestly isn’t, we are telling students that the difficulty isn’t with the mathematics, it’s with them. And they will believe us.”

Following Ellenberg’s advice, the stronger approach to teaching this Trip Step is to level with students. Here’s an example: “Today we’re going to find the area of a rectangle. This is a new skill, it is difficult, and you might get frustrated. But we will work as a team and support each other until everyone is successful. Then we can celebrate as a team.”

Motivation with emotional responses to mathematics in mind

Why do emotions matter? Students’ emotional responses to math instruction and experiences influence their attainment of math skills and their motivation to work through challenging concepts. In this regard, one of the most effective resources a student has is another student. Consider this Algebra 1 Trip Step: Determine the slope of a line given a graph, two points on the line, or a table of values. Rather than delivering a lecture on slope, educator Angela Cooper (2017) encourages her students to discuss this concept with each other, using the language they already have. Some students will speak of “straight” and “slanted” lines; others will talk about the “slope” or “regression.”

As students work together as a team, Cooper notices that—with scaffolding and support where needed—their language becomes increasingly precise: “By creating direct connections between what they already know (slant) and what they need to know (slope), they find that the latter is a much more precise and specific way to get at the concept they’re trying to describe.”

3. Environment and mathematics

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics describes mathematicians as people who analyze data to solve problems. For example, many neighborhood parks in the US either have installed, or are now installing, accessible ramps, swings, and play areas so that each child can feel included and share in the joy found outdoors. Can you imagine the problem-solving skills required to build a safe and accessible swing? Yet mathematicians solved this problem in order to meet a far bigger challenge: providing inclusive areas for all children to play. Their work, while difficult, led the way to accessible playgrounds.

In this case, solving problems of slope, area, circumference, velocity, and drag is essentially kind. Consider this grade 7 Trip Step that could be the foundation for eventually providing an inclusive experience for each child: Solve a problem involving the surface area or volume of a 3-dimensional object composed of cubes and/or right prisms.

Motivation with a kind math environment in mind

Why does a focus on kindness matter? As seventh graders and their teachers tackle this Trip Step, collaboration and encouragement can be motivating while also helping to build a kind math environment. Consider a story shared by Alan November (2018) about a sixth grader who was stumped by prime factorization. Her teacher encouraged peer tutoring, and—with support from her classmates—this student was finally on her way. Her teacher also encouraged students to create video tutorials, which were then posted on YouTube. Having learned prime factorization, our student decided to record a tutorial.

When November visited her classroom, he asked whether she’d seen the statistics. Her tutorial had been viewed more than 88,000 times by students all over the world. At this point, our formerly frustrated and struggling student said, “I have to go—I have to create more. I just found out the world needs me!”

These examples show us how the math environment can be focused on “math for good.” What students learn today can positively impact others in the future. The focus remains on math, but with a foundation that mathematicians solve problems that solve problems.

The power of real-world connections

Engaging in authentic math experiences requires mathematical flexibility rooted in executive function, a sense of purpose—or emotion—for the outcomes, and a healthy environment in which to work. However, as Craig Barton (2018) reminds us, engaging in authentic experiences is not the result of “taking the math outside; rather, it is the result of explicit, incremental, and monitored instruction that prepares students to solve problems that solve problems.”

For this reason, Renaissance’s Freckle for math program includes Inquiry Based Lessons that help students to deepen their conceptual understanding by applying math to real-world scenarios, such as planning a trip to the local library (which involves subtraction skills) or scuba diving in lakes and oceans (which focuses on decimals). The lessons include short videos, discussion questions, and group activities, with students then presenting their solution to the class and explaining their thinking.

Inquiry Based Lessons also involve cross-curricular connections. For example, the grade 3 lesson “Passing a Bill into Law” brings together mathematics and social studies content. The lesson is spread over several days, with students calculating how many votes a piece of legislation still needs in order to pass the US Congress. Over the course of the lesson, students encounter scenarios that require them to add and subtract four-digit numbers using multiple strategies, as shown in the screenshot below.

Summing it all up

In this blog, we’ve looked at math motivation through the lenses of executive function, emotional response, and the importance of a positive environment. We revisited Trip Steps for Mathematics, including the earliest Trip Step in pre-K, and found that executive function is critical in learning to count. We also identified the most difficult Trip Step (statistically speaking) in grade 3, and we examined an Algebra 1 Trip Step that can play a significant role in making public playgrounds more accessible.

As you prepare for the new school year, we invite you to explore the full list of Trip Steps—and to consider how focusing on executive function, emotional response, and math environment can be powerful motivators in your classroom this fall and beyond.

Interested in bringing Freckle for math into your school or district this year? To learn how Freckle uses digital scaffolds, real-world scenarios, and motivating incentives to deepen student engagement with mathematics, click the button below.

References

Barton, C. (2018). How I wish I’d taught maths. West Palm Beach: Learning Sciences International.
Cooper, A. (2017). How personalized learning starts with less teacher talk, more student voice. Retrieved from: https://www.edsurge.com/news/2017-01-25-how-personalized-learning-starts-with-less-teacher-talk-more-student-voice
Dehaene, S. (2011). The number sense: How the mind creates mathematics. Revised edition. New York: Oxford University Press.
Dehaene, S. (2017). A close look at the mathematician’s brain? Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EMAsQeLfr3o
Ellenberg, J. (2021). Want kids to learn math? Level with them that it’s hard. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/math-hard-easy-teaching-instruction/2021/06/25/4fbec7ac-d46b-11eb-ae54-515e2f63d37d_story.html
Hutchison, J., & Phillips, D. (n.d.). Supporting executive function during counting. Retrieved from: https://prek-math-te.stanford.edu/counting/supporting-executive-functioning-during-counting
Kroesbergen, E., Van Luit, J., Van Lieshout, E., Loosbroek, E., & Rijt, B. (2009). Individual differences in early numeracy: The role of executive functions and subitizing. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment 27(3). http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0734282908330586
Kimball, M., & Smith, N. (2013). There’s one key difference between kids who excel at math and those who don’t. Retrieved from: http://qz.com/139453/theres-one-key-difference-between-kids-who-excel-at-math-and-those-who-dont
November, A. (2018). Empowering teachers, engaging students. Education Week Webinar. Retrieved from: https://event.on24.com/wcc/r/1603764/20FBC8ECE6A4E7E1318B774D7167F7A4

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myON Awarded Research-Based Design Product Certification from Digital Promise https://www.renaissance.com/2022/07/01/myon-awarded-research-based-design-product-certification-from-digital-promise/ Fri, 01 Jul 2022 13:14:12 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=56784 myON is the fifth Renaissance product to receive this prestigious certification Bloomington, MN (July 1, 2022) – Renaissance, a global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, recently announced that the myON digital reading platform has earned the Research-Based Design Product Certification […]

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myON is the fifth Renaissance product to receive this prestigious certification

Bloomington, MN (July 1, 2022) Renaissance, a global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, recently announced that the myON digital reading platform has earned the Research-Based Design Product Certification from Digital Promise. This certification serves as a rigorous, reliable signal for district and school administrators, educators, and families looking for edtech products that are based in research about student learning.

myON provides pre-K–12 students with 24/7 access to engaging digital books and age-appropriate news articles. It features tools such as text-to-speech support and text annotation to help students at all levels to develop important reading skills and strategies. A new myON feature for Back to School 2022 will also enable students to record themselves reading aloud, to build oral reading fluency and promote greater engagement.

myON provides low-bandwidth and offline reading options to support access to reading material both in and out of the classroom. myON also qualifies for ESSER funding under the CARES, CRRSA, and ARP Acts, along with other federal funding sources.

myON is the fifth Renaissance product to receive the Research-Based Design Product Certification. Accelerated Reader, Freckle, Lalilo, and Nearpod have all previously received this honor.

“Research is central to how we design our products,” said Eric Stickney, Vice President of Educational Research at Renaissance. “We not only use published research on how students learn, but we also analyze our assessment and practice data to understand how to best engage and provide feedback to both educators and students to maximize opportunities for growth. This certification validates these efforts.”

The Research-Based Design Product Certification helps consumers to narrow their options as they select products based on research about learning. Digital Promise launched this certification in February 2020 and has certified over 60 products to date. The organization will recognize myON’s certification with an official announcement in August 2022.

“Educators and researchers continue to uncover important insights about how students learn,” said Christina Luke Luna, Chief Learning Officer, Pathways and Credentials at Digital Promise. “The Research-Based Design Product Certification recognizes the edtech products that incorporate research about learning into their design and development. Congratulations to myON for demonstrating that research informs product design!”

Educators can learn more about myON by visiting www.renaissance.com.

About Renaissance

As a global leader in assessment, reading, and math solutions for pre-K–12 schools and districts, Renaissance is committed to providing educators with insights and resources to accelerate growth and help all students build a strong foundation for success. Renaissance solutions reach more than 40 percent of US schools and more than half a million students in other regions across the world. Our portfolio includes solutions for assessment (Star Assessments, Star Phonics, and myIGDIs for Preschool); practice (Accelerated Reader, myON, Freckle, and Lalilo); data-driven insights (Schoolzilla); and teacher-facilitated instructional delivery (Nearpod). For more information, visit https://www.renaissance.com/.

About Digital Promise

Digital Promise is a nonprofit organization that builds powerful networks and takes on grand challenges by working at the intersection of researchers, entrepreneurs, and educators. Our vision is that all people, at every stage of their lives, have access to learning experiences that help them acquire the knowledge and skills they need to thrive and continuously learn in an ever-changing world. For more information, visit https://digitalpromise.org/.

Press contact:

Tracy Stewart
Director, Marketing Development
Renaissance
(832) 651-1189
pr@renaissance.com

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Phonics assessment built on the Science of Reading https://www.renaissance.com/2022/06/24/blog-phonics-assessment-built-on-the-science-of-reading/ Fri, 24 Jun 2022 12:45:18 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=56693 In March, we were thrilled to announce that KeyPhonics—which is now known as Star Phonics—has joined the Renaissance family. Created by Dr. Michelle Hosp, Star Phonics is the first and only web-based assessment to focus on the 12 most critical […]

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In March, we were thrilled to announce that KeyPhonics—which is now known as Star Phonics—has joined the Renaissance family. Created by Dr. Michelle Hosp, Star Phonics is the first and only web-based assessment to focus on the 12 most critical phonics categories and 102 phonics skills. We recently had the opportunity to discuss Star Phonics—and the Science of Reading more generally—with Dr. Hosp, who now serves as Director of Foundational Literacy at Renaissance.

Highlights from our conversation appear below.

Q: Why did you create Star Phonics? What sets it apart from other assessments?

Michelle Hosp: I first saw the need almost twenty-five years ago, when I was working as a school psychologist in Clark County, Nevada. Teachers would contact me about students who were struggling to read, and they’d ask, “What can I do to help this child?” I had a battery of tests that I administered, which usually confirmed what the teacher already suspected—the student was indeed struggling to decode words. Unfortunately, the tests didn’t identify the specific phonics patterns the student was struggling with, so I couldn’t provide clear guidance on what to do in the classroom.

These experiences made me realize that I wanted to be more helpful to teachers, so I decided to pursue a graduate degree focused on reading instruction and assessment. Once I received my PhD, I became a professor in Utah. As I worked with local teachers, I encountered the same frustration I’d seen in Clark County. They knew which students were struggling to decode words, but they didn’t have diagnostic information showing them where to focus instruction. I created the first version of Star Phonics as a pencil-and-paper assessment to help these teachers and their students.

This roughly coincided with the widespread adoption of curriculum-based measures and the Reading First initiative. There was suddenly a lot of research, especially in phonological awareness and early language skills, that identified best practices for supporting foundational literacy development. There was also a clear recognition that if we could identify struggling students early, and provide really good interventions and instruction, they could become successful readers, rather than waiting to remediate once they’d reached grade 3 or 4. I developed Star Phonics based on this important body of research, which is now known as the Science of Reading.

Q: How did this early version of Star Phonics evolve into the web-based assessment that’s available today?

Michelle Hosp: Several years after I created Star Phonics, I presented my work at an educational conference. I was assigned the worst possible time slot—literally 8:00 am on the conference’s opening day—yet I had a standing-room only crowd. There were even people in the hallway, listening through the open door. After the presentation, teachers came up to me asking if they could use the assessment in their classrooms. This confirmed that the need existed, and that it made sense to invest in moving from pencil-and-paper to online administration in order to save teachers time and minimize the potential for error that comes with manual data entry.

I designed Star Phonics to be very similar to the single-word measures that are included in most CBMs, including Expressive Nonsense Words in Star CBM Reading. This means teachers do not need to learn a new process for administering and scoring Star Phonics. Other phonics assessments present students with a printed sheet of up to 100 words, which can be overwhelming, especially if students are already struggling. With Star Phonics, words appear on the screen three at a time. The student reads the words aloud, and the teacher records correct and incorrect responses, along with any notes. For each word the student reads, the teacher sees a rhyming word to indicate the correct pronunciation, as shown in the example below. With the click of a button, teachers can play audio of the correct pronunciation—a feature that obviously isn’t available in pencil-and-paper format!

Although the test as a whole isn’t timed, students are given three seconds to read each word. This means that teachers can screen an entire class in just 2–3 minutes per student, and reporting is available immediately.

I’m sometimes asked how we identified the 12 categories and 102 skills that Star Phonics assesses. Why not 8 categories, or 13? As part of the design process, we reviewed popular reading curricula and looked at the phonics patterns covered at each grade level. We then shared this list with our external advisors, and they helped us to identify the essential patterns, meaning those used most frequently in the words students will encounter. Thinking of digraphs, for example, it’s clear that assessing th, sh, and wh make a lot of sense, given their frequency in the words students are learning in the early grades.

Q: How are educators using Star Phonics? How do they connect Star Phonics data to daily instruction?

Michelle Hosp: A couple of examples come to mind—the first at the classroom level and the second at the system level.

I remember delivering PD at a school that was implementing Star Phonics. One second-grade teacher clearly wasn’t convinced that she needed the assessment—she sat in the back of the room with her arms crossed, and she wasn’t engaged at all. I knew that she planned to administer Star Phonics the following morning at 9:00, so I visited her classroom around 9:30, not sure what I’d find. She was standing at the front of the room, teaching a lesson on silent /e/.

My first thought was that she hadn’t administered the assessment yet. It turned out that she’d tested all of her students at 9:00 as planned. She then reviewed the Class Matrix Report and saw that about half of the class hadn’t mastered silent /e/, which she’d taught several weeks before. She told me later that if it hadn’t been for Star Phonics, she wouldn’t have known that her students needed more work on this essential skill. She said that she hadn’t been a believer before, but she was now.

This is a pattern I’ve seen repeated over and over. Teachers aren’t necessarily excited when they hear about a new assessment, but their view changes completely when they have their students’ data in front of them and can clearly see where to focus instruction.

My second example is from a district-wide implementation. In this district, vowel teams were taught during the final weeks of grade 2. Unfortunately, the second-grade teachers often didn’t keep pace with the curriculum, and they rarely got to these lessons. Vowel teams weren’t part of the grade 3 curriculum, so students never received instruction on this essential skill. Star Phonics identified this gap right away, and the district’s leaders realized they needed to create a pacing guide to ensure vowel teams would be covered.

This may sound like stating the obvious, but Star Phonics validates that when we teach phonics skills explicitly and systematically, and when we give kids opportunities to respond and practice, they learn the skills. The opposite is also true: when we don’t teach phonics skills such as vowel teams, students rarely pick them up on their own.

Q: How does Star Phonics align with a district’s curriculum?

Michelle Hosp: I mentioned earlier that we reviewed popular reading curricula when we were creating Star Phonics, and we found a lot of similarities in terms of the phonics patterns they cover. The key differences involve the grade level at which specific patterns are taught. For example, R-controlled vowels are covered in grade 2 in some curricula and grade 3 in others.

We want to ensure that Star Phonics reports reflect these differences, as shown in the example below. Star Phonics currently aligns with widely used curricula such as Benchmark Education, Wonders, Journeys, Orton-Gillingham, Reading Street, and more. We also do custom alignments, including for curricula that districts have created on their own.

I’m sometimes asked whether Star Phonics can be used in middle and high school and the answer is, Absolutely. In one of our first implementations, the principal made it clear that she expected the assessment to be administered to every student in the building. The teachers in grades 4 and 5 were surprised by this. They didn’t think of themselves as phonics teachers; in their minds, reading instruction involved comprehension and vocabulary, not sounds and letter patterns and sight words. But we know from the Science of Reading that phonics is half of the equation, and there can be no comprehension unless students can recognize and decode words.

The principal made it clear that she expected teachers to serve all of the students in their classrooms, including the struggling readers. This led to some really successful collaboration, with the teachers in grades 4–5 partnering with colleagues in the earlier grades to plan phonics instruction.

Q: How might educators use Star Phonics alongside other Renaissance programs?

Michelle Hosp: Most schools use Star Phonics alongside a reading screener such as Star Reading or Star CBM Reading. The screener shows how students are performing on an array of reading skills, and which students are struggling. Star Phonics helps educators to then narrow the focus by identifying the specific patterns to teach next. This is an important differentiator between Star Phonics and other phonics assessments. Both will show you, for example, that students are having trouble with short vowels. But only Star Phonics shows you which short vowels to reteach, which is a tremendous time-saver.

Joining Renaissance allows us to identify additional opportunities for saving teachers time. For example, we know that teachers use their Star Phonics data to plan lessons, create worksheets, and choose decodables from the library—all of which take time. By taking advantage of the instructional content in Renaissance programs, we can help to streamline this process. I’m thinking particularly of the foundational literacy lessons available in Lalilo, and the many instructional resources embedded in Star Reading. There’s a lot that we can do, and I’m excited to get started.

Q: Renaissance’s How Kids Are Performing reports show that the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted foundational literacy development. How can Star Phonics help districts to address this?

Michelle Hosp: In some ways, the reports validate what many of us have known all along: when it comes to learning how to read, teachers are indispensable. I recognize that districts made tremendous efforts to ensure that learning continued when buildings were closed, and I don’t want to discount this. But teaching children to read is a complex task that takes years, even under the best of circumstances. When you add in the disruptions associated with the pandemic, along with the sudden shift to remote learning in less-than-ideal conditions, it’s understandable that many students missed out on essential skills.

As I mentioned earlier, middle schools and even high schools are using Star Phonics, which highlights the solution. We know what to do when students struggle to read, and this begins with explicit and systematic instruction on phonemic awareness and phonics. If teachers teach it, students will learn it. What we need to do is to make this easier, by giving teachers really good information about what to teach, along with as many instructional minutes in the school day as possible. Star Phonics can help on both of these fronts, so teachers are empowered to do what they do best: Teach.

Interested in bringing Star Phonics to your school or district this year? Click the button below to see what other educators are saying—and to learn about a free trial offer.

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Renaissance Receives SIIA CODiE Award for Excellence in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in EdTech https://www.renaissance.com/2022/06/14/news-renaissance-receives-siia-codie-award-for-excellence-in-diversity-equity-and-inclusion-in-edtech/ Tue, 14 Jun 2022 18:52:48 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=56612 Renaissance is also honored with the CODiE Award for Best English Language Arts Instructional Solution, along with four 2022 Readers’ Choice Awards presented by SmartBrief Bloomington, MN (June 14, 2022) – Renaissance, a global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, has […]

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Renaissance is also honored with the CODiE Award for Best English Language Arts Instructional Solution, along with four 2022 Readers’ Choice Awards presented by SmartBrief

Bloomington, MN (June 14, 2022) Renaissance, a global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, has been honored with the first annual CODiE Award for Excellence in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in EdTech. This prestigious award, bestowed by the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA), recognizes the company that “best demonstrates clear, positive, and sustained impact in advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI).”

The judges considered multiple criteria when reviewing finalists for the award, including each company’s implementation of DEI best practices, its commitment to eliminating barriers for students from underrepresented populations, and its success in advancing opportunities for women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, and/or individuals with disabilities. In announcing the award, the judges highlighted Renaissance’s partnership with others in the EdTech community to advance DEI, as well as its commitment to building a diverse leadership team and workforce.

“We are incredibly honored to receive this award, and we are proud of everything that we have accomplished to advance Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion,” said Chris Bauleke, Chief Executive Officer of Renaissance. “To achieve our mission of accelerating learning for all, we need to build a Renaissance for all, and DEI will continue to be central to the work that we do every day in support of educators and students.”

Renaissance received a second 2022 CODiE Award for Freckle for ELA, which was named Best English Language Arts Instructional Solution for Grades PK–8. This award recognizes solutions that provide deep and personalized learning experiences, accommodate diverse learning styles and abilities, align with educational standards, and are easy for educators and students to use. The judges specifically cited Freckle’s success in engaging students in learning, along with its powerful reporting features that help educators to easily align and adjust instruction.

“The 2022 CODiE Award winners exemplify the outstanding products, services, and overall innovation that enables learners of all types to connect with educators and educational materials,” said SIIA President Jeff Joseph. “We are so proud to recognize this year’s honorees—the best of the best—that provide solutions to many of the critical challenges facing learners today, from access and equity to personalized and tailored learning and beyond.”

In addition to receiving multiple CODiE Awards, Renaissance was also recently honored with four 2022 Readers’ Choice Awards presented by SmartBrief on EdTech:

  • Lalilo was named best Early Education solution. Lalilo is built on Science of Reading research and provides K–2 students with engaging lessons on phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, comprehension, and more.
  • myON was named best Curriculum Development solution. myON is a digital reading platform that gives students 24/7 access to thousands of engaging books and age-appropriate news articles, with embedded reading supports and scaffolds.
  • Star Assessments were named best Classroom Assessment solution. Star includes both computer-adaptive assessments and curriculum-based measures in English and Spanish for screening, progress monitoring, measuring student growth, and more in early literacy, reading, and math.
  • Renaissance Professional Learning was named best Professional Development solution. Renaissance offers both face-to-face and remote professional learning opportunities to help educators connect student learning data to daily instruction.

The Readers’ Choice Awards recognize companies and products making a lasting impact on education through innovative solutions, the latest technology, and pioneering problem-solving, as chosen by the readers of SmartBrief on EdTech. For a full list of winners, click here.

About Renaissance

As a global leader in assessment, reading, and math solutions for pre-K–12 schools and districts, Renaissance is committed to providing educators with insights and resources to accelerate growth and help all students build a strong foundation for success. Renaissance solutions reach more than 40 percent of US schools and more than half a million students in other regions across the world. Our portfolio includes solutions for assessment (Star Assessments, Star Phonics, and myIGDIs for Preschool); practice (Accelerated Reader, myON, Freckle, and Lalilo); data-driven insights (Schoolzilla); and teacher-facilitated instructional delivery (Nearpod).

Press contact:

Tracy Stewart
Director, Marketing Development
Renaissance
(832) 651-1189
pr@renaissance.com

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Developing culturally relevant items for Star Assessments https://www.renaissance.com/2022/06/10/blog-developing-culturally-relevant-items-for-star-assessments/ Fri, 10 Jun 2022 11:15:05 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=56560 By Dr. Chastity McFarlan, Content Quality Manager, and Sean Borton, Educational Content Supervisor At Renaissance, we’re committed to providing students with access to engaging content that is inclusive and representative of the students and diverse communities we serve. Our content […]

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By Dr. Chastity McFarlan, Content Quality Manager, and Sean Borton, Educational Content Supervisor

At Renaissance, we’re committed to providing students with access to engaging content that is inclusive and representative of the students and diverse communities we serve. Our content developers aim to provide students with both a “mirror,” so they may see themselves uplifted in the material, and a “window,” so they may learn about others’ cultures, customs, and perspectives.

For our ELA and math practice products, such as Freckle and Lalilo, working toward this goal of inclusion has been relatively straightforward. We seek to increase the representation of different groups of people, including significant cultural artifacts, customs, and traditions. Diversifying cultural representation can be a bit more challenging for our assessment products, however. How so? Because there is potential to introduce irrelevant content into the question that may distract, advantage, or disadvantage certain test-takers. In this blog, we’ll explore this point in detail and describe the important work the Star Assessments content team has done as they work to create unbiased and culturally representative assessments.

Understanding bias in assessment design

A high-quality assessment is one that is fair or, in other words, free from bias. Fairness in assessments suggests that the individual questions—known as items—are equally challenging to all students, regardless of their racial, social, or geographic background. Attempts to make assessments fair typically mean avoiding items that benefit some students not because of their knowledge of the construct being assessed, but because of extraneous factors, such as their socioeconomic status. Consider this hypothetical assessment item:

This item is intended to assess a student’s understanding of vocabulary in context, a core ELA learning standard in grade 3. The relative difficulty of the target word (“buoy”) is crucial to the standard being assessed, because it differentiates levels of vocabulary knowledge among test-takers. However, the item has some clear issues of potential cultural and socioeconomic bias. Sailing—and an understanding of concepts and terms related to boats, sailing, and navigation—is potentially more familiar to students who have economic advantage or who have cultural or regional familiarity with the subject. As a result, the item may unintentionally assess students’ knowledge of sailing, and a correct response may be due to reasons other than their understanding of vocabulary in context.

To reduce bias in contextual items like the one above, assessment developers have traditionally attempted to eliminate cultural references, as well as items biased in favor of people from certain socioeconomic groups or geographic regions. In these instances, contextual items would only cover general knowledge to ensure items assess the intended construct and not the students’ knowledge of information irrelevant to the construct (in this case, a knowledge of sailing).

The inherent problem with this practice is that “general knowledge,” by definition, excludes marginalized experiences and centers the largest or dominant social group. This unintentional yet non-inclusive practice can actually hinder other students’ performance and create a false achievement gap (Singer-Freeman, Hobbs, & Robinson 2019). Such is the dilemma of building culturally responsive, non-biased assessments: including cultural context has been said to disadvantage students from other cultures, yet research suggests that students perform best when material is made culturally relevant (Ladson-Billings, 2014). So, how do we create assessments that offer students windows and mirrors without introducing construct-irrelevant content that may distract students or offer an advantage to some students and not others? Our process involves three key principles.

Principle 1: Recognize the role of culture in assessment

We start by accepting that there is no such thing as a culture-free assessment. It can be argued that everything around us is an artifact of culture. Culture extends beyond language, food, and customs. The utensils we use or don’t use while eating, the interactions we have with elders, and even our preferences for solo or group leisure activities are all influenced by culture. Researchers have found that this can be extended to education as well (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2018). Our preference for how we learn concepts and demonstrate mastery is influenced by our cultures, as are the methods we use to teach concepts and assess students’ understanding. Consider this hypothetical item, which may seem to be culture-free at first glance:

For students in the United States, what could be more familiar than pizza? That’s a more complicated question than it might seem. The intent of such an item is to make a math question more engaging by providing relevant contextual information. But while it’s easy to assume that all students are familiar with pizza—and know that it’s sometimes called “pizza pie”—this generalization obscures potential regional, ethnic, and socioeconomic biases. At Renaissance, we’re aware that students accessing our products come from diverse cultural backgrounds and that some students, such as those who recently migrated to the United States, may not consider pizza to be a typical dish (or a type of pie).

To be clear, this item is appropriate and does not provide an advantage to students familiar with pizza pies. But when developing culturally inclusive assessment items, we try to avoid limiting contextual content to only that with which most students are familiar. Such a practice may unintentionally perpetuate the marginalization of minority students, as this example shows.

Does this mean that we avoid writing about pizza, or about culturally specific material altogether? No. Rather than attempting to remove cultural context from items, we seize the opportunity to develop culturally competent students. To reiterate a key point from an earlier blog, cultural competence refers to helping students appreciate and celebrate their cultures while learning about at least one other culture. This has required a shift in our approach to content development to ensure we provide room for all cultures and do not center the “mainstream” or majority culture.

As the education community comes to accept that there is no such thing as culture-neutral, culture-blind, or culture-free assessments, student assessments should shift from focusing solely on removing culture-specific content to intentionally including culture-rich content that allows more students to see themselves uplifted. So, how do we create culturally relevant assessments for a diverse audience?

Principle 2: Ensure assessment items are bias-free

We ensure our contextual items that introduce students to various cultures do not require knowledge of those cultures to respond correctly. Our process begins with actively including a wide and diverse array of cultures and groups of people involved in a variety of cultural practices (some that stand out as distinct from “mainstream” cultural practices and some that do not, such as American football). Diversity across our Star Assessments item banks is carefully tracked and adjusted through new item development, and the editorial process includes multiple reviews to ensure that items are bias-free and fair measures of the construct being assessed.

Prior to new items being accepted into our item banks, they are statistically analyzed for indications of biases and any flagged items are rejected. The following is an example of an item recently developed to support our goals around culturally responsive assessment.

This item, like the previous pizza-party item, provides an example of how an assessment question can provide both a window to other cultures and a mirror for those belonging to that culture. It is important to note that the cultural content serves to provide additional context to the question, but knowledge of the culture is not required to respond correctly. This is the defining characteristic of a culturally relevant, bias-free item.

Principle 3: Strive for accuracy and respect

When we do feature different groups, we ensure our portrayals are respectful and accurate. As we develop culture-rich assessment items, we make intentional efforts to portray all groups in a positive and accurate light. Our content teams research and engage in conversations with people from varying ethnic and cultural groups to build an understanding of significant cultural artifacts (e.g., foods, holidays). Our content development guidelines are regularly updated to include our learnings and offer appropriate ways to address different groups and topics. We fact-check our sources and, when possible, share potential items with members of those communities to gauge appropriateness.

Valuing culturally relevant assessment

At Renaissance, we understand that students perform best when they can learn and demonstrate learning in a manner that is relevant to them. We have begun exploring how culturally responsive practices may look in assessments, starting with creating culture-rich assessment items that are still bias-free. This continues to be a work-in-progress, and we’re excited to track and share our learnings with the broader education community as we continue this important journey.

Are you up-to-speed on everything that Star Assessments have to offer? Learn more about Star curriculum-based measures in English and Spanish, the new Star Phonics, and much more.

References

Ladson-Billings, G. (2014). Culturally relevant pedagogy 2.0: a.k.a. the remix. Harvard Educational Review, 84, 74–84.
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (2018). How people learn II: Learners, contexts, and cultures. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/24783
Singer-Freeman, K. E., Hobbs, H., & Robinson, C. (2019). Theoretical matrix of culturally relevant assessment. Assessment Update, 31(4), 1–2. https://doi.org/10.1002/au.30176

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Supporting oral reading fluency with myON https://www.renaissance.com/2022/05/27/blog-supporting-oral-reading-fluency-with-myon/ Fri, 27 May 2022 12:57:45 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=56437 The myON digital reading platform provides students with 24/7 access to thousands of fiction and nonfiction books. Most myON texts include natural-voice audio narration to model fluent reading. With Back-to-School 2022, myON will also allow students to record themselves reading […]

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The myON digital reading platform provides students with 24/7 access to thousands of fiction and nonfiction books. Most myON texts include natural-voice audio narration to model fluent reading. With Back-to-School 2022, myON will also allow students to record themselves reading aloud—and to easily review the recording before they submit it to their teacher.

We recently had the opportunity to discuss this new feature with our colleagues Susannah Moran, Senior Project Manager; Kate Cowell, Product Manager; and Dr. Scott McConnell, Director of Assessment Innovation. Highlights from our conversation appear below.

Q: Why are we adding the new student read-aloud feature to myON? How will it support reading development and reading growth?

Susannah Moran: This is a longstanding request from educators. In the elementary grades, having students read aloud is standard practice in every classroom, and many teachers use running records to monitor oral reading fluency. While having this data is important, it’s not the same as having actual recordings. Recordings allow teachers to create reading portfolios, to compare how students read at the beginning of the school year to how they read at the end of the year. Recordings also allow students to listen to themselves, so they can hear both their miscues and their strengths as readers.

I’ve also received requests for this feature from instructional coaches in middle schools. They feel that—due to all of the demands on instructional time—students aren’t given enough opportunity to read aloud and to then self-assess their reading. Technology can really help here, by giving students the ability to both record themselves and self-assess outside of class time.

Kate Cowell: We interviewed a number of educators as we were designing this new feature. As Susannah mentioned, many said they didn’t have enough class time to give every student the opportunity to read aloud as often as they’d like. They also mentioned students who don’t want to read in front of their peers—perhaps because they’re struggling readers, or because they dislike being the center of attention.

This new feature addresses both of these points. It preserves instructional time by giving students the ability to record themselves in the evening or on weekends. It also gives students greater control over the environment, so they can read aloud without having an audience, if that’s their preference. Our goal here isn’t to create a formal assessment of oral reading fluency but rather to give students additional opportunities for reading practice, so we want to make this new feature as flexible as possible

Susannah Moran: I know I’m “dating” myself, but when I taught reading in middle school, I had a Sony tape recorder I used during read-alouds. I’d then have students listen to the recording, and I’d ask open-ended questions about the reading choices they’d made. All readers occasionally make substitutions when reading a text, or skip words, or add words that aren’t there. Sometimes these changes affect the text’s meaning, and sometimes they don’t. In either case, I noticed that students often had more confidence in themselves as readers after listening to the recording, and they were more willing to talk about their reading.

The new feature in myON takes this a step further, by giving students the ability to review the recording before they turn it in. If they’re not happy with it, they have the option to re-record it. The opportunity to self-assess in this way—to make students the decision-makers—is really powerful, and gives them greater ownership of their reading.

Q: What does the research say about oral reading practice and giving students opportunities to self-assess?

Scott McConnell: Most of the research on oral reading practice is “synchronous,” focusing on what happens when a teacher, librarian, or other adult reads aloud to students. The findings are quite consistent: reading aloud to students expands their vocabulary and knowledge, while also providing important models of expression and prosody. The research also shows that having students read aloud to other students and their teacher, followed by feedback and discussion, contributes to reading fluency and to a better understanding of the text being read. This new feature in myON provides additional ways of achieving these outcomes.

How so? First, myON’s natural-voice audio narration provides each student with a model of fluent, expressive reading of the text they have selected. Until now, this type of modeling usually occurred only when a teacher read to small groups or a whole class—a great resource, but one where student selection of content (and, as a result, perhaps their interest in it) is restricted. Second, students can now listen to their own reading of the same text, both in real time and after completing their read aloud. In each instance, students have opportunities to “check their work” by looking at the words being read or by determining whether the text makes sense in their read aloud. When necessary, they can back up and re-read a section to reflect their self-correction:

This new feature also allows students and teachers to interact in new ways, at both the “micro” and “macro” levels. After listening to a student’s recording, the teacher can provide instruction or correction on decoding or mispronunciation, and can praise the student for improved expressive reading. Teachers can also engage students in what they’ve read, checking for understanding and asking questions that deepen a student’s analysis and comprehension of a text. In this way, myON adds breadth to a teacher’s reach, by providing opportunities for students to read aloud more frequently. At the same time, myON adds greater depth to a teacher’s reach through follow-up interactions with students about their reading selections.

Q: How will this new feature work? What will students and teachers see?

Kate Cowell: We designed the student read-aloud feature to be as intuitive and user-friendly as possible. Students can start the recording at either the beginning of a myON book or from any page within a book. When they click the “Record” button, they’ll receive a pop-up message to allow myON to access their microphone. When they’re done recording, they’re given the option to listen to it immediately. They can then submit it to the teacher, record it again, or save it for later.

Students can access their recordings at any time by clicking myON’s Library tab and then navigating to the Recordings tab. Recordings are organized into two groups: those they’ve turned in and those that are still in progress. They simply open any of the myON books listed, and they’ll see icons indicating which pages have associated recordings. To listen, they just click the icon:

Teachers will see a new tab on their Activity Dashboard for their students’ recordings. For each recording, they’ll see the student’s name, the book’s title, and the recording’s date, length, and status (either In Progress or Turned In). When teachers listen to a recording, they see a view nearly identical to the one shown above—so they can easily see the myON book, with icons to indicate which pages have the student’s recorded read-aloud.

Susannah Moran: To echo Kate’s point about ease-of-use, one of the schools I work with had volunteered to help us test this new feature, and the capability was added during a recent vacation. Without any prompting or instructions, several students noticed the new feature while they were reading on myON at home, and they recorded themselves reading aloud. The teachers were surprised to find that they had recordings waiting for them when they returned to the school building!

Q: How might districts use the student read-aloud feature during the 2022–2023 school year? What guidance can we provide?

Susannah Moran: We’re gaining a lot of insight during the current user testing, which will inform our resources and best practices for educators. As I mentioned earlier, elementary reading teachers are already doing fluency instruction (such as guided oral reading) and formative assessment (such as running records), although they’re not necessarily using technology for this. As Scott noted, myON brings the added benefit of natural-voice audio narration, so students can hear the text read fluently and hear the pronunciation of unfamiliar words. In the early grades especially, students might listen to the audio narration first and then record themselves reading the same passage. This provides an opportunity to practice different elements of fluency—tone, pace, pronunciation—while also helping students to build confidence as readers.

I’d also ask high school teachers to give this feature a look. myON includes many titles taught in high school: The Great Gatsby, Frankenstein, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Hamlet, and more. Asking students to read Shakespeare aloud certainly shows you whether they understand it, based on their tone, where they pause for breath, etc. It also emphasizes the importance—at every grade level—of regular reading practice. Fluent reading doesn’t just happen. It’s something that students have to practice in order to be good at.

Kate Cowell: That’s such an important point. We also know that myON is used by students who are learning English, both in the US and around the world. myON’s natural-voice audio is especially helpful for these learners, because it models English pronunciation and fluent reading while also helping them to build their listening vocabulary. The new read-aloud feature will take this a step further, by allowing English Learners to easily listen to themselves and to assess their pronunciation, pace, and tone. The recordings will also be valuable to teachers, to help them monitor students’ practice and progress.

There’s a lot more to say about this—I think we have a topic for a future blog!

Scott McConnell: In my experience, a district’s reading program has two complementary goals: first, to help students improve their reading skill, and second, to help them develop a passion for the discovery that comes from reading. For a long time, myON has served both of these goals, but with a “lean” towards tools that help students choose books that reflect and in turn fuel their interests. The new read-aloud feature maintains this “choose your own adventure” aspect of myON, while also adding more ways for students and teachers to interact about the text each student is reading and how that text relates to their growing knowledge of the world around them.

This new feature also makes it possible to accumulate portfolios of student oral reading over the course of an academic year, as Susannah noted earlier. I imagine this will be a helpful feature for teachers, students, and even students’ families. They can now have access to a “moving picture” of the student’s growing competence as the year progresses. This portfolio has formal value too, providing teachers with a pre-established library for monitoring and describing the progress each student makes in both the fundamentals of reading and its application to understanding and learning.

This step toward motivating more independent reading while providing new opportunities for teacher-student interaction will be an important resource for achieving both of these goals in the new school year.

Discover how to expand your district’s myON digital library with add-on publishers’ collections focused on phonics, STEM, social-emotional learning, world languages, and more. If you’re not already using myON, click the button below to get started.

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Renaissance Launches Art Contest for Students to Help “Shine a Light on Bilingualism” in America https://www.renaissance.com/2022/05/09/news-renaissance-launches-art-contest-for-students-to-help-shine-a-light-on-bilingualism-in-america/ Mon, 09 May 2022 15:49:00 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=56359 Students who submit an original artwork to the contest can win up to $500 and see their work featured by Renaissance during Hispanic Heritage Month Bloomington, MN (May 9, 2022) – Renaissance, a global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, today […]

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Students who submit an original artwork to the contest can win up to $500 and see their work featured by Renaissance during Hispanic Heritage Month

Bloomington, MN (May 9, 2022) Renaissance, a global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, today launched the “Shine a Light on Bilingualism” art contest to celebrate Hispanic culture and bilingualism.

All students in grades K–12 are invited to create and submit a painting, drawing, or mixed media piece on the theme of “celebrating Hispanic heritage and bilingualism.” Entries are due on June 30. On July 15, a winner will be selected for each grade band of K–3, 4–8, and 9–12. Each winner will receive a $500 Visa gift card and have their art featured during Renaissance’s celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, which takes place between September 15 and October 15.

Research shows that bilingualism and biliteracy have benefits beyond academics, including cognitive, employment, and societal benefits. By 2025, 85 percent of English Learners in US schools will have Spanish as their dominant language. Renaissance is excited to celebrate this group of students and support the educators who honor the knowledge and skills a child has in their home language and seek to build upon those skills to promote learning.

“Bilingual students enrich our classrooms in so many ways every day,” said Doris Chávez-Linville, Director of Linguistic and Culturally Diverse Innovation at Renaissance. “We’re honored to showcase students’ perspectives on what it means to be bilingual and the wonderful impact Hispanic heritage has had on communities and schools in the US.”

Although the art will be created by students, the work must be submitted by an adult, such as a teacher, parent, guardian, or other family member. To enter a K–12 student in the contest, an adult must upload a photo of the art to renaissance.com/bilingual-arts-contest, or mail the original to Renaissance. Questions about the contest should be sent to contest@renaissance.com.

For complete terms and conditions and to submit student art to the contest, visit renaissance.com/bilingual-arts-contest.

About Renaissance

As a global leader in assessment, reading, and math solutions for pre-K–12 schools and districts, Renaissance is committed to providing educators with insights and resources to accelerate growth and help all students build a strong foundation for success. Renaissance solutions reach more than 40 percent of US schools and more than half a million students in other regions across the world. Our portfolio includes solutions for assessment (Star Assessments, KeyPhonics, and myIGDIs for Preschool); practice (Accelerated Reader, myON, Freckle, and Lalilo); data-driven insights (Schoolzilla); and teacher-facilitated instructional delivery (Nearpod). For more information, visit renaissance.com.

Press contact:
Tracy Stewart
Director, Marketing Development
Renaissance
(832) 651-1189
pr@renaissance.com

The post Renaissance Launches Art Contest for Students to Help “Shine a Light on Bilingualism” in America appeared first on Renaissance.

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Product Highlights: Prioritizing learning recovery this year https://www.renaissance.com/2022/05/06/blog-product-highlights-prioritizing-learning-recovery-this-year/ Fri, 06 May 2022 13:07:59 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=56312 Our recent How Kids Are Performing report shows that students at most grade levels are making gains in both reading and math this school year. However, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact student learning, especially in the early grades. This […]

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Our recent How Kids Are Performing report shows that students at most grade levels are making gains in both reading and math this school year. However, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact student learning, especially in the early grades. This makes it essential for educators to have clear insight into each learner’s needs—along with the right tools and resources to effectively differentiate instruction.

Below, you’ll find a summary of new features in your Renaissance products that support learning recovery this year. You can read more details on our Product Updates Blog, which we invite you to visit regularly for the latest news and information.

Introducing KeyPhonics, built on Science of Reading research

We’re thrilled to announce that KeyPhonics—which is now known as Star Phonics—has joined the Renaissance family! Designed for students in grades 1–6, Star Phonics is the first and only web-based assessment of 12 critical phonics categories and 102 essential phonics skills. You can administer Star Phonics to students either in-person or remotely, and you’ll receive immediate reporting aligned to your district’s reading curriculum.

Unlike other phonics assessments that only assess simple patterns, Star Phonics assesses digraphs, blends, vowel teams, contractions, and multi-syllable words. This gives you deep insight into which students are struggling, which phonics skills are secure, and which need more attention. With this information, you can more easily differentiate foundational literacy instruction and provide the right level of support to individual students, groups, classes, and entire grades.

Star Phonics can be used in tandem with other Star Assessments, which assess a wide array of reading skills, and with Lalilo, which provides students with fun and engaging practice on phonics, word recognition, fluency, and more. Learn more about what Star Phonics offers by reading our recent interview with Dr. Michelle Hosp, the assessment’s creator.

Accelerating foundational literacy development with Lalilo

Lalilo uses colorful animations, interactive activities, and engaging lessons to help K–2 students develop strong foundational literacy skills. To simplify the login process, you can now provide students with a QR code to access Lalilo either in the classroom or at home. This allows them to access the program quickly so they can continue their learning adventures.

Lalilo also now includes a short training lesson to help students make the most of the program. The training lesson appears after students complete the Lalilo placement test, and you can also assign the lesson to students manually if they need a quick refresher. The lesson shows students the mechanics of completing activities in Lalilo, including sorting, matching, completing sentences, and more.

Note: If you’re not currently using Lalilo, we invite you to learn more about the program and to create a free account to get started.

Providing literacy skills practice with Freckle

Freckle for ELA is an adaptive program that provides K–12 students with practice on grammar, word study, comprehension, and more. To better monitor students’ activity in Freckle, you now have access to detailed session-level reports for the Grammar Skills Practice and Word Study domains. You can see the specific content students worked on (standard or skill) and how they performed.

You can now also preview Word Study assignments and review individual questions, so you can best align practice and instruction. If you’re not familiar with Word Study in Freckle, you can learn more—and see a list of Word Study levels—by clicking here.

You’ll see several additional enhancements in the coming weeks as well. Freckle will soon include a Parts of Speech domain that provides students with practice in an interactive, engaging format. You’ll also find more detailed reporting that shows ELA standards alignment, so you can easily see where students are in their learning journey.

Note: If you’re not currently using Freckle, we invite you to discover how the program fits into your ELA classroom and to create a free account to get started.

Linking directly to myON digital books

You and your students will find a variety of new English and Spanish titles in myON, from Animals of the Amazon Rain Forest to Marie Curie y la radioactividad. Also, Harper Collins has joined the list of add-on publishers’ collections, with titles for early elementary phonics and upper elementary fiction—including decodables.

You can also now link to a myON digital book—or to a specific page within a book—from Nearpod, Google Classroom, or other learning platforms. This allows you to easily incorporate myON books into your lessons to focus on specific skills, vocabulary, or content-area information. It also supports the use of myON across the curriculum, for lessons on science, social studies, history, mathematics, and more.

Motivating independent reading with Accelerated Reader

You and your students will see several new features in Accelerated Reader related to personalized reading goals. Students using the AR Friends K–2 goal model now see how each book they read contributes toward earning a badge. Older students using the traditional model see new guidance and next steps as they work toward their goals.

You’ll now see additional information and color-coded indicators in the Record Book that show whether your students are on track to achieve their goals. You can also see the percentage of the marking period that is complete, as well as the metrics used in the progress-to-goal calculations (e.g., that the student will read for 15 minutes per day).

You now have greater control over managing quiz records as well. This includes the ability to deactivate quizzes and to allow students to retake quizzes, so you can best configure AR to meet local needs.

If you haven’t already, explore the 2022 edition of What Kids Are Reading, which uses data from AR and myON to show you the most popular print and digital books at every grade level. You can also use the online reporting tools to see the most popular books in your state—and to easily create summer reading lists for your students. You can create lists by state, grade level, reading level, fiction/nonfiction, English/Spanish, and more.

Understanding students’ performance and growth with Star Assessments

Star Early Literacy, Star Reading, and Star Math now feature a reimagined version of the Growth Proficiency Chart. A favorite of many teachers and administrators, this interactive report shows you student performance and growth in a single view. This allows you to quickly see which students, classes, and/or schools are performing on the higher and lower ends of the spectrum, so you can direct resources appropriately.

To determine performance, you indicate the specific proficiency benchmark you’d like to use (state, district, or school). Growth is expressed using Student Growth Percentile (SGP) scores. Data is then shown on an easy-to-read graph, helping you determine how students and schools are performing.

Promoting family engagement and communication

A strong home-school connection is a powerful support for student learning. Renaissance Home Connect allows parents and guardians to sign up for email notifications of students’ scores on Star tests and Accelerated Reader quizzes.

Parents and guardians now receive the enhanced Star Family Report with Star Reading and Star Math results. The report uses color-coding and an easy-to-read format to communicate a variety of scores, so families understand a student’s progress and growth. The Star Reading report also includes the student’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) to help families guide students to books for independent and at-home reading.

A brief overview of the report is available in English and in Spanish to help families interpret the scores.

Coming soon: Star CBM Lectura

Star CBM Lectura for grades K–6 is the latest addition to the Star Assessments suite, and will be available for Back-to-School. Designed authentically in Spanish, Star CBM Lectura provides the following measures to help you assess and support emergent bilingual students’ literacy development:

Like Star CBM Reading, Star CBM Lectura can be administered either on paper or electronically. It can also be used in tandem with the computer-adaptive Star Assessments to gain a detailed picture of students’ reading performance and instructional needs in both Spanish and English. Star CBM Lectura reflects our commitment to supporting biliteracy, and will be a powerful addition to the increasing number of bilingual and dual-language programs across the country.

Supporting learning recovery this summer and throughout the year

If you haven’t already, visit our Summer Learning page for a variety of new resources. You’ll find Student and Family Engagement Kits, Summer School Implementation Guides, Out-of-School Program Tip Sheets, summer funding information, and more. Renaissance’s Dr. Gene Kerns also shares strategies for accelerating learning this summer, whether through formal summer school, high-dosage tutoring, or summer enrichment activities.

Also explore these new resources:

  • Our Reading Challenge Guide, with theme ideas, helpful checklists, and suggested book titles for planning a successful challenge at any level
  • Trip Steps for Reading and Math, which are the most difficult skills for students to learn at each grade level—and a priority for learning recovery
  • How-to webinars, which offer free professional learning on each of your Renaissance products

We hope that you have a safe and restful summer. Also, please visit our Product Updates Blog throughout the year for the latest news and resources.

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Providing authentic assessment with Star CBM Lectura https://www.renaissance.com/2022/04/08/blog-providing-authentic-assessment-with-star-cbm-lectura/ Fri, 08 Apr 2022 12:19:19 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=55882 In 2020, Renaissance introduced Star CBM Reading, which assesses K–6 students’ literacy development in English. For Back-to-School 2022, we’re releasing the new Star CBM Lectura to assess K–6 students’ literacy development in Spanish as well. We recently had the opportunity […]

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In 2020, Renaissance introduced Star CBM Reading, which assesses K–6 students’ literacy development in English. For Back-to-School 2022, we’re releasing the new Star CBM Lectura to assess K–6 students’ literacy development in Spanish as well.

We recently had the opportunity to discuss Star CBM Lectura—including the research and best practices that informed its design—with four of our Renaissance colleagues: Doris Chávez-Linville, Director of Linguistic and Culturally Diverse Innovation; Dr. Scott McConnell, Director of Assessment Innovation; Heidi Lund, Senior Product Manager; and Amy Patnoe, Project Manager.

Highlights from our conversation appear below.

Q: Why did Renaissance create Star CBM Lectura? How does it differ from other Spanish assessments?

Heidi Lund: After we released Star CBM Reading, our school and district partners began asking us for a Spanish CBM as well. These requests aligned perfectly with our commitment to biliteracy development, so we were eager to respond.

Unfortunately, this was in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when no one knew where students would be learning or what the typical school day would look like. We wanted to “do this right” with careful design of the new Spanish measures and robust field testing, but the uncertainties of the 2020–2021 school year made planning difficult.

By spring 2021, however, we’d reached a critical mass in the number of districts volunteering to participate in the field testing. At that point, it made sense to bring together our internal teams and external advisors to begin the design process. Input from educators played a key role here, with teachers telling us how existing Spanish CBMs were failing to meet their needs. They wanted a measure that deeply reflected students’ language and literacy development in Spanish.

Over the last few years, we’ve invested heavily in our computer-adaptive Star Assessments in Spanish, and Star CBM Lectura builds on this commitment. We want to provide educators with a Spanish assessment that they can administer to students one-on-one, along with the flexibility and differentiated data that’s provided by curriculum-based measurement. Educators understand that CATs and CBMs have unique strengths. Together, they provide detailed information about what to do next in the classroom.

Doris Chávez-Linville: Our mission at Renaissance is to accelerate learning for all. We recognize that this is a big mission—and something that is an ongoing process that we are always working toward. We also recognize that equity does not mean “the same.” Too often, testing companies have said something like, “We have a CBM in English, so let’s translate it into Spanish!” This is clearly not the way to achieve equity in education.

From the beginning, we knew that we needed to fully understand the research on bilingualism and biliteracy and to work with experts in the field. We also asked educators, When you’re assessing students who are learning to read in both languages, what does that look like? And we used this input to design authentic Spanish measures, rather than translating or transadapting existing English measures. As Heidi said, our focus remained firmly on the teachers and the students.

Q: What design best practices did we follow when creating Star CBM Lectura? What makes the measures authentic?

Scott McConnell: When we created Star CBM Reading, one of our guiding principles was simplicity. Rather than developing every measure under the sun, we followed the research and focused on foundations of literacy that are most predictive of learning to read in English: Letter Sounds, Phoneme Segmentation, Nonsense Word Reading, and Passage Oral Reading. Simplicity meant sticking to the major pillars to provide great measures of progress—and empowering teachers to intervene for those students needing supplemental instruction.

We took the same approach with Star CBM Lectura, while also acknowledging that learning to read in Spanish has differences from learning to read in English. This is why, for example, Star CBM Lectura doesn’t include measures for Letter Naming, even though other CBMs in Spanish do. So why don’t we? Because our goal is to create an authentic assessment, as Doris explained. Reviewing the research and consulting with experts led us to focus on very young students reading simple and then more complex syllables, which is typically the first instructional and developmental component of Spanish literacy.

To put this another way, “parity” with our English CBM doesn’t depend on what the measures look like. Instead, it’s rooted in our commitment to empowering teachers and strengthening the connection between assessment and classroom instruction.

Doris Chávez-Linville: When I first came to the US from Mexico, I was always surprised when people would ask how to spell my name. In Spanish, there’s only one way to spell “Doris.” This is because Spanish is a transparent language, with a one-to-one correspondence between letters and sounds. Unlike English, Spanish does not have short and long vowels or hard and soft consonants. In Spanish, children begin not by learning the letter names but by learning sounds and then syllables. For example, a child learning to spell the word murciélago would break it down into syllables rather than individual letters: mur-cié-la-go.

Dr. Jose Medina jokingly uses the phrase “Spanish á la anglais” to refer to programs that have obviously been translated from English. When teachers who work in bilingual education see a Letter Naming measure in Spanish, their immediate reaction is: It’s been translated. In Spanish, letter names and the order of the alphabet are typically taught in grade 2—as part of dictionary skills or sorting skills, not literacy skills.

Amy Patnoe: Before I joined Renaissance, I managed bilingual programming in a public school district. When we implemented a CBM in Spanish, we were expected to implement the same measures that our English CBM provided. Bilingual educators immediately contacted me with concerns. As Doris and Scott have explained, foundational literacy development differs between Spanish and English. There was immense frustration that the CBM our district implemented in Spanish did not honor these differences and—therefore—did not honor our students’ needs.

Teachers quickly noticed that the Letter Naming measure in Spanish was not indicative of the reading progress students were making, particularly in the early grades. Teachers saw that their CBM data was not triangulating with other assessments they were using in the classroom, and they had a challenging time narrating the rationale behind these differences.

I began working with the district’s Accountability, Reliability, and Evaluation department to adjust the measure. This created further psychometric challenges because we were then straying from the way the assessment was supposed to be implemented. If we’d had a CBM that was authentically designed in Spanish, these issues would not have arisen, and we would have been able to invest our advocacy efforts for Emergent Bilingual students in other ways.

Q: What does the Star CBM Lectura field test involve? What feedback have we received from educators and students?

Heidi Lund: Thousands of students are participating in the field testing, which we designed to be as efficient as possible, knowing that educators have more demands than ever on their time this year. For maximum flexibility, all three Star CBM Lectura administration modes are available: paper-only, online-only, and mixed, with the student using paper and the educator recording responses online.

Doris, Amy, and team have been tireless in supporting educators and students during this process. They’ve visited schools, provided professional development in Spanish, hosted Q&A sessions, and more. Educators’ feedback has been very positive, and we’ve made updates to the testing instructions and training materials based on what we’re learning. The field-testing data will also allow our psychometrics team to set the grade-level benchmarks and other norms that educators will see in the commercial version of the product.

Doris Chávez-Linville: Observing the field testing in person allows us to really connect with teachers and students as they’re using the assessment. I’m especially interested in observing the administration of the Passage Oral Reading measures (as modeled in this video). In the past, educators often relied on Spanish passages that had been translated from English—and usually not very well. As part of the design process for Star CBM Lectura, our internal team—whose members are former bilingual educators who also have assessment design experience—wrote passages in Spanish. We also sourced passages from Spain, Mexico, and Chile.

Like all of the content in Star, these passages have gone through a rigorous editorial process and content review to ensure they’re accessible and free of bias. There is another consideration, however. Spanish is the official language in 21 countries, which leads to a lot of variety. There are 11 different Spanish words for a drinking straw, for example. So we worked to balance this rich diversity in vocabulary with the need to ensure passages are accessible to all learners.

The response has been very positive. In one classroom, a student looked at the passage before her teacher had even asked her to read it. She immediately had a smile on her face and said, “This is real Spanish!” Students aren’t always excited about testing, but this was a genuine moment of joy in the classroom. When the language is authentic, students can feel it, because it’s part of their identity and their culture.

Q: How might educators use Star CBM Lectura during the 2022–2023 school year?

Amy Patnoe: We intend to include 20 parallel forms of each measure. Because measures can be administered between screening windows, Star CBM Lectura not only screens but also provides real-time data on foundational literacy components in Spanish—data that many teachers have never had before. They can use this data to inform instructional design and Multi-Tiered Systems of Support. The data will also support conversations with colleagues (such as Related Service Professionals) and with students’ families and caregivers.

In my previous role, I was often invited to join Child Study meetings to help explain the nuances of literacy and language development in Spanish. I saw that the teachers of bilingual or multilingual students were being held to a standard and measure that was not designed for them, because they did not have access to authentic assessment tools. Watching these teachers as they tried to explain that their students were making progress—and that the assessment data did not paint an accurate picture—was heartbreaking.

Someone I admire once said, “Changing our beliefs begins with changing our language, with the words we use.” Star CBM Lectura provides educators with the understandings and concept knowledge of foundational literacy components in Spanish, and also with the data necessary to accurately understand the metacognition and literacy development of bilingual students. This is an assessment that schools and districts have needed for a long time.

Scott McConnell: Educators will also see continuity between Star CBM Lectura and our other Star Assessments, given the common design principles we’ve followed. This includes using authentic language, providing data that’s instructionally meaningful, making the assessment engaging for students, and ensuring that it’s both easy to use and psychometrically strong.

As Doris and Amy have explained, Star CBM Lectura helps us to deliver on our mission of accelerating learning for all children—not just some children. Respecting the language and culture that children bring to the classroom is an essential part of this work. Our approach at Renaissance is to keep the teacher and the student at the center, and to make sure that technology is there to help move learning forward. With Star CBM Lectura, we have a sensitive measure that shows how students are progressing toward becoming proficient readers in Spanish. This creates a really solid foundation for supporting biliteracy, whether we’re talking about Spanish-speaking students who are learning English, or English-speaking students who are learning Spanish in a bilingual program.

Doris Chávez-Linville: I always remind people that there is no such thing as a bilingual assessment. So instead educators use two monolingual assessments. The goal is for each one to be authentic to the language, and to truly assess the skills that are critical for reading proficiently. In English, this means Letter Names, as we’ve discussed. It also means onset and rime, which are often used as an indicator of kindergarten readiness.

Tools for assessing these skills have existed in English for many years. But teachers in the US have not had comparable tools in Spanish—where onset and rime do not exist, for example. So the ability to access an authentic, psychometrically solid tool in Spanish that can be used across schools and provides reliable data for decision-making is a game-changer, helping educators to more fully support literacy development in both languages. That has been our goal from the beginning, and I cannot wait for educators to start using this assessment.

If your school or district uses the Star 360 assessment suite, you now have access to Star CBM Lectura at no additional cost. If you’re not currently using the Star 360 suite, click the button below to learn more.

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Renaissance Expands Its Early Literacy Portfolio with the Acquisition of KeyPhonics https://www.renaissance.com/2022/03/28/renaissance-expands-its-early-literacy-portfolio-with-the-acquisition-of-keyphonics/ Mon, 28 Mar 2022 14:23:12 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=55661 By adding the first commercially available phonics assessment developed to both screen and diagnose phonics patterns to Renaissance literacy solutions, educators will have all the resources they need to support foundational literacy grounded in the Science of Reading Bloomington, MN […]

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By adding the first commercially available phonics assessment developed to both screen and diagnose phonics patterns to Renaissance literacy solutions, educators will have all the resources they need to support foundational literacy grounded in the Science of Reading

Bloomington, MN (March 28, 2022) Renaissance, a global leader in student-centered, pre-K–12 personalized practice and assessment, has acquired KeyPhonics, to deliver early literacy assessment data that can be linked directly to phonics-based reading instruction.

KeyPhonics, the first commercially available web-based phonics assessment, was developed after years of research with the goal to quickly and efficiently screen and diagnose the twelve most critical phonics categories and 102 specific target patterns. It was created by Dr. Michelle Hosp after realizing as a school psychologist that phonics assessments didn’t answer one crucial question: which phonics patterns the student needed help with. Universal screening assessments confirm which students are struggling to read, but they are not designed to identify which phonics patterns students need instruction on, therefore limiting their utility to plan instruction.

“Detailed awareness of a child’s mastery of phonics skills is one of the most important indicators of early literacy, and we know it is a top priority for teachers and reading specialists to have actionable data they can use to inform their instruction,” said Todd Brekhus, chief product officer at Renaissance. “We look forward to adding KeyPhonics to the Renaissance family, and together providing teachers and administrators with the insights they need to prepare students for reading proficiency.”

KeyPhonics is designed for grades 1 through 6 and for older students who need help learning phonics. It provides valuable information about phonics skills essential for instruction through a fast and easy assessment, while providing data at the student, class, grade, and district levels. In addition to diagnosing and monitoring progress, educators can also screen all students to enable teachers and administrators to see how students are performing. This helps teachers to provide more effective instruction, and administrators to determine the resources needed to support students and staff.

“We’re thrilled to join Renaissance and create this critical partnership to support teachers and school leaders as they are guiding their students to become proficient, life-long readers,” said Dr. Hosp, founder and scientific advisor at KeyPhonics. “Teaching reading is our most important job as educators, as it has life-long implications for our students. Joining Renaissance allows us to expand the reach of the KeyPhonics assessment and provide educators with the tools and information they need to support instruction and help all students become proficient readers.”

KeyPhonics is Renaissance’s second recent acquisition to support foundational literacy. In 2021, the company acquired Lalilo, which provides K–2 students with engaging practice and instruction across all components of literacy. Lalilo also aligns with Science of Reading research and supports Renaissance’s commitment to reading development.

KeyPhonics customers will continue to receive the support and service they have come to expect and love from the company. Existing Renaissance customers can look forward to learning more about KeyPhonics in the weeks ahead.

About Renaissance

As a global leader in assessment, reading, and math solutions for pre-K–12 schools and districts, Renaissance is committed to providing educators with insights and resources to accelerate growth and help all students build a strong foundation for success. The Renaissance portfolio includes Star Assessments, for reliable, accurate insights into K–12 student learning; myIGDIs, for accurate assessment of early learning; myON, to increase students’ access to high-quality reading materials; Accelerated Reader, to support independent reading practice; Freckle, for teacher-led differentiated instruction; Schoolzilla, to give educators actionable insights into trends in student attendance and achievement; Lalilo, to develop critical foundational skills; and Nearpod, for teacher-facilitated instructional delivery. For more information, visit Renaissance.com.

Contact for Media Inquiries Only:
Tracy Stewart
Director, Marketing Development
(832) 651-1189
tracy.stewart@renaissance.com

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National Report Reveals Pandemic Has Had Profound Effect On K–12 Student Outcomes https://www.renaissance.com/2022/03/22/news-national-report-reveals-pandemic-has-had-profound-effect-on-k12-student-outcomes/ Tue, 22 Mar 2022 20:34:47 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=55545 How Kids Are Performing analysis shows lower student performance this school year compared to last year, but there are encouraging signs that growth is improving Bloomington, MN (March 23, 2022) – Renaissance , a global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, […]

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How Kids Are Performing analysis shows lower student performance this school year compared to last year, but there are encouraging signs that growth is improving

Bloomington, MN (March 23, 2022) Renaissance , a global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, today released the latest How Kids Are Performing, a report detailing the academic impacts associated with COVID-19 school disruptions.

The report compares performance and growth data for the first half of the 2021–2022 school year with data from the same period last year. This “snapshot” is a useful tool to document the extent to which the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic continue to affect student achievement in grades K–12 in reading and 1–12 in math.

The new report’s findings confirm that the pandemic has had a profoundly disruptive effect on education that continues to be felt today. While student performance in the second year of the pandemic is lower than during the first year, there are encouraging signs in many grades that fall-to-winter student growth rates in 2021–2022 are stronger compared to the same period in 2020–2021.

Key findings include:

  • Performance: Overall, students are performing lower in 2021–2022 compared to 2020–2021, suggesting that the pandemic continues to have a compounding effect on student achievement.
  • Growth: Fall-to-winter growth in 2021–2022 was stronger than growth during the same period last year, although it remains below typical growth in most grade levels.
  • Results by Group: Although performance and growth vary between student and school groups, most follow this same overall pattern of lower performance but stronger growth compared to the prior year.
  • Pre-readers: Concerning results were observed for pre-readers in grade 1, where school disruptions may have interrupted the development of foundational literacy skills.

“All signs suggest that this is going to be a multiyear recovery,” said Dr. Gene Kerns, vice president and chief academic officer at Renaissance. “We can reset instruction back to where it was pre-pandemic, but that isn’t going to instantly move students up to where they would have been had the pandemic not occurred. For example, if you worked out every day and then stopped for two years, you aren’t going to be in the same shape as before the break when you return to the gym. We know what to do—and educators are rising to meet this great challenge—but it’s going to take time.”

The Monroe County School District in Florida has consistently monitored student progress before and during the pandemic, and district leaders are encouraged by the data they see this school year. “For me, the growth score has the most meaning,” said Superintendent Theresa Axford. “What we are seeing is that our teachers are being effective and supporting the kids in the exact ways they need to be supported, and that is reflected in the student growth data.”

To ensure a fair comparison, the report restricts its analysis to schools using the same computer-adaptive Star Assessments for early literacy, reading, or math during both the 2020–2021 and 2021–2022 academic years. The analysis includes 4.4 million early literacy or reading assessments at 19,046 schools and 2.9 million math assessments at 12,754 schools. The sample covers K–12 students from schools from all 50 states plus the District of Columbia.

Renaissance is providing additional resources to support educators, schools, and families this spring and summer:

  • Summer Learning Toolkit, which includes a variety of free resources: Student and Family Engagement Kits, summer funding information, and guidance on designing an effective summer learning program;
  • Focus Skills in English and Spanish, so educators can target the most important learning at each grade level;
  • Trip Steps for Reading, showing the most difficult reading skills for students to master across grades K–12;
  • Trip Steps for Mathematics, showing the most difficult math skills for students to master from pre-K through Algebra 1.

The full How Kid Are Performing report is available at ​​renaissance.com/performing.

About Renaissance

As a global leader in assessment, reading, and math solutions for pre-K–12 schools and districts, Renaissance is committed to providing educators with insights and resources to accelerate growth and help all students build a strong foundation for success. Renaissance solutions reach more than 40% of US schools and more than a half million students in other regions across the world. The Renaissance portfolio includes Star Assessments, for reliable, accurate insights into K–12 student learning; myIGDIs, for accurate assessment of early learning; myON, to increase students’ access to high-quality reading materials; Accelerated Reader, to support independent reading practice; Freckle, for teacher-led differentiated instruction; Schoolzilla, to give educators actionable insights into trends in student attendance and achievement; Lalilo, to develop critical foundational skills; and Nearpod, for teacher-facilitated instructional delivery.

Media Contact
Tracy Stewart
Director, Marketing Development
(832) 651-1189
tracy.stewart@renaissance.com

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Using Trip Steps to guide instructional reading time https://www.renaissance.com/2022/03/11/blog-using-trip-steps-to-guide-instructional-reading-time/ Fri, 11 Mar 2022 14:43:48 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=55449 Last summer, Renaissance released Trip Steps for Mathematics, which are essential math skills that are also disproportionately difficult for students to learn at grade level. You’ll find detailed information about math Trip Steps, including how we identified them and how […]

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Last summer, Renaissance released Trip Steps for Mathematics, which are essential math skills that are also disproportionately difficult for students to learn at grade level. You’ll find detailed information about math Trip Steps, including how we identified them and how you might use them when planning instruction, in this blog from last fall.

At the request of our school and district partners, we’re now releasing Trip Steps for Reading, which span kindergarten through grade 12. We recently had the opportunity to discuss reading Trip Steps with three of our Renaissance colleagues: Dr. Gene Kerns, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer; Julianne Robar, Director, Metadata and Product Interoperability; and Dr. Jan Bryan, Vice President and National Education Officer.

Highlights from our conversation appear below.

Q: Why does Renaissance use the name “Trip Steps” to describe these disproportionately difficult reading and math skills?

Gene Kerns: One of my more memorable experiences as an educator was chaperoning a high school trip to Europe. We visited several medieval castles, and we learned that the staircases deliberately had steps of different heights. People living in the castle would obviously be familiar with this, and would know that the fifth step or the eighth step was taller than the others. Invaders, however, wouldn’t know about these “trip steps,” and would be more likely to trip and fall when trying to storm the castle.

In education, we often describe learning as a staircase, with each skill being slightly more difficult than the one that comes before it. This is generally accurate, but as students progress within and across grade levels, they occasionally encounter a skill that is significantly more difficult than the prior skill, and which may cause a stumble in learning. The concept of “trip steps” immediately came to mind here, to provide a visual representation of this.

Q: Why did Renaissance decide to release lists of Trip Steps now?

Gene Kerns: When the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to switch from in-person to online learning, educators needed a quick and reliable way to prioritize essential skills, so they could make the best use of limited instructional time. To help, Renaissance made our Focus Skills freely available to every school and district. Focus Skills are the essential reading and math skills at each grade level, based on each state’s standards of learning. They are also important prerequisites for future learning—the skills that students must master in order to progress.

Now that we’ve lived through two years of the pandemic, educators are, in a sense, ready to take the next step. While all Focus Skills are essential, some of them are demonstrably more difficult for students to learn than others. These are the Trip Steps. Knowing which reading and math skills are most difficult for students to learn at grade level is valuable information to have as you’re planning instruction. Trip Steps also support the important work of learning recovery, by helping educators to identify essential yet challenging skills from prior grades that students may have missed out on due to the disruptions.

Q: What major differences do you see between reading and math Trip Steps?

Julianne Robar: With Trip Steps for Mathematics, we generally see a fairly tight grade range for each domain. For example, in grades 1–4, we see multiple Trip Steps in Whole Number Concepts and Whole Number Operations. As students move into middle and high school, they’re then applying these skills to new domains—particularly Geometry and Algebra, where they need these skills to find area or solve multi-step problems.

With Trip Steps for Reading, we tend to see a larger grade span within each skill area. For example, the Trip Steps for Character and Plot span grades K–8, the Trip Steps for Main Idea and Details span grades 2–10, etc. In the document’s introduction, we highlight Author’s Purpose and Perspective, which has Trip Steps spread across grades 2, 7, and 10. Looking at the list, it’s clear how these skills build on one another and require increasingly sophisticated levels of analysis.

Gene Kerns: The writer Stephen Pinker describes math as “ruthlessly cumulative”—a phrase we’ve quoted often when speaking about math Trip Steps and how these skills build on each other. This description also applies to reading Trip Steps, but in a somewhat different way. What sets reading apart is how students must operationalize the skills they’ve learned through all the different genres they encounter. Reading a novel is different from reading a poem, an essay, a persuasive piece, or a newspaper article.

I’m reminded of the saying, “Nobody cares for figurative language in a technical manual.” The Trip Steps in the Conventions and Range of Reading skill area highlight this important difference between reading literary texts and informational texts. This begins in grade 1 with the Trip Step, Understand the general differences among various print and digital materials (e.g., storybooks, fairy tales, informational books, newspapers, websites).

Q: What strikes you in looking at the Trip Steps for Reading in grades K–3? Any surprises?

Jan Bryan: In most states, grade 1 has the highest number of reading Focus Skills, so I’m not surprised to see the large number of reading Trip Steps in kindergarten and grade 1. We know that students are building important foundational skills at these grade levels, particularly for decoding. The skill areas we see here—Phonemes, Vowel Sounds, and Consonants, Blends, Digraphs—will align with educators’ expectations.

What does strike me is the difficulty of some of these Trip Steps. For example, consider the kindergarten Trip Step for Vowel Sounds: Distinguish between similarly spelled words by identifying the sounds of the vowels that differ (e.g., pick the word that has the /a/ sound: cat, cot, cut.) Using the empirical difficulty data from our Star Assessments, we can see that this skill is roughly two grade levels ahead of kindergarten. This may lead someone to ask, “Then why isn’t this skill taught in second grade instead?” The answer is that it’s a prerequisite for the skills that come next. Even though it’s a difficult skill for kindergarteners to learn, it’s essential to their progression—which is the very definition of a Trip Step.

Gene Kerns: This example reminds me of the importance of beginning with phonemic awareness. Without training, the human mind perceives words as wholes, not as phonemes: “cat” rather than /k/ /æ/ /t/. As adults, we often forget how difficult phonemic awareness is for young children, in the sense that we’re asking them to slow language down and isolate individual sounds—hardly a natural act. We do this because once children learn the parts, they can put them back together again in order to get meaning from the written word, which is absolutely essential for literacy development.

To return to the question of surprises, some people may be surprised to only see one reading Trip Step for grade 3. Given the many state policies around grade 3 reading, this may be puzzling at first. It’s important to remember, though, that states’ high-stakes grade 3 tests are meant to assess students’ reading development through grade 3, not just in grade 3. This includes all of the critical decoding skills in kindergarten and grade 1 that Jan just mentioned.

Q: What strikes you in looking at the Trip Steps for Reading in grades 4–12? Were you surprised to see that grade 7 has more reading Trip Steps than any other grade?

Jan Bryan: We jokingly said that if you see a seventh grader, wish them well, and if you see a seventh grade teacher, take them out to dinner!

On a more serious note, when you look at the grade 7 Trip Steps, you’ll see that we’re almost asking students to be mind readers. The skill areas deal with author’s purpose, author’s word choice, connotation, cause and effect, etc., and the skills begin with words like “Interpret,” “Analyze,” “Explain,” and “Draw conclusions.” This is not something that comes naturally to many 12- and 13-year-olds. I can imagine a seventh grade teacher asking, “What does the author mean here?”, and a student replying, “I don’t know, let me call him and ask him…”

Gene Kerns: When I was a district administrator, we used the phrase “reading the lines” to describe literacy skills in the early grades. In other words, students can generally answer the teacher’s questions by pointing to specific words or sentences in a text. You can see multiple examples of this in the list of Trip Steps, such as identifying short and long vowels in grade 1, locating key details in an informational text in grade 2, and providing the sequence of events in a text in grade 3. In all of these cases, students can literally put their fingers on the answer in the text.

When students move into middle and high school, they’re suddenly asked to read between the lines, as Jan points out. They’re making inferences, analyzing figurative language, evaluating arguments and evidence, and drawing conclusions. This is a massive shift in complexity and in how students interact with texts. We see the beginnings of this in late elementary and middle school, but it increases exponentially in grades 7 and 8.

Julianne Robar: In this sense, Trip Steps align with Webb’s Depth of Knowledge. In the lower grades, we see a lot of “Identify…” and “Distinguish…” In the later grades, the emphasis shifts to “Explain…,” “Compare…,” and “Analyze…,” which have a greater cognitive demand.

Jan Bryan: It’s often said that in grades K–3, students are learning to read, while in grades 4–12, they’re then reading to learn. This is a useful shorthand, and it’s true that once students have learned the mechanics of reading, daily independent reading is essential for building background knowledge and vocabulary, and for developing the stamina to read the long and complex informational texts they’ll encounter in college and career. However, the Trip Steps for middle and high school highlight the equally important role of teacher-led instructional reading practice in helping students to learn these challenging and more abstract skills.

Q: How might teachers and administrators use Trip Steps for Reading this spring and beyond?

Jan Bryan: The guidance in our earlier blog on math Trip Steps is equally relevant to reading. We suggest that grade-level teams plan instruction and share resources. A focus on prerequisite skills and student motivation, along with frequent checks for understanding, are also part of our recommendations.

Gene Kerns: If I were an administrator right now, I’d devote my data team meetings to discussing Focus Skills. Yes, I realize that teachers must also cover non-Focus Skills this year, but—given the limited time and the amount of ground that needs to be made up—I’d put the emphasis on the essentials. Trip Steps then provide another tool for prioritization, a way to “zoom in” on the Focus Skills that will likely require the most instructional time, the most support, and the most student practice.

I’d also share the list of Trip Steps with my master teachers and instructional specialists. I’d ask them to find quality resources, lesson plans, manipulatives, activities—in short, any instructional tools that would give my teachers the best shot at teaching these skills that are both absolutely necessary and really challenging for kids to learn.

For more insights on instructional reading practice, check out the book Literacy Reframed, written by Gene Kerns, Jan Bryan, and others. You can order a copy from your favorite bookseller or directly from the publisher.

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Renaissance Shares Findings of World’s Largest Annual K–12 Reading Survey https://www.renaissance.com/2022/03/01/news-renaissance-shares-findings-of-worlds-largest-annual-k12-reading-survey/ Tue, 01 Mar 2022 14:09:47 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=55179 The new 2022 What Kids Are Reading report provides insight into the reading habits of millions of students Bloomington, MN (March 1, 2022) – Renaissance , a global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, today released the latest What Kids Are […]

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The new 2022 What Kids Are Reading report provides insight into the reading habits of millions of students

Bloomington, MN (March 1, 2022) Renaissance , a global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, today released the latest What Kids Are Reading (WKAR) report, the world’s largest annual survey of K–12 reading habits.

Each year, the WKAR report lists the most popular books at every grade level, and also provides new understanding of K–12 students’ reading practice. The report is uniquely illuminating because it draws from two Renaissance programs: Accelerated Reader, which records the books students are actually reading, not just buying or checking out from libraries, and myON, which provides students with instant access to thousands of digital titles for online or offline reading.

The 2022 report uses the data of 4.5 million students in 22,749 US schools who read 128 million books, revealing insights into students’ reading comprehension and the characteristics of what they choose to read, such as word count and text difficulty.

“Beyond sharing data on student reading, the report’s goal has always been to celebrate books and to encourage students to read for pleasure, both in and out of school,” said Dr. Gene Kerns, the chief academic officer at Renaissance. “We know from prior research that the amount of reading that students do is a strong predictor of how much they’ll grow and achieve, and the likelihood they’ll be able to understand more complex texts later in school and in their careers.”

This year’s report includes author essays about topics such as the value of reading, the process of writing, and the power of storytelling to engage students and support vocabulary and knowledge development, all of which lead to greater reading comprehension. Essay authors include:

  • Jacqueline Woodson, author of The Day You Begin;
  • Yangsook Choi, author of The Name Jar;
  • Francisco X. Stork, author of Marcelo in the Real World; and
  • Dr. Padma Venkatraman, author of A Time to Dance.

Dr. Kymyona Burk, a senior policy fellow for early literacy at the Foundation for Excellence in Education, writes in the introduction to the report, “As children grow as readers and as individuals, it is important for them to find engaging books that they can connect with and that motivate them to read. Sometimes, it only takes one character, one book, or one shared experience to change the trajectory of a child’s life.”

The report also features helpful book lists designed to help educators provide choices for students who may be struggling to find books they are interested in, and to help all students discover new titles they might otherwise miss. Grade-Range Lists highlight how different literacy education looks as students move between ages, grades, and abilities, and focus on the specific skill sets literacy experts believe will support literacy growth and comprehension at each grade band. This includes Highly Decodable books for grades K–2, Vocabulary Practice for grades 3–5, Background Knowledge Builders for grades 6–8, and High Interest and Accessible books for struggling readers in grades 9–12.

In addition to the always popular Signature Books list—which highlights the most popular book in each state—the report includes the following lists for each grade level:

  • New and Now Reads, which are titles just being discovered by students;
  • Top Print Titles and Popular Digital Reads;
  • Authentic Spanish Titles, written for native speakers to help students make real-life connections, develop deeper vocabulary and linguistic understanding, and foster cultural appreciation;
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Themes, designed to help educators and students begin conversations about our diverse makeup and how inclusion can help us thrive; and
  • Social and Emotional Learning Topics, which features two books that address a SEL-related topic.

Visit https://www.renaissance.com/wkar/ to download a free copy of the report, explore data by state, and create personalized book lists.

About Renaissance

As a global leader in assessment, reading, and math solutions for pre-K–12 schools and districts, Renaissance is committed to providing educators with insights and resources to accelerate growth and help all students build a strong foundation for success. Renaissance solutions reach more than 40 percent of US schools and more than half a million students in other regions across the world. The Renaissance portfolio includes Star Assessments, for reliable, accurate insights into K–12 student learning; myIGDIs, for accurate assessment of early learning; myON, to increase students’ access to high-quality reading materials; Accelerated Reader, to support independent reading practice; Freckle, for teacher-led differentiated instruction; Schoolzilla, to give educators actionable insights into trends in student attendance and achievement; Lalilo, to develop critical foundational skills; and Nearpod, for teacher-facilitated instructional delivery. For more information, visit renaissance.com.

Press contact:
Tracy Stewart
Director, Marketing Development
Renaissance
(832) 651-1189
pr@renaissance.com

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How to accelerate learning during summer 2022 https://www.renaissance.com/2022/02/25/blog-how-to-accelerate-learning-during-summer-2022/ Fri, 25 Feb 2022 14:45:04 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=55134 By Dr. Gene Kerns, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer This summer will be different than most—not only because of the ongoing disruptions to learning but because districts have plentiful funding to support their summer programs. Summer learning experiences are […]

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By Dr. Gene Kerns, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer

This summer will be different than most—not only because of the ongoing disruptions to learning but because districts have plentiful funding to support their summer programs. Summer learning experiences are encompassed in ESSER funding uses. Administrators are not accustomed to easily saying, “We’ve got money for that,” but ESSER funding is around well into 2024. When it comes to summer learning this year and for the next two years, ESSER funds are available.

As districts consider how to best use this funding, they may find opportunities to adopt resources that not only support learning this summer, but also during summers well into the future. Before we explore this point and how Renaissance can help, let’s consider what we really know about summer learning—and, more specifically, about summer learning loss.

The research on summer learning

Time away from school during the summer definitively impacts student performance, particularly for those who are otherwise disadvantaged. Right? Many of us have heard that it’s summer, not the regular school year, that contributes the most to gaps in performance.

Many of our beliefs about the “summer slide” are based on the findings of the Beginning School Study, which began in the fall of 1982 and tracked 838 first graders in Baltimore City Public Schools for the next 20 years. The results, published in 2003, are the basis of many strongly held beliefs about summer learning loss. The data have been discussed in Time magazine and The Economist, and featured in well-known books like Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.

That study, however, is now nearly 20 years old, involved a relatively small sample size, and measured students’ progress using assessment tools that are outdated by today’s standards. So, are the results truly valid?

Recently, Paul von Hippel of the University of Texas, as well as researchers at the Early Childhood Longitudinal Studies (ECLS) Program, independently tried to replicate the Beginning School Study’s results, and their collective findings do not agree. In fact, the three analyses show very different levels of impact. The Beginning School Study found that summer learning loss had major impacts on students, while von Hippel found that students experienced two to three months of “slide” and the ECLS researchers found only minimal impact.

Von Hippel’s summary of the conflicting results is clarifying. “So, what do we know about summer learning loss?,” he asks. “Less than we think.” Despite the variance as to the scale of the impact, however, some findings are consistent across the three analyses. Most notably that, as von Hippel states, “Nearly all children, no matter how advantaged, learn much more slowly during summer vacations than they do during the school year.” This finding allows us to see the summer as a unique opportunity.

How so? If all students are either learning more slowly or regressing when they are away from school, then summer is an occasion to offer programs and support for students who are on the lower ends of performance and help them to catch up. If educators can help them grow faster while other students are slowing down, achievement gaps can be lessened.

While we’re just past the mid-point of the academic year, it’s not too early to begin to plan for students’ summer 2022 learning experiences by thinking about initiatives ranging from required and highly structured to optional and less structured. While some programs may take the form of mandatory summer school, all of these reflect important forms of learning during the summer months.

Let’s explore three options.

1. Formal summer school (including High-Dosage Tutoring and Acceleration Academies)

At this most intense level of summer programming, participation may be highly encouraged or even required, because the students served are typically performing significantly off grade-level expectations. There’s been a recent and important shift in the thinking about how to best address the instructional needs of such students. This is captured in the mantra, “Accelerate, don’t remediate,” and is based on instructional approaches gathered under the umbrella term Accelerated Learning. This approach features prominently in recent guidance from the US Department of Education and appears in many states’ COVID-19 recovery plans as well.

As I noted in an earlier blog, the primary emphasis of accelerated learning is maximizing the time students spend with grade-level content. This is achieved through a purposeful consideration of essential grade-level skills and targeted, “just-in-time” instruction and support for any necessary prerequisites, rather than more indiscriminate “just-in-case” review or remediation.

The challenge is that this approach requires detailed knowledge of both essential grade-level skills and necessary prerequisites. Renaissance’s free Focus Skills Resource Center provides detailed information on both fronts, and these resources have recently been expanded to include Focus Skills for Spanish reading as well.

Implementing accelerated learning also requires up-to-date student assessment data. An understanding of where students are academically and how they’re progressing is critical. Users of Renaissance Star Assessments who close out the core academic year with spring screening will begin summer school with data on student performance—as well as up-to-date instructional planning information—already available. Time is of the essence with summer learning, and new Star users trying out the assessment for the first time will find it to be not only highly reliable and valid, but also capable of providing information in the shortest amount of time of any leading interim assessment.

Also, unlike some assessments, Star provides answers to the critical “what’s next?” question with essential Focus Skills highlighted on all reports and dashboards, along with immediate access to thousands of aligned educational resources. Administering Star at the end of a summer program is also advisable. This allows educators to gauge student growth over the summer months and offers a “fresh crop” of placement information for back-to-school.

Of course, it’s also critical to provide the right instruction and practice to help students meet grade-level expectations. The following Renaissance practice products can be a valuable addition to summer school programs:

  • The myON digital reading platform, which provides both online and offline access to thousands of enhanced digital books and news articles.
  • Lalilo, which helps K–2 students to develop foundational literacy skills in phonics, word recognition, vocabulary, comprehension, and more.
  • Freckle for math and ELA, which supports both teacher-assigned practice and differentiated, adaptive practice in and out of the classroom.

Freckle is particularly well suited to an accelerated learning approach, as shown in the screenshot below. Here, the teacher sees student performance on an “exit ticket” for Base 10—Rounding. At a glance, she can identify who needs re-teaching of prerequisite skills (in this case, Tony), who needs a bit more practice with the current skills (Rafferty), and who’s ready for a deeper challenge that probes their Depth of Knowledge (Abraham and Carry). She can even assign appropriate practice activities to each student by clicking the links at the bottom of the screen.

2. Summer enrichment programs

For many students, summer learning doesn’t mean a required “summer school” experience. Their needs may not be as great, and it’s possible that your capacity to accommodate learners in summer school is limited.

Less intense but still very meaningful programs can take a variety of forms and can even be provided by community partners. For example, daily attendance at a Boys and Girls Club or similar programming is a reality for some students. When informed and supported, community partners can provide and facilitate dedicated daily time for reading and/or math practice using Renaissance products like myON, Freckle, Lalilo, and Accelerated Reader.

Other students might not attend school-based or community partner programming daily, but even weekly check-ins with teachers or others can be of tremendous help in sustaining motivation and providing feedback. For example, a district might offer “Math Mornings” once per week where students could come in to school buildings to review their independent practice in Freckle and participate in power lessons and math games focused on essential skills—the Focus Skills I mentioned earlier.

Similarly, the public library might facilitate a reading club each Monday and Friday where students can take Accelerated Reader quizzes and experience read-alouds. Many districts build myON Projects—a collection of digital texts on a common topic or theme, with embedded reading and writing activities—which could be the focus of group discussions and activities when students meet with others

From math camps and reading clubs to summer initiatives organized in partnership with community organizations, the goal of enrichment programs is to keep students engaged in learning, ensuring that summer is a season of continued growth, rather than one of any possible “slide.”

3. Independent summer learning

Schedules, priorities, or even geography might prevent some students from participating in more formal programs, but with a few supports, an independent summer learning experience can be an useful option as well.

From at-home reading and math activities to DIY challenges, independent learning—which includes targeted reading and math practice—can help maintain and even grow students’ skills over the summer months, particularly essential Focus Skills. Using technology to support this learning offers several key benefits. For example, many digital products like Freckle are adaptive, meaning that they respond and adjust to students’ needs in real time, a capability well beyond static, paper-based activities. These programs’ interactive and visual nature is also more engaging than paper and pencil. Finally, digital resources typically provide teachers, families, and even students with ongoing feedback about how much students are engaging and how well they are performing when they do.

Although I’m calling this category “independent” learning, it’s ideal if some form of adult monitoring and feedback can be incorporated. For example, you might use family letters to help parents and guardians understand how to access information on their child’s summer engagement. Perhaps with ESSER funding, some teachers might be willing to work a set number of hours per week over the summer, so they can review student activity online and remotely “check in” with students to offer feedback, support, and encouragement.

Making the most of your ESSER funding

While we face many challenges from the COVID-related disruptions, there is also unprecedented federal funding that we can tap. This means that we have more money than usual for summer initiatives, and this money can also support advanced and deeper summer planning. Consider lightening the time commitment on teachers who might be willing to assist with summer school or math and reading camps by beginning to plan now—and take full advantage of your available technology.

For example, myON Projects are ideal for summer learning. If teacher teams begin developing even a handful of projects each month between now and the end of the school year, they will be well positioned for summer. These projects can even live on into future years, providing consistency in summer learning and minimizing your planning tasks for future summers.

As I stated earlier, summer learning reflects a unique opportunity to close achievement gaps. Such gaps existed prior to the pandemic, but the disruptions have clearly exacerbated them. While we cannot change these realities, we can change how we respond to them. In an era when so many things are out of educators’ control, a well-planned and thoughtful summer learning program is something we can build to help get students back on track.

Paul von Hippel notes that “every summer offers children who are behind a chance to catch up.” He adds that even if the scale of the summer slide is smaller than we think, and if “gaps don’t grow much during summer vacations, summer vacations still offer a chance to shrink them.” This summer, let’s make the most of the opportunity before us.

Visit our summer learning page for free resources to support your summer initiatives. For more information about using ESSER and other funding for summer learning, click the button below.

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Renaissance and MetaMetrics extend partnership to accelerate student learning https://www.renaissance.com/2022/02/25/news-renaissance-and-metametrics-extend-partnership-to-accelerate-student-learning/ Fri, 25 Feb 2022 14:44:08 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=55142 Renaissance’s family of assessment and practice products will grow reporting of Lexile and Quantile measures Bloomington, MN & Durham, NC (February 24, 2022) – Renaissance , the global leader in pre-K–12 educational technology, and MetaMetrics®, developer of the Lexile® and […]

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Renaissance’s family of assessment and practice products will grow reporting of Lexile and Quantile measures

Bloomington, MN & Durham, NC (February 24, 2022) Renaissance , the global leader in pre-K–12 educational technology, and MetaMetrics®, developer of the Lexile® and Quantile® Frameworks, today announced the extension of their partnership via an enterprise-level agreement. This means that educators and students using Renaissance’s assessment and practice products will continue to receive Lexile measures for reading and Quantile measures for mathematics.

The companies’ partnership began in 2011, with the addition of Lexile measures to Renaissance’s myON digital reading platform. In 2014, Lexile measures were made available in the company’s Star Assessments and Accelerated Reader programs and, in 2018, Quantile measures were added. El Sistema Lexile para Leer, MetaMetrics’ framework for Spanish reading, is now available in Star Assessments in Spanish as well.

The Lexile and Quantile Frameworks place both the student and instructional material on the same scale to match the learner with reading and math resources at their ability level. When students receive Lexile and Quantile measures from an assessment, their test scores become more actionable, allowing teachers and parents to use assessment results to improve instruction.

Moving forward, Renaissance will explore opportunities for reporting Lexile and Quantile measures from additional products within its portfolio. This includes Freckle, which provides students with differentiated practice in both math and ELA; Nearpod, an instructional platform that merges interactive lessons, rich media, and real-time formative assessment; and Lalilo, a foundational literacy practice program for grades K–2.

“Lexile measures have played an important role in myON’s success, and we are pleased to continue our partnership with MetaMetrics,” said Todd Brekhus, chief product officer at Renaissance. “We’re committed to providing educators and students with insights to accelerate learning and growth, and our partnership with MetaMetrics builds on this commitment.”

“We are excited to extend and expand our long-term partnership with Renaissance, a true global leader in creating education technology solutions that improve learning,” said Malbert Smith, CEO and co-founder, MetaMetrics. “By growing the number of products in the Renaissance family that report Lexile and Quantile measures and expanding into new skill areas, together we’ll ensure that students, educators, and parents worldwide have access to the tools and information necessary to help learners navigate a path to success.”

About Renaissance

As a global leader in assessment, reading, and math solutions for pre-K–12 schools and districts, Renaissance is committed to providing educators with insights and resources to accelerate growth and help all students build a strong foundation for success. Renaissance solutions reach more than 40 percent of US schools and more than a half million students in other regions across the world. The Renaissance portfolio includes Star Assessments, for reliable, accurate insights into K–12 student learning; myIGDIs, for accurate assessment of early learning; myON, to increase students’ access to high-quality reading materials; Accelerated Reader, to support independent reading practice; Freckle, for teacher-led differentiated instruction; Schoolzilla, to give educators actionable insights into trends in student attendance and achievement; Lalilo, to develop critical foundational skills; and Nearpod, for teacher-facilitated instructional delivery. For more information, visit renaissance.com.

About MetaMetrics

MetaMetrics is an award-winning education technology organization that offers the only scientifically valid, universal scales for measuring silent and oral reading and listening (Lexile) and math (Quantile) with plans to develop measures for writing. The Lexile and Quantile Frameworks measure student ability and the complexity of the content they encounter. Lexile and Quantile measures and related technologies link assessment to instruction and provide next steps for students of all ages and abilities. The measures also provide valuable insights about students’ potential for growth. MetaMetrics’ measures, products and services are licensed to dozens of education product companies to help achieve that growth. For 35 years, MetaMetrics’ work is increasingly recognized for its research-based approach to improving learning. For more information, visit metametricsinc.com.

Press contact:
Tracy Stewart
Renaissance
(832) 651-1189
tracy.stewart@renaissance.com

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Renaissance and Hillsborough County Celebrate 10 Years of Equitable Access to Thousands of Books https://www.renaissance.com/2022/02/10/news-renaissance-and-hillsborough-county-celebrate-10-years-of-equitable-access-to-thousands-of-books/ Thu, 10 Feb 2022 14:37:02 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=54941 The decade-long community reading program has provided access to thousands of digital books for more than 250,000 students every year since 2012. Bloomington, Minn. (Feb. 9, 2022) – Renaissance , the global leader in pre-K–12 educational technology, is honored to […]

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The decade-long community reading program has provided access to thousands of digital books for more than 250,000 students every year since 2012.

Bloomington, Minn. (Feb. 9, 2022) Renaissance , the global leader in pre-K–12 educational technology, is honored to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the community reading initiative Read on myON, a first-of-its-kind partnership between Renaissance and Hillsborough County Public Schools. A community open house commemorating the milestone, and honoring the partnership, will be held from 3–6 PM on Thursday, February 10, at the Kaminis Platt Regional Public Library, located at 3910 S. Manhattan Ave. in Tampa, FL.

Designed to promote equity and eliminate accessibility gaps in access to high quality books regardless of a student’s socioeconomic status or attendance in a particular school, Read on myON was made possible by an entire community of partners, including Hillsborough County Public Schools, The Children’s Board of Hillsborough County, Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County, Head Start of Hillsborough County, Hillsborough County Public Library Cooperative, Tampa Housing Authority, Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA, and United Way Suncoast.

Over the 10 years of the Read on myON collaboration, hundreds of thousands of children from birth through 8th grade have had free access to the myON platform. Thirty-nine percent of the books children access through the program are opened for the first time outside of school hours, and books have been accessed over 71,718,216 times since the inception of the program in 2012, equating to over 336 million minutes spent reading.

“Read on myON continues to cultivate a love of literacy for thousands of students in Hillsborough County Public Schools. This incredible program is a testament to what our community partners can achieve when we come together collectively for our children. We are deeply appreciative of the lasting support from Renaissance as we continue the quest to close achievement gaps while providing innovative experiences for all learners,” said Superintendent Addison Davis.  

Ten years into the partnership, Read on myON is still playing a central part in Hillsborough’s literacy initiatives in the 2021–2022 school year. In addition to supporting teachers and curriculum staff, myON serves as a historical resource offering students a variety of books to encourage and build the love of reading. Throughout the ten years, this community-wide partnership has:

  • Supported all major sports teams through community reading challenges
  • Supported the annual Black History Month Digital Read-In
  • Increased engagement with early childhood initiatives by supplementing core curriculum, creating specific reading challenges, and collaborating with Hillsborough board member Dr. Stacy Hahn on early childhood literacy fairs
  • Developed projects to support “STEMtober”
  • Offered parent support by partnering with community agencies and neighborhood schools

“It’s been an honor to work with Hillsborough County and their many dedicated partners for the last decade,” said Todd Brekhus, chief product officer at Renaissance and myON founder. “Together, they have built a literacy ecosystem that serves as a flagship to districts across the country, demonstrating what a community can achieve when it comes together for a common purpose. We look forward to continuing to support them for many years to come.”

About Renaissance

As a global leader in assessment, reading, and math solutions for pre-K–12 schools and districts, Renaissance is committed to providing educators with insights and resources to accelerate growth and help all students build a strong foundation for success. Renaissance solutions reach more than 40% of US schools and more than a half million students in other regions across the world. The Renaissance portfolio includes Star Assessments, for reliable, accurate insights into K–12 student learning; myIGDIs, for accurate assessment of early learning; myON, to increase students’ access to high-quality reading materials; Accelerated Reader, to support independent reading practice; Freckle, for teacher-led differentiated instruction; Schoolzilla, to give educators actionable insights into trends in student attendance and achievement; Lalilo, to develop critical foundational skills; and Nearpod, for teacher-facilitated instructional delivery. For more information, visit renaissance.com.

About Hillsborough Schools

Hillsborough County Public Schools is America’s seventh largest school district and the largest in central Florida. We have more than 230 public schools, 24,000+ employees and 217,000+ students. Hillsborough Schools is proudly celebrating the highest graduation rate in our district’s history: 89.2% in the 2020–2021 school year. All twenty-seven of our high schools were recently listed in the US News and World Report Best High Schools ranking report. Hillsborough Schools boasts the 2020 #1 Elementary Magnet School of the Year—MacFarlane Park Elementary, the Florida Teacher of the Year, Dr. Dakeyan Graham of King High, and the Presidential Award of Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching Winner, Tiffany Oliver of Robinson High. See our website at hillsboroughschools.org for more information.

Press contact:
Tracy Stewart
Renaissance
(832) 651-1189
tracy.stewart@renaissance.com

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What many people don’t understand about student reading practice https://www.renaissance.com/2022/01/21/blog-what-many-people-dont-understand-about-student-reading-practice/ Fri, 21 Jan 2022 14:10:18 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=54589 By Dr. Gene Kerns, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer Reading is an activity that takes many forms. It’s someone lounging in a window seat, lost in a good book. It’s also someone poring over an academic paper, looking for […]

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By Dr. Gene Kerns, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer

Reading is an activity that takes many forms. It’s someone lounging in a window seat, lost in a good book. It’s also someone poring over an academic paper, looking for deeper understanding. It’s even someone skimming the latest news headlines while having a bite to eat. It’s an activity that can be mindful or nearly mindless. It can be 100 percent pleasure or 100 percent work.

Given reading’s many forms, is it any wonder that students need a variety of educational experiences to become skilled readers? While much of the work of schools is intently focused on standards-based reading instruction with grade-level texts, often paired with writing activities to demonstrate students’ depth of knowledge, isn’t there more to reading than this? When adults describe themselves as “avid readers,” is this what they have in mind? Do they really feel they’ve missed out if there isn’t a required writing activity at the end of every book?

I strongly contend that discussions about reading should recognize three distinct categories: (1) reading to students; (2) reading with students (instructional reading); and (3) Having students read independently. Each type of reading makes an important contribution to students’ literacy development, and—perhaps more importantly—different rules govern what constitutes “success” in each. For these reasons, failure to distinguish between categories can have a negative impact on what we do in the classroom. Let’s explore this point.

1. Reading to students

Research shows that reading aloud to students is of significant benefit to them. In Becoming a Nation of Readers, Anderson et al. (1985) note that “the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.” This statement has been echoed and extended by later commentators, including those highlighted below.

Given the propensity of human beings to learn language by hearing it spoken, is there any question that we should read aloud to students regularly? Yet some do question why, once students can read independently, teachers still need to read to them. As Linda Gambrell pointed out, a key reason is that “the everyday language that students hear does not prepare them to enter into the world of books, because both narrative and informational books represent ‘book language’ that is very different from spoken language” (quoted in Layne 2015).

Why do authors use drastically different language in written work? They need to do so because “speech usually takes place in a communicative context, meaning that some cues that are present in speech (e.g., gesture, tone of voice, facial expression) are absent in writing. To compensate, written language draws on a much larger vocabulary and more complex grammar: Noun phrases and clauses are longer and more embedded, and the passive, more formal voice is much more common” (Castles et al., 2018).

So, teachers will either (a) take the time to expose students to the advanced language of texts by reading aloud to them, or (b) fail to take this step and hope that students will somehow be successful when they encounter this unfamiliar world of advanced language on their own—clearly an unlikely occurrence.

When reading to students, text complexity is obviously a consideration. For students to optimally benefit, we should not read texts to them that they could reasonably access on their own. Layne (2015) positions reading aloud as helping students to “listen up.” This is because “the listening level of a child (the level at which he hears and comprehends text) is significantly higher than his silent reading level” until the two converge around grade 8. This makes reading aloud “the medium for exposing students to more mature vocabulary, more complex literary devices, and more sophisticated sentence structures than they would be finding in the grade-level texts they could navigate on their own.”

Layne’s general guidance is that teachers “consider selecting the majority of read-alouds from texts written one to two grade levels above the grade level [they] are teaching.” I’ve encountered other recommendations that suggest going a bit higher, two grade levels or more. In either case, it’s clear that reading to students has unique dynamics, as do the other two categories of reading.

2. Reading with students

I choose to refer to instructional reading as “reading with students” because instructional reading is not typically an activity that students undertake on their own. Instead, teachers call attention to specific words and details, pose questions, provide background information, facilitate conversations, and conduct “think-alouds” to scaffold the experience and to model close, thoughtful reading. In contrast to the uninterrupted flow that occurs when reading to students, reading with students is often punctuated by all sorts of activities. In other words, instructional reading is a mediated experience.

This type of reading rightfully consumes the majority of class time. It’s during this activity that reading “grade-level texts” is paramount. Also, the focus isn’t solely on what we read with students; there are also considerations around what we ask students to do in response. During instructional reading, whole-class or small-group discussions and written responses to open-ended questions are not only useful but mandatory for fostering close reading and deeper thinking about the text.

Guidance from the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), for example, expressly notes that “students need opportunities to stretch their reading abilities”—opportunities that instructional reading provides. But many educators miss the fact that these standards also note that students should “experience the satisfaction and pleasure of easy, fluent reading.” In other words, the CCSS expressly recommends both types of reading experiences—instructional and independent (pleasure) reading.

This brings us to the third and final category.

3. Reading independently

Although independent reading is overlooked in many schools, there are many references to and calls for extensive independent reading within different standards sets. As noted above, the CCSS calls for students to “experience the satisfaction and pleasure of easy, fluent reading.” Similarly, the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) state that “the student is expected to self-select text and read independently for a sustained period of time” across all grade levels. The connection between wide reading and higher levels of literacy performance is well documented, and one analysis found that students who read independently for anything less than 15 minutes per day simply cannot keep up with rising expectations.

Wide independent reading holds significant and undervalued potential. This essential activity fosters the self-teaching necessary to become highly literate (Share, 1995; Share, 1999). Early on, it helps elementary students learn the letter combinations of English and immediately recognize more words by sight. In the middle and upper grades, it transitions into an activity that helps readers develop vocabulary, background knowledge, and other critical elements of literacy.

Not only are there clear academic benefits of independent reading, but motivational benefits as well. Daniel Willingham (2015) points out that “one source—probably the primary source—of positive reading attitudes is positive reading experiences.” But when “reading” is always a challenging and arduous activity—think of close instructional reading of complex texts, followed by a writing assignment—students are unlikely to see it as pleasurable. For this reason, Willingham recommends that schools set aside at least 15 minutes a day for students’ pleasure reading. He remarks that this “is the best solution [he] can see for a student who has no interest in reading,” because “it offers the gentlest pressure that is still likely to work.”

For some students, daily independent reading time may actually be their first experience of taking pleasure in reading—but only if we understand and recognize the difference between this and the two other categories.

Different categories, different rules

I noted earlier that different rules govern what counts as “success” within each category of reading. Let’s explore this point through the lens of text complexity.

The CCSS, for example, has specific recommendations for instructional reading through the “text complexity grade bands,” as shown in the table below. While other standards sets might not quantify text complexity in this level of detail, there is always some consideration of or guidance about texts that represent “on grade level” for instructional reading.

Also, think about how student activities vary across the categories. With instructional reading, we want students to think deeply and analytically about the text, and to respond—most likely in writing—to open-ended, text-based questions. In contrast, when students are reading independently for pleasure, we can afford to be a bit less concerned about text complexity.

The “satisfaction and pleasure of easy, fluent reading” are not afforded when we use the text-complexity recommendations for instructional reading as guidance for what students are to read during their independent (pleasure) reading. For this reason, most structured programs around independent reading suggest reading ranges for texts that are lower than those used for instructional purposes.

As Willingham (2015) notes, “Academic reading feels like work because it is work. But pleasure ought to be the litmus test for reading for pleasure.” He adds that the opposite is also true: while some educators might “like to think that academic reading is pleasurable…‘pleasure’ is not a litmus test” for the activities we associate with instructional reading. This is to say that students should find independent reading pleasurable—which is unlikely to occur if we’re always requiring them to read at the edge of their abilities.

Let’s see how this discussion of text complexity might look for a hypothetical grade 6 student named Maya. Assume Maya takes the Star Reading assessment and receives a scaled score of 1068. This translates to a Grade Equivalent (GE) of 6.0, and a recommended reading range—or Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)—of 4.0–6.1 for independent reading. If Maya lives in a CCSS state, the text complexity recommendation for instructional reading for grades 6–8 is text written at 7.0–9.98. Finally, if most students in Maya’s class are performing at a similar level, her teacher would be looking for texts written at 8.0 or higher for read-aloud.

In other words, three types of reading, three different sets of rules.

On misunderstanding the power of reading

On the surface, delineating the three types of reading seems simple and straightforward. Yet I find that they are often misunderstood. For example, one administrator recently pushed back on allowing students to use the myON digital platform for independent reading, because students might find and read books that are below their grade level. In his mind, all student reading must be “at grade level.” Clearly, this is pitting the text complexity concerns of instructional reading against the desire for the pleasure of “easy and fluent” independent reading. There is a time and a need for both.

This lack of understanding is also demonstrated by people I’ve encountered over the years who suggest that the comprehension questions in Accelerated Reader are not “deep” enough, and that students must be given open-ended discussion questions and writing prompts for every text they encounter. Again, this is to bring the pedagogical considerations of instructional reading into the world of independent, pleasure reading. If we overload pleasure reading with requirements and assignments, we’ll quickly sap the pleasure—and students’ motivation—from the activity.

Whether you draw on the Book of Ecclesiastes or the classic song by The Byrds, it’s clear that “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” In this spirit, I’ll once again contend that in every classroom and at every level, students must be read to, they must be read with, and they must read independently. It’s only by acknowledging the critical role of each type of reading—and by respecting the differences among them—that we have any hope of creating “a nation of readers.”

Looking for engaging titles to support your students’ reading practice? Explore What Kids Are Reading, the world’s largest annual survey of K–12 student reading habits. And to see everything that the myON digital reading platform has to offer, click the button below.

References

Anderson, R., Hiebert, E., Scott, J., & Wilkinson, I. (1985). Becoming a nation of readers: The report of the Commission on Reading. Washington, DC: National Academy of Education.
Castles, A., Rastle, K., & Nation, K. (2018). Ending the reading wars: Reading acquisition from novice to expert. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 19(1), 5–51.
Layne, S. (2015). In defense of read-aloud: Sustaining best practice. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.
Lemov, D., Driggs, C., & Woolway, E. (2016). Reading reconsidered: A practical guide to rigorous literacy instruction. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Routman, R. (1991). Invitations: Changing as teachers and learners K–12. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Share, D. (1995). Phonological recoding and self-teaching: Sine qua non of reading acquisition. Cognition, 55(2), 151–218.
Share, D. (1999). Phonological recoding and orthographic learning: A direct test of the self-teaching hypothesis. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 72(2), 95–129.
Willingham, D. (2015). Raising kids who read: What parents and teachers can do. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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Product Highlights: Shared insights for educators, students, and families https://www.renaissance.com/2022/01/14/blog-product-highlights-shared-insights-for-educators-students-and-families/ Fri, 14 Jan 2022 14:48:05 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=54440 The last two years have brought many changes to K–12 education, especially around how educators interact and communicate with students and their families. You’ll find a number of new features in your Renaissance products to support greater student and family […]

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The last two years have brought many changes to K–12 education, especially around how educators interact and communicate with students and their families. You’ll find a number of new features in your Renaissance products to support greater student and family engagement—along with new reports to provide greater insight into students’ progress and instructional needs.

A summary of these recent enhancements appears below. To read the full details, visit our Product Updates Blog. We also invite you to bookmark the Product Updates Blog and visit throughout the year for the latest information and resources.

Enhanced Family Report in Star Assessments

A strong home-school connection plays an important role in students’ success. The enhanced Star Family Report helps you to strengthen this connection by easily sharing students’ Star Reading and Star Math scores with families. As shown below, the report shows students’ overall performance in relation to school, district, or state benchmarks, as well as performance by domain:

Families can scan the report’s QR code to access additional information about Star scores, along with guidance for interpreting the student’s results. For Star Reading, the report also identifies the student’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), which is the “just-right” range for daily reading practice.

Learn more: Read the post on the Product Updates Blog. See the guidance that’s provided to families when they scan the report’s QR code. Learn more about ZPD in Star Assessments and Accelerated Reader.

Helpful new features in the Star Record Book

Star’s Record Book enables you to review students’ performance on both the computer-adaptive assessments and curriculum-based measures. You’ll find several new features in the Record Book to help you act on your students’ Star data.

For example, alerts now appear for extremely short testing times, indicating that students may have rushed through the assessment. You can also create dynamic instructional groups of students who are ready to work on the same skills. And you now have greater control over how skills are displayed. For example, you can choose to view all skills or only Focus Skills. If you’re using Star Assessments in Spanish, you can also easily toggle between skills in Spanish and English, and you can choose to flag English/Spanish transferable skills as well.

Learn more: Read the post on the Product Updates Blog. Discover transferable skills in Star. Explore Focus Skills in English and in Spanish.

Expanded Spanish support in Freckle

Freckle for math provides students with engaging, differentiated practice from kindergarten through Algebra 2. To better support students whose dominant language is Spanish, Freckle now integrates with Star Math in Spanish. This means students’ Star scores are used to place them at the appropriate level in Freckle, without the need for an additional assessment.

Also, students whose language is set to Spanish in Freckle can now toggle between Spanish and English while practicing math. Teachers can also preview Freckle math practice in Spanish (as shown below), and Freckle reports now reflect the student’s language setting as well. If a student completes a math activity in Spanish, the Spanish version of the activity is accessible from the report.

Learn more: Read the post on the Product Updates Blog. Explore the integration between Freckle and Star Assessments. See how Freckle helps you to monitor students’ progress toward important math milestones.

New features and titles in myON

Over the past two years, the number of students and families reading digital books on myON has grown significantly. Educators who are using myON for the first time have a new onboarding experience to introduce them to the program. Plus, all educators can now easily “demo” the student experience in myON, so they can quickly show students and families how to browse and search for digital books, how to review reading recommendations, and much more.

Students and families will also find more than 100 new titles in the myON Core Collection, along with 65 titles that are also now available in Spanish. These additions include both fiction and nonfiction books at a range of reading levels and interest levels—to provide students with even greater choice for daily reading practice.

Learn more: Read the post about the new myON demo experience. Explore the new titles in the myON Core Collection. Get tips for implementing myON across your curriculum.

New insights on foundational literacy development in Lalilo

Lalilo is an innovative program that helps K–2 students master foundational skills in phonics, word recognition, comprehension, and more. Districts using the premium version of Lalilo now have access to administrator reports and dashboards that show student engagement and usage by classroom, by school, and across the district.

With this data, administrators can more easily understand students’ foundational literacy practice and identify schools and classrooms that may be underutilizing the program. They can also better implement a blended approach that includes both face-to-face instruction and independent practice on important early literacy skills.

Learn more: Read the post on the Product Updates blog. Explore key Lalilo features in our new Literacy Minutes videos. See the 5 ways the Science of Reading should guide early literacy instruction in every district.

New skill set reporting in Star Early Literacy in Spanish

Star Early Literacy assesses the developing literacy skills of K–3 students. The Spanish version of Star Early Literacy now provides subdomain and skill set scores, so you can easily identify areas to focus on as you guide students toward reading proficiently in Spanish. This data is also useful in states where educators are required to screen all students for early indicators of dyslexia.

Learn more: Read the post on the Product Updates Blog. Explore Star Assessments in Spanish. Discover a new instructional resource in Star for English and Spanish literacy development.

Connecting assessment to instruction in Star CBM

Star’s curriculum-based measures are available for reading (K–6) and math (K–3). In the Star Record Book, you can now quickly see skills students are ready to learn, based on their performance on a Star CBM measure. You can view all skills or only critical Focus Skills. You can also easily create instructional groups for students with similar needs, as shown below.

In addition, Star CBM’s Data Insights Dashboard has new filtering options, to give you a more granular view of student proficiency and growth. You can choose to view data from grade-level screening measures, all measures given, all normed measures, or any individual measure to get the just-right data picture to meet your needs.

Learn more: Read the post on the Product Updates Blog. Explore the Star CBM Data Insights Dashboard. See which measures are available for reading and for math in Star CBM.

A strong start to the new year

You’ll see additional product enhancements in the weeks and months ahead. You’ll also continue to find new content in your Renaissance programs—including new Accelerated Reader book quizzes that reflect our commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. If you’re using our Nearpod platform, you’ll also soon have access to activities from Freckle, myON, and Lalilo in the Nearpod library, offering further opportunities to engage students in just-right practice both in and out of the classroom.

Bookmark our Product Updates Blog for the latest news and resources. Also, visit our Renaissance Everywhere webpages for helpful guides, videos, activities, and more to support anytime, anywhere student learning.

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Rethinking math milestones https://www.renaissance.com/2021/12/10/blog-rethinking-math-milestones/ Fri, 10 Dec 2021 15:25:51 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=54073 By Dr. Gene Kerns, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer When we talk about literacy, we often discuss an initial phase of “learning to read,” which is then followed by a second phase, “reading to learn.” This transition often occurs […]

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By Dr. Gene Kerns, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer

When we talk about literacy, we often discuss an initial phase of “learning to read,” which is then followed by a second phase, “reading to learn.” This transition often occurs in grade 3 or 4. To foster literacy acquisition, many states have enacted policies and funded initiatives to ensure that all students are “reading on grade level” by the end of grade 3.

Furthermore, we use the term “emergent readers” when referring to pre-readers. Students are “emergent” until they can decode words with ease. Learning to read English requires students to master a finite set of phonemes (44 in all) and graphemes (around 250). From there, reading—as we well know—shifts to a focus on vocabulary and building knowledge. At this point, we start to refer to students as “readers.”

So, our approach suggests that when students have met the milestone of reading on grade level by the end of grade 3, we feel that they’re on somewhat solid ground. Successfully “learn to read” by the end of grade 3, and then continue to “read to learn” from that point on, and things should turn out fairly well. Reading on grade level by the end of grade 3 is, in other words, the primary benchmark to be met.

This raises some obvious questions. Does mathematics have an equivalent benchmark? When do students transition from being “emergent mathematicians” to being “mathematicians”? Is there some point along the journey where we can begin to feel that students are on a sure footing in math? Several studies have explored this question. Let’s take a look at their findings.

Milestone 1: Mastering elementary math topics

Siegler et al. (2012) explored the relationship between students’ mastery of five major topics in elementary mathematics—addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and fractions—and their eventual success in high school math courses. Of these five areas, mastery of fractions and of whole-number division were found to be most predictive of eventual high school math success. In fact, knowledge of fractions and whole-number division have a stronger relation to students’ overall math achievement than family income level.

This is not to say that mastery of the other topics—addition, subtraction, and multiplication—is unimportant. In fact, when one considers these topic areas through the lens of learning progressions, it’s apparent that success with division and fractions is dependent on having already mastered addition, subtraction, and multiplication, because these are all prerequisites for division and fractions.

In essence, what Siegler et al. found was that mastering all five topic areas of elementary school mathematics places students in a position where success with high school math courses is far more likely. So, is this the key math milestone? Other studies suggest not.

Milestone 2: Passing grade 6 math

Balfanz, Herzog, and MacIver (2007) conducted a longitudinal study examining the graduation patterns of nearly 13,000 students in an urban district to discover how middle school factors related to high school graduation. They found that a shocking 81 percent of students who failed their grade 6 mathematics course did not graduate from high school. Another 6 percent did graduate, but late. This means that only 13 percent of students who failed their grade 6 math class were able to graduate high school on time—making the passing of grade 6 math extremely predictive of eventual high school graduation. The authors add that “failing a sixth-grade math course was a better predictor of failure to graduate than either a student’s race or status as an English Language Learner.”

Milestone 3: Passing grade 7 math

A study by Finkelstein et al. (2012) further complicates this picture. The authors conducted a longitudinal analysis that tracked more than 24,000 California students from 24 districts from grade 7 through high school graduation. The analysis “looked at the student’s performance in each [math] course, as demonstrated by the grade earned and student proficiency, using as a proxy the student’s score (e.g., Below Basic, Basic, Proficient) on the related California Standards Test for each course.” The authors also explored the results of different “course patterns,” primarily to compare students who took Algebra 1 in grade 8 to students who took Algebra 1 in grade 9.

What did the authors find? “Students who perform well in grade 7 math are likely to take more-advanced courses in high school compared to those who struggle with middle school math.” In fact, of their large sample (N=24,279), “not a single student who earned below a grade of D in seventh-grade math went on to take calculus in high school.”

Does this make grade 7 math the key milestone?

Milestone 4: Passing Algebra 1 on the first attempt

Additional findings by Finkelstein et al. suggest not. They note that while “many students repeat algebra…few repeaters achieve proficiency on their second attempt.” Roughly one-third of the students in their sample were required to repeat their algebra course. Among those who took Algebra 1 in grade 8 and repeated it in grade 9, the eventual proficiency rate on the state test was 21 percent. For those who initially took the course in grade 9 and repeated it in grade 10, the proficiency rate was just 9 percent.

The researchers concluded that “these low proficiency rates illustrate that Algebra 1 repeaters are often unsuccessful at demonstrating content mastery their second time around.” Based on this finding, a reporter highlighting this research began her coverage by stating, “California students who fail algebra and repeat the course are pretty much doomed to fail again” (Tucker 2012).

Are there really any math milestones?

So, where does this leave us? Is there any mathematics equivalent to reading on grade level by the end of grade 3? It appears not. Of the benchmarks outlined above, successfully passing Algebra 1 on the first attempt is probably the first time that we might consider students to be on some degree of solid ground. But Stephen Pinker (1997) said it best when he remarked that “math is ruthlessly cumulative.” And while the importance of mastering prerequisite skills is manifest in all subject areas, no subject area is as “ruthlessly cumulative” as mathematics—as the studies that I’ve described so clearly demonstrate.

What does this mean in terms of instructional practice? It speaks to the need for ongoing formative assessment and progress monitoring—student by student and skill by skill—so that we can ensure the mastery of each and every essential math skill. Otherwise, we risk having this “ruthlessly cumulative” subject area rise up and stifle the progress of the learner.

The power of regular practice—and feedback

Decades ago, when I was a high school student, my teacher for Algebra 1, Algebra 2, and Pre-Calculus would walk up and down the aisle and “spot check” a few key problems from our math homework of the night before. The information she noted in her gradebook was either a check, a check-plus, or a check-minus. This process was time consuming and somewhat flawed, because she was only able to capture limited information on a small portion of the work that we’d done. While our homework had a positive effect on us, with some key changes, it could have been far more effective.

In a classic study, Paschal, Weinstein, and Walberg (1984) conducted a meta-analysis of research on various homework approaches. They found that, overall, homework has a positive effect size of 0.36, but corrected homework has a much larger positive effect size of 0.80. To put this another way: If educators and students aren’t receiving as much information (feedback) as possible from the activities that students undertake, then the impact of those activities is far less than it could be.

This is where the features of digital math practice programs really shine. With today’s technology, capturing every response from every student to every math problem is easily accomplished. At Renaissance, we offer our Freckle for math program, which provides differentiated practice from kindergarten through Algebra 2. As shown in the screenshot below, teachers using Freckle can easily access a gradebook-like view to see performance student-by-student and skill-by-skill, which is so critical for monitoring students’ progress.

Freckle then makes suggestions for appropriate next steps based on students’ performance. For example, on the screen shown below, teachers can quickly review students’ performance on an “exit ticket” for Base 10—Rounding. Freckle also identifies students who might need some re-teaching of prerequisite skills (in this case, Tony), students who need a bit more practice with the current skills before moving on (Rafferty), and students who are ready for a deeper challenge that probes their Depth of Knowledge (DOK) on the current skill (Abraham and Carry).

Why monitoring progress is key in mathematics

When I was a teacher, I primarily taught one subject area. When I became the Supervisor of Academic Services in my school district, I worked with educators across all content areas—and this is also the case in my role as Chief Academic Officer at Renaissance. Anyone who has made this transition from teaching one subject area to supporting all subject areas knows that you quickly understand how very different the pedagogical concerns and considerations are across areas. What social studies teachers must consider and do is fundamentally different in many ways from what their ELA colleagues or math colleagues or science colleagues must do. Yes, there are common elements of well-crafted instruction, but each content area has its own feel and dynamics.

Given that mathematics is “ruthlessly cumulative”—due to the interdependency of so many discrete skills that must be applied with absolute precision—it simply is a content area in which the close monitoring of student progress, on a detailed level, is paramount. We cannot afford for students to achieve anything less than mastery of essential skills and concepts during the long journey through the various milestones of progress.

Decades ago, my math teachers did what they could to sample and spot-check the work that my classmates and I were doing. But today, a student-by-student and skill-by-skill feed of information can be easily provided by technology, regardless of whether students are practicing math in the school building, at home, or a combination of the two. Our goal should be to ensure that this level of detailed monitoring and feedback is the norm in every math classroom.

Learn how a middle school teacher is using Freckle for math to keep students engaged in learning both in and out of the classroom. And to see everything that Freckle has to offer, click the button below.

References

Balfanz, R., Herzog, L., & MacIver, D. (2007). Preventing student disengagement and keeping students on the graduation path in urban middle-grades schools: Early identification and effective interventions. Educational Psychologist, 42(4), 223–235.
Finkelstein, N., Fong, A., Tiffany-Morales, J., Shields, P., & Huang, M. (2012). College bound in middle school and high school? How math course sequences matter. Sacramento, CA: The Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd.
Paschal, R., Weinstein, T., & Walberg, H. (1984). The effects of homework on learning: A quantitative synthesis. The Journal of Educational Research, 78(2), 97–104.
Pinker, S. (1997). How the mind works. New York: Norton.
Siegler, R., Duncan, G., Davis-Kean, P., Duckworth, K., Claessens, A., Engel, M., Susperreguy, M., & Chen, M. (2012). Early predictors of high school mathematics achievement. Psychological Science 23(7), 691–697.
Tucker, J. (2012). Students failing algebra rarely recover. Retrieved from: https://www.sfgate.com/education/article/Students-failing-algebra-rarely-recover-4082741.php

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Freckle Awarded Research-Based Product Design Certification from Digital Promise https://www.renaissance.com/2021/11/12/news-freckle-awarded-research-based-product-design-certification-from-digital-promise/ Fri, 12 Nov 2021 14:45:59 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=53876 Freckle is the fourth Renaissance product to receive this prestigious certification Bloomington, Minn. (November 12, 2021) – Renaissance , a global leader in pre-K–12 educational technology, recently announced that Freckle has earned the Research-Based Design Product Certification from Digital Promise. […]

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Freckle is the fourth Renaissance product to receive this prestigious certification

Bloomington, Minn. (November 12, 2021) Renaissance , a global leader in pre-K–12 educational technology, recently announced that Freckle has earned the Research-Based Design Product Certification from Digital Promise. This certification serves as a rigorous, reliable signal for district and school administrators, educators, and families looking for edtech products that are based in research about learning.

Freckle provides K–12 students with differentiated practice in math, ELA, science, and social studies, both in and out of the classroom. Educators can use Freckle to support core instruction, as well as extended learning, summer learning, and tutoring. Freckle qualifies for ESSER funding under the CARES, CRRSA, and ARP Acts, along with other federal funding sources.

Freckle is the fourth Renaissance product to receive the Research-Based Design Product Certification. Accelerated Reader, Lalilo, and Nearpod have all previously received this honor.

“Research is central to how we design our products,” said Eric Stickney, senior director of educational research at Renaissance. “We not only use published research on how students learn, but we also analyze our assessment and practice data to understand how to best engage and provide feedback to both educators and students to maximize opportunities for growth. This certification validates these efforts.”

The Research-Based Design Product Certification helps consumers to narrow their options as they select products based on research about learning. Digital Promise launched this certification in February 2020 and has certified over 50 products to date. The organization will recognize Freckle’s certification with an official announcement in February 2022.

“Educators and researchers continue to uncover important insights about how students learn,” said Christina Luke Luna, senior director of lifelong learning pathways at Digital Promise. “The Research-Based Design Product Certification recognizes the edtech products that incorporate research about learning into their design and development. Congratulations to Freckle for demonstrating that research informs product design!”

Educators can learn more about Freckle by visiting www.renaissance.com.

About Renaissance

As a global leader in assessment, reading, and math solutions for pre-K–12 schools and districts, Renaissance is committed to providing educators with insights and resources to accelerate growth and help all students build a strong foundation for success. Renaissance solutions reach more than 40 percent of US schools and more than half a million students in other regions across the world.

The Renaissance portfolio includes Star Assessments, for reliable, accurate insights into K–12 student learning; myIGDIs, for accurate assessment of early learning; myON, to increase students’ access to high-quality reading materials; Accelerated Reader, to support independent reading practice; Freckle, for teacher-led differentiated instruction; Schoolzilla, to give educators actionable insights into trends in student attendance and achievement; Lalilo, to develop critical foundational skills; and Nearpod, for teacher-facilitated instructional delivery.

About Digital Promise

Digital Promise is a nonprofit organization that builds powerful networks and takes on grand challenges by working at the intersection of researchers, entrepreneurs, and educators. Our vision is that all people, at every stage of their lives, have access to learning experiences that help them acquire the knowledge and skills they need to thrive and continuously learn in an ever-changing world. For more information, visit https://digitalpromise.org/.

Press contact:
Tracy Stewart
Director, Marketing Development
Renaissance
(832) 651-1189
pr@renaissance.com

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Renaissance Announces Significant Growth Investment from Blackstone https://www.renaissance.com/2021/11/09/news-renaissance-announces-significant-growth-investment-from-blackstone/ Tue, 09 Nov 2021 16:03:48 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=53841 Existing investor Francisco Partners remains major shareholder; investment supports global education technology leader’s mission of accelerating student growth and learning New York/San Francisco/Wisconsin Rapids, Wis. (November 9, 2021) – Renaissance (“Renaissance” or the “Company”), a global leader in pre-K–12 educational […]

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Existing investor Francisco Partners remains major shareholder; investment supports global education technology leader’s mission of accelerating student growth and learning

New York/San Francisco/Wisconsin Rapids, Wis. (November 9, 2021) Renaissance (“Renaissance” or the “Company”), a global leader in pre-K–12 educational technology, today announced its entry into a definitive agreement for private equity funds managed by Blackstone (NYSE: BX; “Blackstone”) to make a significant equity investment in the Company alongside existing investors including Francisco Partners and TPG’s The Rise Fund. Francisco Partners, a leading global investment firm that specializes in partnering with technology businesses, acquired the Company in 2018 and will remain a major shareholder. Blackstone’s investment will be made through its flagship private equity vehicle.

Founded in 1986, Renaissance combines decades of experience in assessments with personalized instruction and analytics solutions delivering teachers and administrators the tools to plan, lessons to teach, and the resources to motivate students to learn. Renaissance is one of the most recognized and trusted brands in K–12 education, serving more than 40 percent of US schools and more than 16 million students worldwide. The Company’s assessment-driven, integrated instructional ecosystem enables schools and districts to benchmark student progress; teach, plan, and respond to students’ needs in real time with personalized instruction; and offer supplemental student literacy and math learning software solutions.

The new investment from Blackstone will enable the Company to further accelerate organic growth initiatives and innovation across its product suite. Building on the platform’s growth under Francisco Partners, the investment will also enable the Company to continue executing on its targeted acquisition strategy following its recent acquisitions earlier this year of Lalilo, a research-based foundational literacy program, and Nearpod, a leader in teacher-facilitated instructional delivery.

Chris Bauleke, CEO of Renaissance, said: “As technology continues to change, and as teachers and students connect in new ways, our commitment to empower teachers, students, and administrators is unwavering. Now, together with Blackstone and Francisco Partners, we have even more opportunity to further our mission to accelerate learning for all worldwide.”

Eli Nagler, a Senior Managing Director at Blackstone, said: “Chris and the Renaissance team have done an exceptional job building a next generation technology platform to meet the rapidly evolving needs of today’s classroom and beyond—where digital tools play a critical role. We’re thrilled to join with Francisco Partners to support the continued expansion of the business as educators increasingly leverage technology to provide students with personalized learning solutions.”

Jason Brein, Partner at Francisco Partners, and Alan Ni, Principal at Francisco Partners, said: “As a leading K–12 edtech software platform, Renaissance is at the forefront of developing innovative solutions that offer new ways to teach and learn across remote, hybrid, and in-person classrooms. It has been our pleasure to partner with Chris and the Renaissance team over the last few years as they have scaled their integrated platform and product suite to best support the needs of students, teachers, administrators, and parents. We are excited to continue our partnership and look forward to working together with Blackstone to further support Renaissance’s mission.”

Blackstone’s investment is a continuation of the firm’s high-conviction thematic focus on the fast-growing education technology industry. It follows recent investments through its private equity business in Ellucian, a leading software provider to universities, and through its Blackstone Growth (BXG) business in Articulate, a SaaS training and development platform for companies.

Goldman Sachs & Co. LLC served as lead financial advisor to Renaissance, Macquarie Capital also served as a financial advisor, and Kirkland & Ellis served as legal advisor. SVB Technology Investment Banking served as financial advisor to Blackstone, and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP served as legal advisor.

About Renaissance

As a global leader in assessment, reading, and math solutions for pre-K–12 schools and districts, Renaissance is committed to providing educators with insights and resources to accelerate growth and help all students build a strong foundation for success. Renaissance solutions reach more than 40 percent of US schools and more than a half million students in other regions across the world. The Renaissance portfolio includes Star Assessments, for reliable, accurate insights into K–12 student learning; myIGDIs, for accurate assessment of early learning; myON, to increase students’ access to high-quality reading materials; Accelerated Reader, to support independent reading practice; Freckle, for teacher-led differentiated instruction; Schoolzilla, to give educators actionable insights into trends in student attendance and achievement; Lalilo, to develop critical foundational skills; and Nearpod, for teacher-facilitated instructional delivery. For more information, visit www.renaissance.com.

About Blackstone

Blackstone is the world’s largest alternative asset manager. We seek to create positive economic impact and long-term value for our investors, the companies we invest in, and the communities in which we work. We do this by using extraordinary people and flexible capital to help companies solve problems. Our $731 billion in assets under management include investment vehicles focused on private equity, real estate, public debt and equity, life sciences, growth equity, opportunistic, non-investment grade credit, real assets and secondary funds, all on a global basis. Further information is available at www.blackstone.com. Follow Blackstone on Twitter @Blackstone.

About Francisco Partners

Francisco Partners is a leading global investment firm that specializes in partnering with technology and technology-enabled businesses. Since its launch over 20 years ago, Francisco Partners has invested in more than 300 technology companies, making it one of the most active and longstanding investors in the technology industry. With more than $25 billion in assets under management, the firm invests in opportunities where its deep sectoral knowledge and operational expertise can help companies realize their full potential. For more information on Francisco Partners, please visit www.franciscopartners.com.

About The Rise Funds

The Rise Funds are a core pillar of TPG Rise, TPG’s global impact investing platform. Founded in 2016 by TPG in partnership with Bono and Jeff Skoll, The Rise Funds invest behind impact entrepreneurs and growth-stage, high potential, mission-driven companies that are focused on achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. The Rise Funds deliver capabilities and expertise across a wide variety of sectors and countries at scale, focusing on opportunities in climate and conservation, education, food and agriculture, financial technology, healthcare, and technology.

With more than $12 billion in assets across The Rise Funds, TPG Rise Climate, and Evercare Health Fund, the TPG Rise platform is the world’s largest private markets impact investing platform committed to achieving measurable, positive social and environmental outcomes alongside competitive financial returns. For more information, visit www.therisefund.com or @therisefund on Instagram.

Press contacts

For Renaissance:
Linda Germain
linda.germain@renaissance.com
(917) 930-5389

For Blackstone:
Matt Anderson
matthew.anderson@blackstone.com
(518) 248-7310

OR

Mariel Seidman-Gati
mariel.seidmangati@blackstone.com
(917) 698-1674

For Francisco Partners:
Dan Zacchei
dzacchei@sloanepr.com
(212) 446-1882

OR

Kate Sylvester
ksylvester@sloanepr.com
(212) 446-1860

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How Accelerated Reader supports Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion https://www.renaissance.com/2021/11/05/blog-how-accelerated-reader-supports-diversity-equity-and-inclusion/ Fri, 05 Nov 2021 13:32:06 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=53814 As we celebrate 35 years of Accelerated Reader, we recognize the importance of not only honoring the past but also looking ahead to the future. In this blog, we’ll answer some of the most common questions about how books are […]

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As we celebrate 35 years of Accelerated Reader, we recognize the importance of not only honoring the past but also looking ahead to the future. In this blog, we’ll answer some of the most common questions about how books are selected for new Accelerated Reader quizzes. We’ll also describe our initiatives to ensure that AR continues to provide every student with a wide range of options to support independent reading practice.

We’d like to thank the following members of the Renaissance Content Team for sharing their expertise with us: Lynnette Kopetsky (Content Curator), Carolyn Tarpey (Content Curator), Sara Cisar (Publisher Programs & Curation—Supervisor), Frank Delbovi (Content Designer), Kristi Holck (Manager, Content Design), and Dr. Chastity McFarlan (Content Quality Manager).

Q: What does the team consider when selecting books for Accelerated Reader quizzes?

Our focus when choosing titles is always the students who will be taking the AR quizzes. We want to make sure that we’re selecting books that meet the needs of students and schools across the country, from kindergarten through high school.

We select and prioritize books based on a variety of factors. Popularity with students is obviously one consideration. For example, we know that when a new book is published in a popular series—such as Diary of a Wimpy Kid or I Survived—there will be an immediate demand for the AR quiz. We also receive thousands of online requests each year from our end-users: teachers, librarians, parents, and even from students themselves.

Another focus when choosing titles is Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Our goal is to select books that portray characters of differing cultures, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, gender identities, abilities, and religions. To that end, we seek out books with diverse characters and settings. We want to ensure that students are able to choose books that reflect their lives and experiences—and help them to better understand other people’s lives and experiences, too.

Q: How specifically do you seek out books with diverse characters and settings?

In some ways, the processes we follow for general book selection also apply to our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives. For example, we read reviews of new children’s and young adult (YA) books; we form relationships with both trade and school library publishers so that we receive advance notice of upcoming releases; and we review the many suggestions we receive from educators, families, and students, as mentioned above.

Another major source of titles is awards lists that focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Currently, our list contains 25 awards, including the Stonewall Book Awards, which recognize books that reflect LGBTQ+ experiences, and the Coretta Scott King Book Awards, which recognize children’s and YA books that reflect African-American experiences. Both of these awards are sponsored by the American Library Association.

Another award is the Walter Dean Myers Award for Outstanding Children’s Literature—also known as The Walter Awards. This award recognizes “diverse authors whose works feature diverse main characters and address diversity in a meaningful way.” We have Accelerated Reader quizzes for the 18 winning and honoree titles from 2019–2021, including When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson.

Frank D., the Content Designer who created the AR quiz for When Stars Are Scattered, has this to say about the book:

“This is a graphic novel about a Somali boy and his brother, their life in a refugee camp, and his dreams of getting an education and becoming a social worker. The story, which is true, takes place in a refugee camp in Kenya. Eventually, the protagonist, Omar, and his brother make their way to the US. An afterword reveals that they are now US citizens, and that Omar is a social worker and is married to a fellow refugee who also found asylum in the US.

 The book is topical and deals with an underrepresented group—African asylum seekers, most of whom languish in refugee camps but some of whom make it to other parts of the world. Enough have come to the US that there are now communities in various US cities, particularly communities of Somali immigrants. There’s one in Minneapolis, for example. These folks are having children and raising them in the US. It’s good for those children to read about where their parents are from and how they arrived in the US, isn’t it?”

In addition to winning the Walter Award, When Stars Are Scattered was a National Book Award Finalist, a Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Finalist, a New York Times Book Review Notable Children’s Book, and a Time Best Book of the Year, among other honors.

Q: Do you work directly with publishers as part of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiative?

Yes. An important way of expanding our collection is by seeking books from publishers who specialize in multicultural and OwnVoices authors. For example, Lee & Low Books, one of the publishers we work with, is a family-run, minority-owned independent company specializing in diverse book publishing. They value diversity and even provide scholarship opportunities for students of color to enroll in a graduate program in children’s literature. In an effort to work with unpublished authors of color, Lee & Low established their New Voices Award. They are a solid source for books that emphasize cultural diversity and tolerance.

One of the recent books from Lee & Low that we have developed an AR quiz for is The Unstoppable Garrett Morgan: Inventor, Entrepreneur, Hero by Joan DiCicco. Garrett Morgan (1877–1963) grew up in Kentucky, the son of formerly enslaved people. He overcame racial barriers and became a successful businessperson and inventor. Not only did his inventions improve people’s lives, but one of his inventions saved men who were trapped in a collapsed tunnel, making him a hero as well!

Groundwood Books is another publisher specializing in books on diverse topics. Groundwood Books is based in Canada, but their authors are published all over the globe. They specialize in books by Indigenous Peoples in the Northern Hemisphere and, since 1998, they have published works by Latinx authors and illustrators in both English and Spanish. One of the best parts of our relationship with Groundwood Books is their willingness to recommend titles that are of interest to add to our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion collection.

Q: Once you’ve identified a book, does it have to meet certain criteria in order for an AR quiz to be written?

Yes. There’s sometimes a misconception that the members of the Curation Team operate like book critics, and that we only select books that appeal to us personally or that we’d describe as our favorites. Our criteria are actually much less subjective.

First, the book must be quizzable, meaning that it has enough unique content for an AR quiz to accurately assess students’ reading comprehension (or their listening comprehension, in the case of books that are read aloud to them). Not every book meets this criterion. For example, think of a picture book that’s designed to teach colors to young children: the coat is yellow, the hat is red, the umbrella is blue, etc. A book like this doesn’t offer a lot of content, and potential quiz questions—What color was the coat? Which object was red? —would not be fair to students. Such questions wouldn’t assess children’s comprehension but rather their ability to remember the author’s arbitrary decisions about which color to assign to which object.

Reference books provide another example—including books that are otherwise promising from the perspective of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. For example, imagine a middle-grades book titled 40 Famous Hispanic Americans or 50 Pioneering Women in STEM, where each person receives a one-page write-up. Because the individual entries are so brief and high-level, it can be difficult to identify enough unique information to assess a student’s comprehension of the entire text.

The second criterion is that factual information must be accurate. Clearly, this criterion applies to nonfiction (which is presented as factual) much more than to fiction (which is presented as the work of the author’s imagination). Like the quizzability criterion, it also applies to all topics, from astronomy to dinosaurs to music. But when nonfiction books focus on historically underrepresented people and groups, accuracy is critical. There have been instances where titles are initially selected for AR quizzes but are then rejected when the Content Designer reads the book and identifies significant inaccuracies.

To give one recent example, a nonfiction book about the Hmong people of Southeast Asia stated that they are from a region that’s also called Hmong. This is simply not accurate. We notified the publisher of this issue, and we explained that we would not be able to move forward with an AR quiz for this title.

Q: Does this initiative also involve reviewing existing AR quizzes through the lens of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion?

Absolutely. Accelerated Reader offers quizzes on more than 200,000 titles, and several thousand new quizzes are added each year. In addition to writing these new quizzes, our Content Designers regularly review and refresh existing quizzes within the collection. In fact, our goal is to have them spend about 10 percent of their time on this.

An important part of the review process is confirming that all quiz questions and answer choices adhere to AR’s Content Appropriateness Guidelines, which require “treating individuals and topic areas with appropriate respect and not offending or otherwise impeding a student’s ability to respond to content due to personal characteristics, background, or other aspects that are not relevant to the content.” The guidelines also require quizzes to treat potentially controversial topics “with sensitivity and in a manner that is respectful to the reader.”

In some cases, the Content Designer identifies the need to revise a quiz question or an answer choice to better align with these guidelines. To give a few examples:

  • Treating controversial topics with sensitivity: It’s not unusual for a mystery or crime novel to involve a murder or other violent act. But rather than asking students how the murder was committed—and then listing various gruesome alternatives—we’d instead ask why the murder was committed (which is also likely more relevant to the novel’s plot than the “how”).
  • Using respectful, people-first language: Rather than using a condescending phrase such as “confined to a wheelchair,” we’d instead say that a character “uses a wheelchair.”
  • Avoiding negative stereotypes: Imagine a middle-grades book in which a male character apologizes to a female classmate. If we ask why he apologized, we’d need to provide a list of plausible options for students to choose from: For telling a lie, reading messages on her phone, losing the book she’d loaned to him, etc. These are the distractors—answers that are incorrect but appear plausible to students who have not read the book. Here, we’d avoid using distractors that perpetuate negative stereotypes—such as For saying that girls are no good at baseball.

We’re sometimes asked how we ensure consistency in the review and revision process. To promote consistency, we hold regular norming sessions where the Content Designers—as a team—review and comment on quiz questions and answer choices that have been marked for revision. This helps to ensure that team members are interpreting the content guidelines in the same way and take a similar approach to this process.

Q: Earlier, you mentioned a list of 25 awards that you use to seek out diverse titles for AR quizzes. Can you share the full list?

Absolutely. When selecting books for AR quizzes, we give special consideration to:

We currently have 86 percent AR quiz coverage of these awards from 2019–2021, and we are working to reach 100 percent coverage by the end of the year. Also, we are always seeking awards that meet our criteria to add to this list, and we would love to hear from our customers about additional awards we should include.

Looking for diverse titles to explore with your students this year? Check out What Kids Are Reading, the world’s largest annual survey of K–12 student reading habits. And to see everything that today’s Accelerated Reader has to offer, click the button below.

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New insights on progress monitoring this school year https://www.renaissance.com/2021/10/22/blog-new-insights-on-progress-monitoring-this-school-year/ Fri, 22 Oct 2021 13:13:35 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=53436 By Dr. Gene Kerns, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer In K–12 education, we often use medical analogies to describe our assessment practices. For example, it’s common to hear the state summative test described as a “post-mortem” on the school […]

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By Dr. Gene Kerns, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer

In K–12 education, we often use medical analogies to describe our assessment practices. For example, it’s common to hear the state summative test described as a “post-mortem” on the school year. In contrast, formative assessments are often compared to a physical exam or “check-up,” because they occur earlier in the year and provide information that can be used to save the “patient.” Similarly, the levels of instructional service provided in an RTI or MTSS model have been compared to the medical triage model, directing support where it’s needed the most. Recent articles on the COVID-19 disruptions recommend that we use a form of “instructional triage” to address unfinished learning.

I propose that we add one more analogy to this list. I contend that the recent disruptions to schooling mean that many students have experienced an academic trauma. Data from Renaissance’s How Kids Are Performing report series, for example, show significant impacts in terms of math performance. Overall, students in grades 2–8 were 11 percentile points below pre-pandemic expectations at the end of the 2020–2021 school year. Students in some racial/ethnic groups were even more impacted, performing 18–19 percentile points below expectations. These impacts are clearly significant, and this represents trauma.

Math was not the only affected subject area. The How Kids Are Performing findings indicate that students in grades 1–8 were down 4 percentile points in reading performance at the end of last school year, with some racial/ethnic groups down 7–11 percentile points. Grade 1 students, who had been faring well in the first two rounds of the analysis (Fall 2020 and Winter 2020–2021), suddenly dropped to 7 percentile points behind in the spring.

The analysis even included an estimated number of weeks of instruction that would be necessary to catch students up to pre-pandemic levels of performance. (This is defined as one additional hour of reading or math instruction each weekday, or five additional hours per week.) The findings suggest that, at most grade levels, we might need to find 80–120 additional hours of instruction across both reading and math to reverse the pandemic’s impacts.

While some commentators claim that pandemic-related learning loss is a “myth” or that students are merely “rusty” and will rebound quickly, How Kids Are Performing and similar studies demonstrate that this is not the case. The recent disruptions have unquestionably impacted student performance, and slower rates of growth last school year mean that the situation has become even more dire. Again, this is academic trauma. And in the same way that a physician would closely monitor the vital signs of an individual who experienced a physical trauma, additional monitoring of students’ progress this school year is in order.

So, how might we go about this in a thoughtful and practical way? Let me suggest three options, using examples from Renaissance’s Star Assessments.

1. Progress Monitoring Report—for students in intervention

For students who are in formal interventions, this is already addressed. The RTI/MTSS process requires regular Progress Monitoring, which is accommodated through Star’s Progress Monitoring Report. Prior to using the report, teachers or interventionists work through a brief setup process, where a growth goal is established and a name and target end date for the intervention are entered to fully populate the report. (The example shown below is from Star CBM Reading, although the report functions the same way in our computer-adaptive Star Assessments.)

Once students have taken 4 or more Star tests during the course of an intervention, interpreting the report is a relatively straightforward matter of comparing the desired growth rate (indicated by the green goal line) to the growth rate currently being achieved (indicated by the black trend line). In this case, the black trend line—reflecting actual growth—falls below the green goal line, meaning that the student is not responding adequately to the intervention and more intensive services are likely needed.

While this report offers detailed monitoring of progress, only a portion of students will qualify for intervention services. Yet the recent academic trauma has impacted nearly all students. For this reason, we need additional options.

2. Annual Progress Report—for students with a testing history

For students who are not in formal intervention settings but who have a testing history with Star, the Annual Progress Report is a useful option. While this report requires 4 or more Star tests in order for a black trend line to be generated, these tests can cross academic years. Gray lines indicate the 25th, 50th, and 75th percentile ranks (PR) of performance within the current academic year, providing reference points for the rate of growth suggested by the trend line.

In this example report, we see that Moora has 6 tests (reflected by the colored dots) in her testing history. The black trend line depicts her estimated future performance, and the gray PR lines provide additional context. At the current rate, Moora will likely finish the academic year performing mid-way between the 50th and 75th percentile for her grade level.

Depending on which benchmark option your school or district chooses, you will see different names or categories for the dots reflecting each test. Moora’s school has chosen to use a benchmark tied to the state test categories: Advanced, Proficient, Basic, and Below Basic. Of Moora’s 6 tests, we see only one instance where she performed at a Basic level (yellow dot). She generally performs at a Proficient level (blue dots), and once she even achieved a score associated with the Advanced level (green dot) for that point in the school year.

As noted earlier, this report relies on information from prior academic years. If Moora’s current performance is substantially better or worse than in previous years, however, the most accurate read of her performance in relation to the expectations of the current grade level might be found in our final report.

3. State Performance Report—for focusing on the current year

Like the Annual Progress Report, Star’s State Performance Report involves a statistical linking to your state test, but this report focuses only on the current school year. It is read in a similar way to the Progress Monitoring Report, where the black trend line is compared to the green goal line. In this report, the goal line represents the level of performance necessary to receive a passing score on your state summative test in the spring.

This report requires 3 or more Star tests within the current academic year for a trend line to be generated. As a result, if students only take Star during the traditional fall, winter, and spring screening windows, a trend line will not be generated until spring—which may be too late for progress-monitoring purposes this year.

To address this dynamic, some schools adopt an approach called “3+1,” where the standard screening windows are supplemented with an additional screening that occurs in late fall (e.g., November). This means that the proficiency projections of the State Standards Report’s trend line would be available in January, following winter screening. In addition, the “+1” screening window provides an additional school-wide opportunity to plot students’ performance against important benchmarks, as well as updated instructional planning information.

That said, our general guidance around assessing students with Star is, Do not give the assessment unless you’re planning to review and act on the results. Before adding an additional screening window, consider whether your data teams have the capacity to review the data. If so, then “3+1” is an option. If not, then this is probably not the right solution for you.

An abbreviated option would be a “+1” window for only targeted students, grade levels, or subjects. Given common accountability requirements around grade 3 reading proficiency, for example, and given the disproportionately high number of reading Focus Skills in the early grades, you might choose to add the “+1” screening only for students in grades K–3. You might also limit the “+1” screening to only those students who were below benchmark during fall screening and who were not placed in a formal intervention. The additional screening would help to ensure that these students are not slipping in terms of performance.

Or, given that math performance has been far more impacted than reading, you might choose to forgo an additional screening in reading but screen students in math. If you can’t or don’t feel a need to screen all students in both reading and math, which student groups, grade levels, or subject areas are the most at-risk? These could be prioritized areas for a limited additional screening.

Creating a “treatment plan” for the months ahead

To return to our medical analogies, we must remember that Star tests are like check-ups with your physician. They provide useful information to help gauge whether the “patient” is responding to the treatment, but they are not treatment plans unto themselves. Here are some ideas for what to do this fall (and beyond) to address unfinished learning:

  1. Consider all available options to catch students up. Options include high-dosage tutoring, which can be provided either in or outside of the classroom, and extended learning time, such as before- and after-school programs and summer programs. Excellent summaries of research on different approaches are available in an article titled “The Science of Catching Up” in The Hechinger Report, and in a recent report from the Education Commission of the States.
  2. Follow the dialogue on accelerated learning. A significant pedagogical shift is occurring in how we address students who are performing below grade-level expectations. Traditionally, we spoke about “remediation” or “meeting students where they are.” The newest thinking is that we should instead “accelerate learning.” This is an umbrella term, with several strategies related to it. But the emphasis is on maximizing the time students spend with grade-level content, which has significant implications for how we plan daily instruction and intervention experiences. A succinct overview is provided in a recent EdWeek article. EdWeek’s “Deciding What to Teach? Here’s How” infographic shows you how to embed accelerated learning approaches into daily instruction.
  3. Decide which standards and skills to prioritize. When working to accelerate learning, serious consideration must be given to the most essential ideas of the grade-level and to the most critical prerequisite skills from previous grades. Renaissance’s Focus Skills Resource Center provides insights in both areas. Lists of the most critical skills for progress in reading and math, tailored to the standards of each state, are available, along with helpful overview videos for getting started.
  4. Consider which supplementary practice programs might be of assistance. Digital practice programs can keep students engaged in and out of the classroom, and they can provide additional insights into students’ ongoing progress. They can also support extended learning initiatives, both during the school year and over the summer. At Renaissance, we offer multiple practice programs that students can use in tandem with Star Assessments, including our myON digital reading platform; Freckle for math and ELA; Accelerated Reader, for independent reading practice; and Lalilo, for foundational literacy skill development.

Adjusting to our “new normal”

In March 2020, who had any idea that the disruptions would continue for so long? Back then, we naively assumed that in-person learning would resume in the fall, only to experience a 2020–2021 school year that was—in most locations—profoundly disrupted. We now find ourselves several months into the 2021–2022 school year still holding our breath that “normalcy” will return.

Heads down, grinding away at our work, we may not realize how long we have been toiling under the disruptions. A recent social media meme brought this clearly into focus for me by noting that today’s high school seniors have not experienced a “normal” year of schooling since they were freshmen. Similarly, our current elementary students up to grade 2 have never experienced a non-disrupted school year.

Let us hold out hope that the current year can qualify as a relatively normal one, and that the steps we take and the work we do to support student learning will contribute to this much-needed return to normalcy.

Looking for more insights on accelerating learning? Check out Dr. Kerns’s recent blog on making the best use of Star’s instructional resources this year. And to learn more about Star CBM, myON, Freckle, or other Renaissance programs, just click the button below.

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Renaissance Approved in Louisiana as a Professional Development Vendor https://www.renaissance.com/2021/10/15/renaissance-approved-in-louisiana-as-a-professional-development-vendor/ Fri, 15 Oct 2021 13:28:28 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=53392 Bloomington, Minn. (October 15, 2021) – Renaissance, a global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, recently announced that the company has been approved by the Louisiana State Department of Education (LDOE) to provide ongoing professional development on the effective use of […]

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Bloomington, Minn. (October 15, 2021)Renaissance, a global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, recently announced that the company has been approved by the Louisiana State Department of Education (LDOE) to provide ongoing professional development on the effective use of Renaissance solutions to accelerate student learning.

The list of approved vendors appears in the state’s Supporting Early Learning and Literacy (SELL) Guide. The guide helps schools and parishes to implement the recommendations of the Early Literacy Commission, which include investing in early learning supports for literacy and math in grades K–2. Renaissance’s professional development offerings—which can be provided to educators both in-person and remotely—will help schools and parishes to increase the fidelity of use across their Renaissance solutions, making a positive impact on student growth.

The LDOE’s approval covers professional development for the following Renaissance solutions:

“This school year, it’s very important that educators are equipped with effective solutions to accelerate their students’ learning,” said Jonathan Pounds, Regional Vice President at Renaissance. “A solution that is used without fidelity falls short of its purpose. We are proud to be added to the Supporting Early Learning and Literacy for Professional Development approved list, to provide further support for Louisiana educators.”

Educators can learn more about Renaissance solutions by visiting www.renaissance.com.

About Renaissance

As a global leader in assessment, reading, and math solutions for pre-K–12 schools and districts, Renaissance is committed to providing educators with insights and resources to accelerate growth and help all students build a strong foundation for success. Renaissance solutions reach more than 40 percent of US schools and more than half a million students in other regions across the world.

The Renaissance portfolio includes Star Assessments, for reliable, accurate insights into K–12 student learning; myIGDIs, for accurate assessment of early learning; myON, to increase students’ access to high-quality reading materials; Accelerated Reader, to support independent reading practice; Freckle, for teacher-led differentiated instruction; Schoolzilla, to give educators actionable insights into trends in student attendance and achievement; Lalilo, to develop critical foundational skills; and Nearpod, for teacher-facilitated instructional delivery.

Press contact:
Tracy Stewart
Director, Marketing Development
Renaissance
(832) 651-1189
pr@renaissance.com

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Product Highlights: Supporting continuous student learning https://www.renaissance.com/2021/10/08/blog-product-highlights-supporting-continuous-student-learning/ Fri, 08 Oct 2021 13:45:20 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=53317 The COVID-19 disruptions have accelerated a process that was already well underway. Teaching and learning are no longer confined to brick-and-mortar classrooms and face-to-face interactions. Instead, technology allows teachers and students to connect from anywhere—and helps teachers to provide personalized, […]

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The COVID-19 disruptions have accelerated a process that was already well underway. Teaching and learning are no longer confined to brick-and-mortar classrooms and face-to-face interactions. Instead, technology allows teachers and students to connect from anywhere—and helps teachers to provide personalized, engaging experiences for learners at all grade levels, both in and out of the classroom. This is continuous learning.

This school year, you’ll find new features and resources in your Renaissance products to support learning everywhere it happens. This blog provides a summary of the recent enhancements. You’ll find the full details on our Product Updates Blog, which we invite you to bookmark and revisit throughout the year for the latest news and updates.

Prioritizing instruction with Focus Skills

Focus Skills are the most critical literacy and math skills at each grade level, based on your state’s standards of learning. Focus Skills are embedded in our Star Assessments and are also freely available to all educators on our website, in both English and Spanish.

Focus Skills have been updated for the 2021–2022 school year to reflect any changes to state standards. This ensures that you’re seeing the most up-to-date information as you review these important skills, which span pre-K to grade 12. Because the COVID-19 disruptions have significantly impacted students’ math performance, we’ve also identified the math Focus Skills that are most difficult for students to learn. We refer to these challenging skills as Trip Steps. As you plan instruction this year, use the list of Trip Steps to identify skills that may require additional time and additional practice for student mastery.

Learn more: Explore the updates to Focus Skills in a short video. See how Focus Skills support accelerated learning. Discover how we identified Trip Steps and why they’re so critical to math recovery this school year.

Supporting high school math practice with Freckle

With all of the challenges impacting learning over the last year and a half, students at all grade levels will benefit from additional math practice at their just-right level. Now students in high school can benefit from using Freckle for math—the same engaging Freckle practice that teachers and students alike love, but with a more mature interface designed just for them.

Freckle for high school math includes practice for Algebra 1, Geometry, and Algebra 2, and allows students to work on the content they need, in the environment that’s right for them (in school, at home, or even on the go).

Freckle encourages independent math practice with real-time instructional supports and varied item types. You can assign targeted practice aligned with instruction and course-specific standards, and you can accelerate student growth by assigning prerequisite skills. Additionally, when Freckle is used with Star Math, students are automatically recommended K–8 Focus Skills to close learning gaps.

And Freckle’s in-depth reporting on high school skills progress helps you to gain greater insight into student proficiency and plan your next steps for instruction.

Learn more: See the features that are unique to Freckle for high school math. Create a free Freckle account—or learn about upgrading to Freckle Premium to unlock additional features and reports.

Boosting reading motivation with Accelerated Reader

Keeping students motivated to read both in and out of school, with plenty of access to books and clear reading goals, is key for literacy growth. Whether they’re at home during summer and holiday breaks, or they’re learning from home or hybrid environments, students can quiz at home with AR to stay motivated and on track.

The magic of Accelerated Reader happens when students achieve appropriate goals specifically set for them. They’re encouraged to keep reading and striving for the next benchmark. Their literacy skills continue to shine with increased authentic reading practice. This year, Accelerated Reader offers enhanced goal-setting features to make this even more straightforward for both educators and students.

Educators will find a streamlined process for setting reading goals, along with more intuitive navigation in the AR Record Book. Students will notice enhancements to the AR interface—particularly beginning readers, who will see a clearer, more visual representation of their reading goals and progress.

Learn more: Explore the new AR interface for beginning readers. See why AR is so relevant for today’s students. Get tips for using AR to engage reluctant readers in middle school.

Supporting Spanish and English instruction with Star

Every educator knows that some grade-level skills are more critical to students’ future success than others. As noted earlier, we call these Focus Skills, which are embedded in both the English and Spanish versions of Star Assessments.

If you’re teaching in an English Learner, dual-language, or immersion program, then it’s important for you to understand and build upon what your emergent bilingual students already know in both Spanish and English. That’s why Star includes a variety of helpful resources for educators. This school year, you have access to a new resource guide in both languages, which shares ideas related to vocabulary, conceptual knowledge, and Spanish language development to support your instructional planning in pre-K to grade 3. The guide also identifies transferable skills between the two languages.

In addition, for students in grades 1–8, Star Assessments in Spanish now provide score projections as well, as shown in the image below. These projections help you to understand whether students are on track for meeting benchmarks and how much growth they’re likely to achieve. Having this information early in the school year will help you to plan and adjust instruction, and to provide additional support where it’s needed most.

Learn more: Explore Star Assessments in Spanish for early literacy, reading, and math. See 6 common myths about emergent bilingual students. Take a closer look at transferable skills in Star.

New goal options, ROI, and Spanish field test in Star CBM

Teachers and students alike have embraced the flexibility and versatility of Star CBM, which offers measures for both reading (K–6) and math (K–3). Whether you’re administering assessments remotely or in-person, the one-to-one experience provides an opportunity to spend valuable time with students while they demonstrate their skills.

Student assessment data from Star CBM measures is easier to review and interpret with recent enhancements. You can now set more than one goal for each student to track progress on multiple measures. Viewing the new rate of improvement (ROI) calculation provides a precise, clear indication of growth over time. Additionally, when a student takes an out-of-grade measure, you’ll now see a green checkmark displayed in the Record Book when their score meets expectations for the nearest benchmark available.

To support educational equity, we’re also developing Star CBM Reading Español, which is designed to support K–6 students receiving instruction in Spanish with the goal of biliteracy. Educators from across the US are participating in the field test of Star CBM Reading Español this school year. Field testing is a crucial part of the process of developing a psychometrically robust assessment tool that is valid and reliable.

Learn more: Watch a short video overview of Star CBM. Explore how to use Star CBM to support both in-person and remote assessment.

Enhanced progress monitoring with Schoolzilla

With students returning to school this fall after a very challenging year, there’s no doubt school leaders and teachers are trying to determine where their students are academically and what they need to do to help make up for lost instructional time. Gathering data to inform daily instruction is critical at this time of year so you can quickly identify which students are in need of support.

Earlier this year, we introduced a new feature in Schoolzilla that gives you an at-a-glance view of how students performed from one period to the next. Using new progress indicators in the Our Students dashboard, you can assess recent changes to individual student performance, as shown in the image below. For example, not only will you see what percentile a student scored on an assessment, but also how many points this percentile score increased, decreased, or stayed the same since the last assessment. This additional data point makes it easier to find areas of strength, as well as identify opportunities for growth.

Learn more: Get more details on how this new progress monitoring feature works. See how you can use data throughout the school year to ensure continuous learning for every student.

Promoting anytime, anywhere learning

In addition to these enhancements, students have access to hundreds of new titles in myON this fall, so they can more easily discover their next great read. And educators continue to ask us great questions about the latest additions to the Renaissance family: Lalilo, for foundational literacy practice in school and at home, and Nearpod, an interactive instructional platform that merges formative assessment and dynamic media for live and self-paced learning experiences both in and out of the classroom.

There’s no doubt that schools and districts face a number of challenges this year, from making up lost instructional time to preparing to pivot from in-person to remote instruction and back, based on changes to local conditions. Rather than adding to these challenges, your educational programs should offer a solution, supporting a seamless transition between in-school and at-home instruction in order to support learning wherever it occurs.

If you haven’t already, bookmark our Product Updates Blog for the latest news and resources. To learn more about any of our products, or to discuss professional development for the new year, click the button below. We’re here to help.

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The critical role of Trip Steps in math recovery https://www.renaissance.com/2021/09/24/blog-the-critical-role-of-trip-steps-in-math-recovery/ Fri, 24 Sep 2021 11:09:21 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=53105 By Julianne Robar, Educational Content Program Manager, and Dr. Jan Bryan, Vice President and National Education Officer If learning is a staircase, then all steps are not created equal. In math especially, some skills along the staircase are extraordinarily difficult […]

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By Julianne Robar, Educational Content Program Manager, and Dr. Jan Bryan, Vice President and National Education Officer

If learning is a staircase, then all steps are not created equal. In math especially, some skills along the staircase are extraordinarily difficult for students to master. At Renaissance, we call these skills “Trip Steps” because they can cause a stumble in learning, just as an extraordinarily tall step in a staircase can cause an awkward bit of climbing.

Trip Steps were identified during the empirical validation process that we use to develop our state-specific learning progressions. When the teachable order of skills is plotted against data on their relative difficulty, some skills are found to be disproportionately difficult for students to master. These are the Trip Steps.

Although Trips Steps exist in reading, we find far more of them in mathematics. This is because math is “ruthlessly cumulative,” to use Stephen Pinker’s phrase. For example, the Trip Step Find the area of a rectangle by multiplying side lengths is introduced in the latter half of third grade in most states. This is an important skill that lays the foundation for future success in geometry and problem solving. Yet it is extraordinarily difficult for most third graders to learn, because multiplication is generally introduced late in third grade, as is finding area by multiplying rather than by tiling. Essentially, new skill + new process = potential for some students to “trip.” Trip Steps have profound effects on future learning in math. Trip over one and you’re likely to trip over another. “Ruthlessly cumulative,” indeed.

This is not to say that Renaissance is dismissing Trip Steps for Reading. On the contrary, we continue our work with both reading and math Trip Steps. However, considering the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on math learning and growth—as documented in the full-year edition of our How Kids Are Performing report—we began our work with an intense focus on mathematics. So let’s take a closer look at math Trip Steps, and consider why they will be so critical for math recovery this school year.

Trip Steps and accelerated learning

Not long after school buildings closed in March 2020, conversations began to shift from where students learn to what they must learn in order to build knowledge and continue growing. Much of the conversation and ensuing guidance focuses on accelerating learning. While acceleration naturally suggests hastening or hurrying, the concept of accelerated learning is intently focused on prioritizing instruction—meaning, identifying the standards and skills that are most important in each grade level or course.

In the summer of 2020, Renaissance launched the Focus Skills Resource Center, a free resource for all who are vested in learning. Focus Skills are found at every grade level and across all domains of reading and mathematics. Essentially, Focus Skills are the building blocks of student learning and are tied directly to each state’s learning standards. Each Focus Skill is:

  • Fundamental to student understanding
  • A prerequisite for future learning
  • Reflective of the state’s grade-level expectations

Because Focus Skills are critical to learning at grade level while also setting the stage for future grades, they—by definition—provide educators with a pathway to prioritization.

Some Focus Skills have also been identified as Trip Steps. This means that these skills are critical for learning at grade level and are especially challenging for students to acquire. Identifying these unique math skills—Focus Skills that are also Trip Steps—provides educators with a means to further prioritize instruction and plan for impactful learning experiences. This is especially important now, given the need to make up lost instructional ground due to the pandemic’s disruptions. And the How Kids Are Performing report shows the urgency of this challenge, with students across grades 2–8 ending the 2020–2021 school year 11 weeks behind expectations in math, on average.

How are Trip Steps identified?

Renaissance’s learning progressions describe the incremental way that students acquire knowledge—moving from lesser to more sophisticated understanding—within a subject area. This is the staircase we mentioned earlier. Each state’s academic standards define the goals that students must reach at each grade level. A Renaissance state-specific learning progression supports each student’s journey up the staircase to reach those goals, from pre-K through high school.

The order of the steps, or skills, in a learning progression is based on the foundation of pedagogy, skill difficulty data, and each state’s standards requirements. Of course, most educators have an intuitive sense of which steps or skills in a student’s learning journey are most challenging—for example, Divide mixed numbers or fractions for middle school students. After refining learning progression order for more than 10 years and analyzing millions of student assessments, Renaissance has identified the specific skills that are disproportionately difficult.

The graph below illustrates the difficulty data we use to identify Trip Steps. Skills are listed in learning progression order and are identified by grade level (x-axis) and difficulty (y-axis). Difficulty is based on student responses to items in our Star Math assessment. The majority of skills cluster near the yellow trend line. Skills significantly above the trend line are Trip Steps.

The higher above the trend line a skill is, the more difficult the skill is compared to other skills in that grade—and the more support a student may need to achieve that Trip Step.

Which skill area has the most Trip Steps?

Geometry & Measurement is the skill area with the most Trip Steps across grade levels. The graphic below shows a selection of these Trip Steps from grades 3–7 to illustrate the cumulative effect mentioned earlier.

Not all Trip Steps require extra instructional time and deep student mastery but—as noted earlier—Trip Steps that are also Focus Skills warrant close attention, because they’re important prerequisites for future learning. For a student to be prepared for the challenging Trip Step Solve a problem involving the surface area or volume of a 3-dimensional object at grade 7, the student will need to have already mastered the grade 4 Trip Step Solve a problem using the area or perimeter formulas for rectangles.

Grades 4 and 5 have the most math Trip Steps, reflecting the shift in the complexity of Geometry & Measurement processes listed above. These Trip Steps also reflect the transition in this grade range from Whole Numbers to Fractions. The table below shows the Trip Steps that exist in this critical transition.

The Focus Skills in the table above also provide further examples of important prerequisite relationships, like the grade 4 skill Compare fractions with unlike denominators and the grade 5 skill Solve problems involving addition or subtraction of fractions referring to the same whole.

It’s interesting to consider the prevalence of Trip Steps in grades 4 and 5 and student performance by grade level last school year, as documented in How Kids Are Performing. The table below summarizes expected versus actual student performance in Spring 2021. For students in grades 4 and 5, the scaled score difference was -21 and -18, respectively. This is a greater difference than in grades 6–8, for example, where the number of Trip Steps is lower.

You can find instructional support ideas for challenging middle school math skills here.

Trip Steps and math recovery

Dr. Amit Sood, a noted authority on resiliency and former professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic, writes that our brains, by default, are attuned to everything happening around us—often creating a noisy “dialogue” in our heads. When focus and prioritization are required, first we must mute this dialogue to activate the brain’s “task-positive network.” State standards and curricula documents may include such “noise.” In a pandemic-free school year, the noise is manageable; not so in school years focused on recovery and growth. Focus Skills and Trip Steps help you to mute some of the standards/skills dialogue, activate your and your students’ task-positive networks, and accelerate learning. We suggest that teachers:

  • Review math Trip Steps for your grade level or course
  • Identify the prerequisite skills associated with each Trip Step
  • Plan with math colleagues and share resources, techniques, and expertise related to Trip Steps
  • Nurture positive mindsets by explaining to students that the skill may seem difficult, but, step-by-step, they can master it
  • Share strategic feedback with students (more on this below)
  • Assess student readiness for each Trip Step with an activity, observation, or brief quiz
  • Engage in just-in-time support as needed
  • Monitor developing mastery

Your feedback is critical to students’ perceptions of themselves as “math persons,” and teaching is as much about care and compassion as it is about instruction and motivation. When we see students’ frustration, it’s natural to comfort them—natural and necessary. Simply temper that comfort with a quick focus on finding out where the problem-solving went astray and implement just-in-time support to get students back on track (e.g., “It’s OK that you feel frustrated. Let’s fix this.”) You’ll find more information on the power of math identity and feedback here.

Why our work with Trip Steps continues

At Renaissance, we continue to look for relationships among Trip Steps, Focus Skills, how students are performing, and how they are really learning. There is always something more to learn, and there are always remarkable findings to share. To learn more about Focus Skills, and to see the most critical math and reading skills in your state, visit our Focus Skills Resource Center. To see a list of math Trip Steps that are also Focus Skills, click here. And to see the most urgent instructional needs this school year, download the new edition of How Kids Are Performing.

Looking for more insights on Trip Steps and math recovery? Watch our recent webinar for tips on teaching these challenging skills and raising student motivation.

References

Pinker, S. (1997). How the mind works. New York: Norton.
Sood, A. (2013). The Mayo Clinic guide to stress-free living. New York: DaCapo.

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Star Math and Star CBM Math Approved in South Carolina as K–2 Numeracy Screeners https://www.renaissance.com/2021/09/24/news-star-math-and-star-cbm-math-approved-in-south-carolina-as-k2-numeracy-screeners/ Fri, 24 Sep 2021 11:07:47 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=53149 Bloomington, Minn. (Sept 24, 2021) – Renaissance, a global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, recently announced that Star Math and Star CBM Math have been approved by the South Carolina Department of Education (SCDE) as numeracy screening tools for grades […]

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Bloomington, Minn. (Sept 24, 2021)Renaissance, a global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, recently announced that Star Math and Star CBM Math have been approved by the South Carolina Department of Education (SCDE) as numeracy screening tools for grades K–2.

Star Math and Star CBM Math meet the SCDE’s criteria for numeracy screeners that districts can incorporate into their Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) process for early learners. These criteria include the length of time to administer the screening tool, the use of normative data for the cut points, and screening in specific grade-level numeracy areas, including number sense, algebraic thinking and operations, measurement and data analysis, and geometry.

Star Math and Star CBM Math provide educators with actionable insights to differentiate instruction and increase math skills mastery for every learner. Each assessment is quick and easy for teachers to administer, provides in-depth information on students’ performance and instructional needs, and can be used in any learning environment.

“We appreciate the opportunity to continue supporting South Carolina educators, students, and parents in numeracy and math,” said Laurie Borkon, Vice President of Government Affairs at Renaissance. “Screening is a core component of MTSS, and we commend SCDE for increasing its focus on math. With valid, reliable, and easy-to-use tools for assessment and practice, we’ll work together with educators across the state to pinpoint skill areas, target instruction, and accelerate student learning.”

Educators can learn more about Star Math and Star CBM Math by visiting www.renaissance.com.

About Renaissance

As a global leader in assessment, reading, and math solutions for pre-K–12 schools and districts, Renaissance is committed to providing educators with insights and resources to accelerate growth and help all students build a strong foundation for success. Renaissance solutions reach more than 40 percent of US schools and more than half a million students in other regions across the world.

The Renaissance portfolio includes Star Assessments, for reliable, accurate insights into K–12 student learning; myIGDIs, for accurate assessment of early learning; myON, to increase students’ access to high-quality reading materials; Accelerated Reader, to support independent reading practice; Freckle, for teacher-led differentiated instruction; Schoolzilla, to give educators actionable insights into trends in student attendance and achievement; Lalilo, to develop critical foundational skills; and Nearpod, for teacher-facilitated instructional delivery.

Press contact:
Tracy Stewart
Director, Marketing Development
Renaissance
(832) 651-1189
pr@renaissance.com

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Supporting marginalized students through culturally relevant pedagogy https://www.renaissance.com/2021/09/10/blog-supporting-marginalized-students-through-culturally-relevant-pedagogy/ Fri, 10 Sep 2021 13:49:39 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=52959 By Dr. Chastity McFarlan, Content Quality Manager As a Latina and African American woman from the New York City area, I knew the COVID-19 pandemic would have a disproportionate effect on people from my community even before the media outlets […]

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By Dr. Chastity McFarlan, Content Quality Manager

As a Latina and African American woman from the New York City area, I knew the COVID-19 pandemic would have a disproportionate effect on people from my community even before the media outlets announced it. Higher rates of comorbidities, limited access to high quality healthcare, and densely populated neighborhoods almost guaranteed this would be the outcome. Likewise, when education experts warned that the pandemic would negatively impact student academic performance, I knew the magnitude of this impact would be greatest for students from my community. The results from Renaissance’s latest How Kids Are Performing report confirm this.

The new, full-year edition of How Kids Are Performing, which analyzes Star Assessments data for over 3.3 million students across the US, demonstrates the pandemic’s impacts on student learning. An analysis of students’ actual Spring 2021 performance compared to expectations reveals that, overall, students were at the equivalent of 4 percentile ranks (PR) below pre-pandemic expectations in reading, and 11 PR lower than expected in math. While these numbers are alarming in themselves, a closer look at the disaggregated data tells an even more troubling story.

Black students were the most impacted by the pandemic, performing 11 PR below pre-pandemic expectations in reading and 19 PR below expectations in math. Hispanic students also experienced disproportionate impacts, performing 7 PR below expectations in reading and 16 PR below expectations in math. Similarly, Native American students performed 7 PR below pre-pandemic expectations in reading and 18 PR below expectations in math. The pandemic has clearly exacerbated an already existing and pervasive academic performance gap.

The How Kids Are Performing report highlights the urgency to accelerate learning for all students in a way that is both equitable and responsive. The disproportionate impact experienced by marginalized communities calls for an equally intensified focus on these students when developing strategies to improve academic performance. When considering how to approach this, one thing is evident: more of the same will not suffice. Because these performance gaps existed prior to the pandemic, simply assigning more classwork to students will clearly not yield the desired results.

Instead, successful solutions will likely require teachers to find creative methods of increasing engagement and making the connections between classroom material and students’ personal lives more salient. Such is the basis for culturally relevant pedagogy, an educational approach coined by Gloria Ladson-Billings in 1995 and researched by scholars in the decades that followed.

So, what does culturally relevant pedagogy involve—and why will it be so important this school year?

Understanding culturally relevant pedagogy

Culturally relevant pedagogy (CRP) is grounded in the belief that students perform at higher levels when the content builds on the cultural assets they bring to the classroom. For this reason, it calls for educators to de-center mainstream (i.e., White, middle class, American) culture and to instead center students from typically marginalized communities. Relevant and personally meaningful content increases student effort, engagement, motivation, and performance (Howard, 2001; Renninger, Ewen, & Lasher, 2002). CRP has also been linked with improved graduation rates, GPAs, and college acceptance rates for high school students (Howard & Terry, 2011; Whiting, 2009). 

Culturally relevant pedagogy rests on three criteria, as shown in the graphic below. Let’s explore these criteria and initial steps educators can take to implement CRP in their practice this year.

Prerequisites to culturally relevant pedagogy

To practice culturally relevant pedagogy, educators must first understand their own culture and the role it plays in their lives. CRP entails developing students’ cultural competence, or the knowledge of and appreciation for their own culture to understand and appreciate the cultures of others (Ladson-Billings, 2014). However, educators cannot develop students’ cultural competence without understanding their own cultural systems, social norms, and ways of learning. Here are a few steps educators can take to prepare:

  1. Understand your culture and its impacts on your life. Engage in reflective practices that allow you to explore your own culture and the role it has played in shaping your views, beliefs, and interactions with others. Educators can practice self-reflection using Weigl’s (2009) protocol. I also recommend the Washington State Professional Educator Standards Board’s comprehensive set of cultural competency standards that span pre-service and beyond.
  2. Understand your students’ cultural backgrounds. Take some time to get to know your students personally and to learn about their lives outside of school. Do not assume students of the same race share similar traditions. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) recommends attending local events, joining social groups, and engaging parents and families in the classroom as ways to develop a deeper understanding of students’ personal lives.

Now, let’s look in detail at the three criteria for CRP.

1. Expect academic success

The success of CRP relies on the expectations and standards for learning set by the educator. No amount of “relevance” will promote academic success if the curriculum is not rigorous enough for students to meet or exceed grade-level expectations. Here are some things to keep in mind for this first criterion:

  1. Establish high expectations for all students. Teachers must have confidence in their students’ academic potential, believing that all students can reach high standards. Unfortunately, high expectations for all students regardless of race is not always the case (Tenenbaum & Ruck, 1997). When practicing CRP, it is essential that teachers become aware of any conscious or unconscious biases they may possess and how these biases impact their grading, discipline, and academic expectations for students. The Graide Network offers insight into how bias may manifest itself in the classroom, and the Yale Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning offers recommendations and resources for teachers seeking to eliminate bias from their practice.
  2. Show students you believe in their competence and value their input. Show students you value the assets they bring to the classroom by incorporating their feedback into the lesson. This contributes to a feeling of “being known,” or mattering, which describes students’ perceptions of whether their input is considered during instruction, whether they are taken seriously, and whether teachers are genuinely interested and invested in their success (Tucker, Dixon, & Griddine, 2010; Chhuon & Wallace, 2014).

2. Center students in the lesson

Perhaps the most recognizable aspect of culturally relevant pedagogy is the centering of marginalized students in daily lessons. CRP recognizes the unique experiences each student brings to the classroom and acknowledges them as assets to be valued and built upon rather than overlooked. Such teaching enables students to draw meaningful connections between class material and personal experiences. Further, these pedagogical practices have the potential to contribute to an education system that is truly representative of its diverse learners.

How can you center students in a lesson?

  1. Review curricular materials to determine whose culture is centered and affirmed. Conduct an audit of books on the syllabus. Are the “literary classics” written by mostly White men? Are works written by Latino authors reserved for Hispanic Heritage Month? Do the contributions of African Americans focus mostly on civil rights? Educators should include culturally relevant curricular materials throughout the academic year and across content areas. Continual affirmation encourages students to develop a sense of integrity in their culture that allows them to “be themselves” during the learning process (Howard & Terry, 2011). Additionally, leverage the relationships with students’ families, engaging them in the lesson as frequently as possible. Acknowledging students’ parents and community members as holders of knowledge helps students to further value their own culture.
  2. Ensure cultural relevance extends beyond the diversity of the characters in books. Over the years, scholars have warned against oversimplifying CRP to “books about people of color, having a classroom Kwanzaa celebration, or posting ‘diverse’ images” (Ladson-Billings, 2014). While these initiatives transform curricular content into mirrors that allow students to see themselves celebrated in the materials, CRP goes beyond this and incorporates the cultural tools and learning styles of students in all aspects of the lesson. Consider how your students prefer to learn and the methods in which they prefer to demonstrate their mastery. For example, given research suggesting African American students prefer communal learning techniques (Dill and Boykin, 2000), teachers may find Hammond’s suggestions to gamify and storify new content helpful. Understanding how your students navigate their social world enables educators to adapt their lessons to make them sticky and more engaging.

3. Encourage sociopolitical engagement

Culturally relevant pedagogy engages students in critical analyses of social systems and structures affecting marginalized communities and groups of people (Ladson-Billings, 1992). Educators practicing CRP view education as a form of social justice and instill this in their students, empowering them to make change in their communities through their education. The development of this sociopolitical consciousness is a critical aspect of CRP, though it is frequently diluted or omitted from practice. Here are some ways teachers can develop this sociopolitical consciousness in their students:

  1. Allow students to identify concerns affecting their community. Give students the agency to critically examine the world around them. Rather than mandate a particular topic, encourage students to analyze their communities and identify systems that impact them. Some examples may include an examination of the availability of AP course offerings in their high school compared to more affluent schools, the school’s uniform policy, or the proximity to a fresh food market if the school is located in a food desert. Teaching for Change offers a variety of suggestions for students seeking to learn about social justice.
  2. Empower students to advocate for change. Students should not stop at critiquing social systems; they must also feel empowered to make positive change. Educators should find developmentally appropriate ways of encouraging students to advocate for their communities, whether through face-to-face interactions or online initiatives. Students can write letters to congressional leaders, create a community newsletter, put on plays and art exhibits, and more. Learning for Justice is a great source for educators seeking to embed social justice across the curriculum.

Culturally relevant pedagogy in the year ahead

Culturally relevant pedagogy has been researched, implemented, and revisited for decades. Its popularity has surged once again as we consider the most effective ways to improve the performance of those most impacted by the pandemic. Decades of research on culturally relevant pedagogy demonstrate its benefits on student engagement, interest, and performance. It must be noted, though, that CRP is not a quick fix. Teachers cannot simply add books with Black characters or analyze a hip hop song’s literary devices and expect success. CRP requires high academic standards, the development of cultural competence in both teachers and students, and a firm belief in the power of education to bring social justice. Furthermore, it requires a long-term commitment and application across all content areas. Still, when implemented with fidelity, CRP has the potential to transform students into high performing, civically engaged scholars with high cultural competence—which will be key to making up lost ground due to the pandemic.

Download the full-year edition of How Kids Are Performing for more insights on the most urgent instructional needs this year. Also, click the button below to explore 4 additional steps for accelerating learning this fall.

References

Chhuon, V., & Wallace, T. (2014). Creating connectedness through being known: Fulfilling the need to belong in US high schools. Youth & Society, 46(3), 379–401.
Dill, E., & Boykin, A. (2000). The comparative influence of individual, peer tutoring, and communal learning contexts on the text recall of African American children. Journal of Black Psychology, 26(1), 65–78.
Howard, T. (2001). Telling their side of the story: African American students’ perceptions of culturally relevant teaching. The Urban Review, 33(2), 131–149.
Howard, T. & Terry, C. (2011). Culturally responsive pedagogy for African American students. Teaching Education, 22(4), 345–364.
Ladson-Billings, G. (1992). Reading between the lines and beyond the pages: A culturally relevant approach to literacy teaching. Theory into Practice, 31(4), 312–320.
Ladson-Billings, G. (1995). Toward a theory of culturally relevant pedagogy. American Educational Research Journal, 32(3), 465–491.
Ladson-Billings, G. (2014). Culturally relevant pedagogy 2.0: a.k.a. the remix. Harvard Educational Review, 84, 74–84.
Renninger, K., Ewen, L., & Lasher, A. (2002). Individual interest as context in expository text and mathematical word problems. Learning and Instruction, 12, 467–491.
Tenenbaum, H., & Ruck, M. (2007). Are teachers’ expectations different for racial minority than for European American students? A meta-analysis. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99(2), 253–273.
Tucker, C., Dixon, A., & Griddine, K. (2010). Academically successful African American male urban high school students’ experiences of mattering to others at School. Professional School Counseling, 14(2), 135-145.
Weigl, R. (2009). Intercultural competence through cultural self-study: A strategy for adult learners. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 33, 346–360.
Whiting, G. (2009). Gifted Black males: Understanding and decreasing barriers to achievement and identity. Roeper Review, 31(4), 224–233.

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Renaissance Named Best Global Edtech Company for Second Year in a Row https://www.renaissance.com/2021/09/03/news-renaissance-named-best-global-edtech-company-for-second-year-in-a-row/ Fri, 03 Sep 2021 13:17:14 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=52928 Renaissance products also receive recognition for excellence by The Edvocate and Tech & Learning Bloomington, Minn. (Sept 3, 2021) – Renaissance, a global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, has received multiple awards from The Edvocate and Tech & Learning, two […]

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Renaissance products also receive recognition for excellence by The Edvocate and Tech & Learning

Bloomington, Minn. (Sept 3, 2021)Renaissance, a global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, has received multiple awards from The Edvocate and Tech & Learning, two of the leading publications in the field of education technology.

In the 2021 Tech Edvocate Awards, Renaissance was named Best Global Edtech Company for the second year in a row. In addition, Star Assessments were named Best Assessment App or Tool, Accelerated Reader was named Best Literacy App or Tool, and Schoolzilla was named Best Learning Analytics/Data Mining App or Tool.

The Tech Edvocate Awards were established in 2017 to recognize “the year’s top edtech companies, products, people, and more.” This is the third year in a row that Accelerated Reader has been named Best Literacy App or Tool, and the second time that Star Assessments have been named Best Assessment App or Tool.

“We’re honored to receive this recognition, as we continue our commitment to provide ongoing value for our customers and to accelerate learning for all students,” said Todd Brekhus, Chief Product Officer at Renaissance. “In 2021, we’re also celebrating 35 years of Accelerated Reader, and this makes AR’s third consecutive win for Best Literacy App especially gratifying.”

Separately, Accelerated Reader, Freckle, Star Assessments, Nearpod, and Flocabulary were all named 2021 Best Tools for Back to School by Tech & Learning. The Best Tools listing, which is part of the publication’s Awards of Excellence program, recognizes products that “offer schools versatility, value, and solutions to specific problems to support innovative, effective teaching and learning” in any environment.

Accelerated Reader was recognized in the Primary (K–6) category, while Freckle, Star Assessments, Nearpod, and Flocabulary were recognized in both the Primary and Secondary (6–12) categories.

“As we head into another uncertain year in education, technology will continue to be one of the key drivers for innovation,” said Tech & Learning Group Publisher Christine Weiser. “Our judges chose the winning products for their versatility, compatibility, value, and ability to help schools solve challenges and support continuous instruction. Congratulations to all of our winners.”

Educators can learn more about Renaissance products by visiting www.renaissance.com.


About Renaissance

As a global leader in assessment, reading, and math solutions for pre-K–12 schools and districts, Renaissance is committed to providing educators with insights and resources to accelerate growth and help all students build a strong foundation for success. Renaissance solutions reach more than 40 percent of US schools and more than half a million students in other regions across the world.

The Renaissance portfolio includes Star Assessments, for reliable, accurate insights into K–12 student learning; myIGDIs, for accurate assessment of early learning; myON, to increase students’ access to high-quality reading materials; Accelerated Reader, to support independent reading practice; Freckle, for teacher-led differentiated instruction; Schoolzilla, to give educators actionable insights into trends in student attendance and achievement; Lalilo, to develop critical foundational skills; and Nearpod, for teacher-facilitated instructional delivery.

Press contact:
Tracy Stewart
Director, Marketing Development
Renaissance
(832) 651-1189
pr@renaissance.com

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Star CBM Reading Approved in Oregon as a Universal Screener for Risk Factors of Dyslexia https://www.renaissance.com/2021/08/27/news-star-cbm-reading-approved-in-oregon-as-a-universal-screener-for-risk-factors-of-dyslexia/ Fri, 27 Aug 2021 13:21:05 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=52881 Bloomington, Minn. (August 27, 2021) – Renaissance, a global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, recently announced that the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) has approved Star CBM Reading as a universal screening tool for risk factors of dyslexia in grades […]

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Bloomington, Minn. (August 27, 2021)Renaissance, a global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, recently announced that the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) has approved Star CBM Reading as a universal screening tool for risk factors of dyslexia in grades K–1 for the 2021–2022 school year.

Star CBM Reading fully meets the ODE’s stringent requirements for a universal screener, including strong predictive validity and classification accuracy, norm-referenced scoring, and providing multiple equivalent forms. The ODE also confirmed that Star CBM Reading accurately assesses discrete skills related to phonological awareness, letter-sound correspondence, rapid naming, and oral reading fluency.

Star CBM Reading measures are brief, easy to administer and score, and suitable for both screening and progress monitoring—additional key factors in the ODE’s decision.

“Universal screening in kindergarten and first grade is critical for ensuring that students are on the pathway to reading proficiently,” said Dr. Luann Bowen, Vice President of Government Affairs at Renaissance. “We’re proud to support Oregon educators in the important work of developing students’ foundational literacy skills and identifying students who need additional support and intervention.”  

Oregon districts are required to universally screen students for risk factors of dyslexia in kindergarten, using an assessment approved by the ODE. If a student first enrolls in public school in grade 1, districts must screen the student in grade 1 using an ODE-approved assessment.

Oregon educators can learn more about using Star CBM Reading to screen for risk factors of dyslexia by watching our new on-demand webinar.

Educators can also learn more about Star CBM Reading by visiting www.renaissance.com.


About Renaissance

As a global leader in assessment, reading, and math solutions for pre-K–12 schools and districts, Renaissance is committed to providing educators with insights and resources to accelerate growth and help all students build a strong foundation for success. Renaissance solutions reach more than 40 percent of US schools and more than half a million students in other regions across the world.

The Renaissance portfolio includes Star Assessments, for reliable, accurate insights into K–12 student learning; myIGDIs, for accurate assessment of early learning; myON, to increase students’ access to high-quality reading materials; Accelerated Reader, to support independent reading practice; Freckle, for teacher-led differentiated instruction; Schoolzilla, to give educators actionable insights into trends in student attendance and achievement; Lalilo, to develop critical foundational skills; and Nearpod, for teacher-facilitated instructional delivery.

Press contact:

Tracy Stewart
Director, Marketing Development
Renaissance
(832) 651-1189
pr@renaissance.com  

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5 observations on the new school year from a researcher and parent https://www.renaissance.com/2021/08/27/blog-5-observations-on-the-new-school-year-from-a-researcher-and-parent/ Fri, 27 Aug 2021 13:19:29 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=52885 By Dr. Katie McClarty, Vice President of Research and Design As I sent my kids back to school last week, I felt a mix of emotions. I was excited that they were going back to in-person learning, with new teachers […]

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By Dr. Katie McClarty, Vice President of Research and Design

As I sent my kids back to school last week, I felt a mix of emotions. I was excited that they were going back to in-person learning, with new teachers and new courses. I was nervous about the impact of the Delta variant, given that COVID-19 vaccines are not widely available for young children. However, I was hopeful that the new school year would be far more “normal” than the previous one.

As a mom and a researcher, I realize how difficult the 2020–2021 school year was for students, parents, and educators. As Renaissance’s new, full-year edition of the How Kids Are Performing report shows, fifth graders like my daughter ended the year 4–7 weeks behind where we would have expected in reading, and more than 12 weeks behind where we would have expected in math. On top of that, state summative assessment results from our home state of Texas showed that only 3 in 10 students met expectations in fifth grade science.

Moving forward and starting middle school is already a challenging endeavor, even without the cumulative impact of the pandemic. So, what can we learn from this past year, and what things should we keep in mind as the 2021–2022 school year gets underway? I’d like to share five key observations from both research and my own experience.

1. This is not just a physical health crisis

Yes, COVID-19 has taken more American lives than the Civil War (which has the highest American death toll of any war in history). But the impacts are not limited to physical illness—the pandemic has also affected students’ mental health. A recent review of research found that quarantining for children and adolescents was associated with a higher likelihood of developing acute stress disorder, adjustment disorder, symptoms of grief, and even PTSD. Nearly 40 percent of students were estimated to have symptoms of psychological distress, with 35–44 percent experiencing depression and 19–37 percent experiencing anxiety. The pandemic has also worsened symptoms for students with ADHD.

The research suggests that media entertainment, reading, and physical activity—along with a better understanding of COVID-19—may protect children from negative mental health impacts.

2. We can do a lot—but we can’t do everything

I’m a working mom, so this idea isn’t new to me. I’ve passed up chaperoning field trips, dropped off store-bought cookies for school bake sales, and driven my kids to sports practice while taking conference calls. But I have also left a conference early to be home for the first day of school, and I led a weekly elementary-school book club so my daughter could spend more time with her classmates after we moved to a new school. The question is often one of prioritization. The same was true during the pandemic.

With the introduction of virtual learning for many students, parents acquired additional roles as teachers, instrument and vocal coaches, mid-day chefs, and even tech support. While hopefully we are able to turn many of these roles back to the professionals this school year, students are still starting the year several months behind where they typically would, and we must again acknowledge that we can’t do everything. We need to prioritize learning objectives for students in the same ways that we have prioritized other aspects of our lives.

Clearly, some things are essential (e.g., food to eat), while others are nice to have (e.g., brand new clothes in the latest style). Renaissance has identified the essential reading and math skills for every state, which we call Focus Skills and which are freely available on our website. I see that for Texas sixth graders in English Language Arts, my daughter should focus on citing details from text to support and understand how text structure is linked to author’s purpose and is used to develop ideas.

Also in the Texas grade 6 ELA standards is for students to infer themes within and across texts. However, this is not identified as a Focus Skill, and I would expect it to be deprioritized given other needs this school year. Not every skill or standard can receive the same level of emphasis as we work to catch students up, and I hope that educators will have the flexibility to prioritize those standards that are most critical to students’ success at the current grade level and in preparation for the next one.

3. A year’s growth may not be the right expectation

We frequently like to see that a student makes a year’s worth of growth in a year of time. However, during the pandemic, students did not grow at typical rates. In fact, compared to a typical year where students generally attain a Student Growth Percentile (SGP) of 50, students only achieved an SGP of 45 in both reading and math during the 2020–2021 school year.

With all of the disruptions and changes in learning environments, it’s not surprising that, on average, students grew more slowly than in typical years. Now that a new year has started, there are a few different types of expectations that could be set. First, given that we are still experiencing the pandemic, and students may be in changing learning environments once again, it might be reasonable to expect growth rates this year to be somewhat similar to last year—around the 45th percentile. Compound seasons of lower- than-average growth will result in students falling further behind pre-pandemic expectations, but the pandemic has clearly created extraordinary circumstances. As long as we are battling threats to both physical and mental health, perhaps having students achieve 45th percentile growth is something to applaud.

A second option might suggest that because we are now into our second full year of schooling during the pandemic, we may have implemented better strategies. More schools are opening for in-person learning, and we might be able to resume something like a typical school year, where 50th percentile growth could be expected. However, even in this scenario, students would not have caught up to pre-pandemic expectations. In fact, if students are to complete their unfinished learning from last school year in addition to the new learning expectations of this year, growth rates will need to be well above the 50th percentile. Could we reasonably expect 55th percentile growth this year, due to the influx of additional education funding and potential strategies such as increased instructional time and tutoring?

These are challenging questions, and parents and guardians should speak with their children’s teachers about determining the most appropriate goals for their children this school year.

4. Access to educational materials is critical

When school buildings and public libraries closed in March 2020 due to COVID-19, we had to get creative about how to get books for our children to read. Online library collections through applications such as Cloud Library and Renaissance’s myON platform were crucial for my children. Even though my youngest prefers hard copy books, she was able to adjust to online reading fairly quickly. (Incidentally, our data show that the more time students spent reading on myON last year, the greater their reading growth—a finding that holds across all racial and ethnic groups.)

We also investigated several online math applications—including Renaissance’s Freckle program—where my kids could practice their math skills at an adaptive pace that was appropriate for each of them. It may not be realistic to think that the school will make up for the approximately 20 weeks of additional learning that incoming sixth grade students will need across both reading and math. Having my children read books and practice skills outside the classroom while we’re driving to activities or taking a road trip to see their grandparents can provide additional learning opportunities without requiring direct instructional time from their teacher (or me).

5. Everyone’s situation is unique

It’s clear that the pandemic has not impacted everyone in the same way. Some of us were fortunate enough to have jobs where we could work remotely and choose a remote learning option for our children. Others spent little time with their children because they were working in hospitals treating the sick, while still trying to keep their families safe. We’ve seen higher COVID-19 fatality rates among Indigenous, Black, Pacific Islander, and Latino Americans—a rate almost twice as high as for whites or Asian Americans. Increased mental health risk has been associated with parental distress, financial strain, living in a high-risk COVID-19 area, and living in a rural area.

Our How Kids Are Performing report shows that the academic impacts of COVID are most significant for Black, Hispanic, American Indian, and Alaska Native students, English learners, students with disabilities, and students attending urban and Title I schools. There have been disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 in a variety of spheres, and we must have an equally disproportionate response. As students come back to school this fall—whether in-person or in remote or hybrid learning environments—administrators and teachers need to review their data and determine which schools, which content areas, and which students are most in need, and then develop plans accordingly.

Supporting teaching and learning this year

Just as I know that my daughters are unique—with different strengths and weaknesses, and in need of different supports to be successful both in school and out—our classrooms and schools are full of unique students with unique circumstances. It is our job as a community to come together around these students and schools and help support them in ways that are most conducive to students’ success— whether that be academic achievement or physical and mental health. I was really excited to be able to send my girls into a school building this year to make new friends, engage with a variety of caring teachers, and have the opportunity to participate in activities such as arts, sports, and music. However, I know this is going to be a challenging school year, and students and schools will continue to need our help and encouragement as they navigate both new and lingering COVID-19 impacts.

Download the full-year edition of How Kids Are Performing for more insights on the most urgent needs this school year. Also, watch Dr. McClarty’s recent webinar for 3 helpful tips for accelerating learning this fall.

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4 steps for accelerating learning this school year https://www.renaissance.com/2021/08/13/blog-4-steps-for-accelerating-learning-this-school-year/ Fri, 13 Aug 2021 13:30:25 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=52654 By Dr. Gene Kerns, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer Albert Einstein famously remarked that “compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world.” What does this mean? An investment is made, time passes, and interest is earned, which increases […]

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By Dr. Gene Kerns, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer

Albert Einstein famously remarked that “compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world.” What does this mean? An investment is made, time passes, and interest is earned, which increases the principal amount each year. This results in even more interest generated, because of the ever-increasing principal. Over time, this sustained cycle drives ever-greater wealth.

Financial advisors have not, however, named an opposite to compound interest. What happens when, over periods of time, yields are in a negative range and the principal actually decreases? And what does this have to do with K–12 education? Well, the new, full-year edition of Renaissance’s How Kids Are Performing report is now available, and the findings reveal how consecutive seasons of below-typical growth have impacted students’ reading and math performance.

Before reviewing the new report’s findings, I want to acknowledge that we all may be suffering from a bit of pandemic fatigue. We may have even grown numb to news of the pandemic’s impact on education. Our initial How Kids Are Performing report, released last fall, received wide media coverage. The winter edition of the report received somewhat less coverage. The new, full-year edition—much like recent reports from other assessment providers—has received hardly any.

In allowing ourselves to become numb to the ongoing academic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are running a tremendous risk. We risk losing our sense of urgency—a driving need to take immediate action. In his book Leading Change, leadership expert John Kotter notes how difficult “it is to drive people out of their comfort zones,” and that “without a sense of urgency, people won’t give that extra effort which is often essential” for substantive change to occur. And in the How Kids Are Performing report, there are several findings that point to necessary challenges and changes as we begin the new school year.

Multiple seasons of below-typical growth

The new report examines Star Assessments data from 3.3 million students nationwide—the largest longitudinal data set among the recent reports. At the highest level, our analysis found one more “season” of slightly below-typical growth. Our key metric related to growth is Student Growth Percentile (SGP), which depicts growth on a scale from 1–99, where 50 reflects an average rate of growth. Scores above 50 represent above-typical growth and scores below 50 represent below-typical growth.

In a typical year, mean SGPs for large groups of students hover right around 50. In Fall 2019, for example, the mean SGP for mathematics for the 3.3 million students included in the How Kids Are Performing analysis was 50. When we disaggregated the data by grade level, we found slight variances. Some grades had an SGP of 51 or 52, while others had an SGP of 49 or 48—some slightly above and others slightly below the mean.

In contrast, the mean SGP for mathematics across grades 2–8 in Spring 2021 was 45. Every grade had an SGP below 50, with some as low as 41. For reading, the mean SGP was also 45 across grades 1–8, with most grades ranging from 44–46. It’s important to note that an SGP of 45—during a year when schools faced so many disruptions and challenges—is understandable, and even commendable. However, consecutive seasons of below-typical growth have caused reading and math performance to fall progressively further behind pre-pandemic expectations.

How far behind? As students began the 2020–2021 school year, we estimated they were about 1 percentile rank (PR) point behind where they typically performed in reading. By winter, they had fallen to 2 points behind and now, with the school year complete, we estimate them to be 4 points behind. In mathematics, things are more dire. Students began the 2020–2021 school year about 7 percentile rank points behind. By the winter, they had advanced slightly to 6 points behind but, as the year wrapped up, they finished, on average, 11 points behind.

We then converted the Spring 2021 numbers to an estimate of how many weeks of instruction (meaning, a daily class in math or reading for 5 days) would be needed to catch students up to pre-pandemic levels of performance. We found that, in the most impacted grades (grades 4, 6, 7, and 8), as many as 12 or more weeks might be necessary in each subject area, creating the need for a total of 20–24 additional weeks of instruction to catch up in both reading and math.

Different realities for different student groups

The new report’s starkest findings were revealed when the overall changes in performance were disaggregated for different student groups, as shown in the two graphs below (which show impacts in terms of percentile rank points). When we analyzed the growth data by racial/ethnic group we found that—while all groups demonstrated rates of growth that were below pre-pandemic baselines—growth among Black, Hispanic, and American Indian or Alaska Native students was further below the overall median than all other racial/ethnic groups in both reading and math. In reading, growth was 6–8 points below pre-pandemic baselines for Black, Hispanic, and American Indian or Alaska Native students. In math, growth was 11–14 points below pre-pandemic baselines for these students.

Similarly, growth for students with disabilities and English Language Learners was below the overall median, as was growth for schools categorized as Title I Schoolwide, and for students testing outside of school. When the data are considered by school locale, urban schools exhibited the lowest growth rate, while rural schools exhibited the highest.

Identifying instructional implications and next steps

While we could drill into additional analyses from the report, the danger is that we’d spend so much time framing the problem that we wouldn’t leave enough to address students’ needs. For this reason, I’ll spend the remainder of this blog considering how we might best address the harsh realities of decreased levels of performance and disproportionate impact on some student groups. In terms of next steps and instructional implications, I’ll suggest the following:

  1. Disaggregate your data. If you can’t see equity gaps, you can’t address them.
  2. Implement strategies for “accelerated learning,” rather than taking a remediation approach.
  3. When addressing drops in mathematics performance, be sure to consider the Trip Steps—those skills that are unusually difficult for students to learn.
  4. Implement strategies and practices shown to be effective for marginalized students.

1. Disaggregate your data by student group

The disparity in performance among demographic groups is a vivid illustration of how disaggregation by multiple metrics is critical for revealing equity issues. Having assessment data is one thing, but finding equity issues requires the ability to associate this data with other critical information and student demographics in order to get a more complete picture.

Working on the How Kids Are Performing series has revealed that some schools face obstacles in bringing together information from a variety of sources (e.g., interim assessment tools, student information system [SIS], etc.) Within our data sample, only about half of the schools have demographic data fields populated in Star Assessments. Said another way, only one-half of the schools we work with could break their interim assessment data down in any significant way.

Too often, interim assessment systems like Star operate separately from instructional and practice programs, and they are rarely connected with the school’s SIS, which houses essential demographic details. Data warehousing and visualization platforms—including Schoolzilla by Renaissance—can be particularly useful in helping you to more fully explore all available metrics.

2. Implement “accelerated learning” strategies

Once equity issues and areas in need of attention are identified, the focus can turn to planning instruction. A significant shift is occurring around approaches to take when students are performing below grade-level expectations. Historically, our approach has often been remediation, but many experts and groups are now advocating for a collection of approaches referred to as “accelerated learning.” This umbrella term, with several specific approaches related to it, is included in back-to-school guidance from the US Department of Education and appears in many states’ guidance documents as well.

A primary emphasis of accelerated learning is maximizing the time students spend with grade-level content through a purposeful consideration of essential prerequisite skills and targeted “just-in-time” instruction and support. Within this approach, knowledge of essential grade-level skills and necessary prerequisite skills is crucial. Renaissance’s free Focus Skills Resource Center provides detailed information on both essential grade-level skills and the necessary prerequisites, and these resources have recently been expanded to include Focus Skills for Spanish reading as well.

3. Understand Trip Steps in Mathematics

The content area where performance has been most impacted by COVID-related disruptions is math. While working to accelerate learning in this area, knowledge of the most difficult skills for students to master at each grade level is especially helpful. Through the empirical validation process that we use to craft our learning progressions, we identified a subset of particularly difficult math skills from pre-K through Algebra 1. We refer to these skills as Trip Steps, which you can see by clicking here.

Why did we choose this name? If learning is a staircase, then all steps are not created equal. In mathematics particularly, some skills are extraordinarily difficult to master. We call these Trip Steps because they can cause a stumble in learning, just as an extraordinarily tall step in a staircase can cause an awkward or strained bit of climbing.

Educators who better understand the challenge reflected by Trip Steps—which are generally not visible in standards documents or curricula—can be better prepared to ready learners for meaningful engagement with and smoother ascent toward mastery of these difficult skills.

4. Use effective practices to support marginalized students

As mentioned earlier, our results show that the pandemic has disproportionately impacted educational outcomes for certain student groups, with the largest impacts for Black or African American students, and for American Indian or Alaska Native students. For this reason, our instructional interventions should be disproportionately targeted to those in greatest need. We strongly encourage schools to explore instructional and pedagogical approaches that are research-based as effective practices for marginalized groups.

Two helpful resources for getting started are The New Teacher Project’s COVID-19 School Response Toolkit and the work of educator and author Horacio Sanchez. You’ll also find information and resources online about culturally responsive teaching (CRT) practices, which reflect and build upon the work of Gloria Ladson-Billings and others. A recent report from New America Foundation describes the 8 competencies of culturally responsive educators

Understanding important lessons from history

While it’s been more than a century since we dealt with the last global pandemic, the period we’re in now is not the first with major disruptions to schooling. During World War II, fully one-third of the educators in US schools left to enter military service or perform other war-related work. Across Europe, as many as 75 percent of school buildings were damaged, destroyed, or put to some other use. And during polio outbreaks in the 1940s and 1950s, radio-based instruction was the only “remote learning” option available.

When we take this historical perspective, we find that, though we’ve faced many challenges over the past 18 months, we’ve had it better than some of our predecessors. Our school buildings are intact. When we’ve been able to be in them, we weren’t taking shelter in the basement. And though we may have struggled with Zoom or other remote teaching tools, they’re far more interactive and dynamic than the one-way, audio-only communication provided by radio.

Things have not been easy for us, but neither were they easy for our parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents. Educators of earlier generations were asked to shepherd children through other major disruptions, and the current challenges are simply the ones that befall us. It’s noble work that we do in striving to best address these challenges. Our predecessors in the 1940s earned the mantle of “The Greatest Generation.” I pray that history will judge us at least half as favorably.

Download the full-year edition of How Kids Are Performing for additional insights on the most urgent instructional needs this year. Also, watch Dr. Kerns’ new webinar for more in-depth discussion of proven strategies to accelerate student learning.

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Tennessee State Board of Education Approves Renaissance Assessments as K–3 Universal Reading Screeners https://www.renaissance.com/2021/08/13/news-tennessee-state-board-of-education-approves-renaissance-assessments-as-k-3-universal-reading-screeners/ Fri, 13 Aug 2021 13:30:02 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=52675 Bloomington, Minn. (August 13, 2021) – Renaissance, a global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, recently announced that the Tennessee State Board of Education has approved Renaissance assessments as K–3 universal reading screeners for implementing the Tennessee Literacy Success Act. The state’s […]

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Bloomington, Minn. (August 13, 2021)Renaissance, a global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, recently announced that the Tennessee State Board of Education has approved Renaissance assessments as K–3 universal reading screeners for implementing the Tennessee Literacy Success Act.

The state’s LEAs and public charter schools can now utilize Star Early Literacy, Star CBM, and Star Reading to screen K–3 students during the three annual administration windows. Additionally, the results of the universal reading screener may be used to identify at-risk students for implementation of the Tennessee Learning Loss Remediation and Student Acceleration Act.

“We’re pleased to offer LEAs and public charter schools valid and reliable assessments for measuring and monitoring literacy skills proficiency,” said Alysse Daniels, Regional Vice President at Renaissance. “Many Tennessee schools are already using Renaissance assessment and practice solutions to support student learning. Star Assessments will provide further insights into K–3 readers’ grade-level proficiency and identify students in need of intervention.”

Star Assessments are quick and easy for teachers to administer, and they provide actionable information to support strong foundational literacy development:

  • Star Early Literacy is an online assessment of phonological awareness, phonics, print concepts, fluency, and comprehension for beginning and emergent readers.
  • Star CBM provides curriculum-based measures to assess students’ understanding of letters and their sounds, phonological awareness, decoding, and oral passage reading. Teachers administer the measures 1:1, either online or on paper.
  • Star Reading is an online assessment for independent readers in the key domains of vocabulary and comprehension.

About Renaissance

As a global leader in assessment, reading, and math solutions for pre-K–12 schools and districts, Renaissance is committed to providing educators with insights and resources to accelerate growth and help all students build a strong foundation for success. Renaissance solutions reach more than 40 percent of US schools and more than half a million students in other regions across the world.

The Renaissance portfolio includes Star Assessments, for reliable, accurate insights into K–12 student learning; myIGDIs, for accurate assessment of early learning; myON, to increase students’ access to high-quality reading materials; Accelerated Reader, to support independent reading practice; Freckle, for teacher-led differentiated instruction; Schoolzilla, to give educators actionable insights into trends in student attendance and achievement; Lalilo, to develop critical foundational skills; and Nearpod, for teacher-facilitated instructional delivery.

Press contact:
Tracy Stewart
Director, Marketing Development
Renaissance
(832) 651-1189
pr@renaissance.com

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Louisiana State Department of Education Approves Renaissance Solutions to Support Family Literacy Engagement https://www.renaissance.com/2021/08/06/news-louisiana-state-department-of-education-approves-renaissance-solutions-to-support-family-literacy-engagement/ Fri, 06 Aug 2021 13:21:23 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=52601 Bloomington, Minn. (August 6, 2021) – Renaissance, a global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, recently announced that the Louisiana State Department of Education (LDOE) has approved Renaissance literacy solutions to support the Family Literacy Engagement Strategic Plan. Schools and school […]

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Bloomington, Minn. (August 6, 2021)Renaissance, a global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, recently announced that the Louisiana State Department of Education (LDOE) has approved Renaissance literacy solutions to support the Family Literacy Engagement Strategic Plan. Schools and school systems can now utilize myON, Accelerated Reader, Freckle ELA, and Lalilo from Renaissance to support family engagement with a focus on literacy and reading instruction, based on the Science of Reading.

The LDOE believes that families play an essential role in the literacy development of children at all ages and stages. This new initiative supports the department’s vision of providing accessible opportunities to support families in engaging with their children’s literacy education.

“We’re pleased to offer Louisiana schools and school systems literacy solutions that guide student growth while also supporting year-round opportunities for families to be engaged in children’s literacy development,” said Jonathan Pounds, Regional Vice President at Renaissance. “Many schools are already using Renaissance assessment and practice solutions to support student learning. The state-approved Renaissance literacy solutions will provide further opportunities for students to access engaging reading resources and skills practice that also enable families to actively participate in literacy development.”   

myON is a digital reading platform that provides anytime, anywhere access to engaging digital books and news articles. Students can read with myON both in school and at home, making it easy to read, share, and discuss books with family members. myON’s offline and low-bandwidth reading options promote accessibility, while natural-voice audio narration encourages family read-alouds and read-alongs.

Accelerated Reader is a practice program that helps students track their progress toward personalized reading goals—and share their accomplishments with their families. Accelerated Reader supports a wide range of fiction and nonfiction titles, encouraging students to discover new interests and read across the curriculum. Students and families can explore all of the supported titles by visiting the free Accelerated Reader Bookfinder website.

Freckle is a digital practice platform that adapts to meet each student at the just-right level. In English Language Arts (ELA), Freckle provides reading and literacy skills practice for both fiction and nonfiction, which students can access in school or at home. Freckle helps early learners build phonics and sight-word fluency, while activities for older students develop comprehension, grammar, and writing skills—and promote discussion and collaboration.

Lalilo is a foundational literacy program that students can use in school and at home. Lalilo supports learning and instruction across all components of literacy, including phonological and phonemic awareness, letter and word recognition, comprehension, fluency, vocabulary, and grammar. Lalilo provides students with a fun and engaging environment for anytime, anywhere learning—along with the opportunity to practice sight words and to discuss interactive stories with their families.

To learn more, visit: https://www.renaissance.com


About Renaissance

As a global leader in assessment, reading, and math solutions for pre-K–12 schools and districts, Renaissance is committed to providing educators with insights and resources to accelerate growth and help all students build a strong foundation for success. Renaissance solutions reach more than 40 percent of US schools and more than half a million students in other regions across the world.

The Renaissance portfolio includes Star Assessments, for reliable, accurate insights into K–12 student learning; myIGDIs, for accurate assessment of early learning; myON, to increase students’ access to high-quality reading materials; Accelerated Reader, to support independent reading practice; Freckle, for teacher-led differentiated instruction; Schoolzilla, to give educators actionable insights into trends in student attendance and achievement; Lalilo, to develop critical foundational skills; and Nearpod, for teacher-facilitated instructional delivery.

Press contact:
Tracy Stewart
Director, Marketing Development
Renaissance
(832) 651-1189
pr@renaissance.com

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Foundational literacy and the Science of Reading in 2021 https://www.renaissance.com/2021/08/06/blog-foundational-literacy-and-the-science-of-reading-in-2021/ Fri, 06 Aug 2021 13:21:09 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=52589 By Dr. Scott McConnell, Director of Assessment Innovation This year, Renaissance has added an important resource for teachers’ instructional toolkits. Lalilo, a free, online foundational literacy program designed to help K–2 students master phonics skills, will help teachers to expand […]

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By Dr. Scott McConnell, Director of Assessment Innovation

This year, Renaissance has added an important resource for teachers’ instructional toolkits. Lalilo, a free, online foundational literacy program designed to help K–2 students master phonics skills, will help teachers to expand their reach to individual students, deepen their instruction where those students need it most, and accomplish more instructionally than might otherwise be possible.

Lalilo’s arrival in US schools is particularly timely, given two recent events that impact how we think about early-grades students returning to the classroom this fall.

First, schools have been intensifying their focus on learning to read—and on systematic and explicit phonics instruction and a “foundational literacy” approach that prepares all students to become independent scholars so they can read to learn as they reach the upper elementary grades and beyond. Foundational literacy represents the bedrock skills, experiences, and instructional practices that prepare students for reading proficiency and—as a result—for later academic and life success.

Second, we know we’ll face deep and varied instructional needs this fall, and likely for some time thereafter. Evidence suggests that the COVID-19 disruptions affected learning trajectories for all students, but particularly for those who were already struggling or had other risk factors when the building closures began. Further, we know that the idea no longer holds that all 5-year-olds will be enrolled in kindergarten, all 6-year-olds will be enrolled in first grade, and so on. Especially in the early grades, there are some children whose parents delayed their school start and other children who were nominally enrolled but barely engaged, perhaps doubly challenging these children’s preparation for the typical content of their assigned grade this year.

When we put these two factors together, we realize that now is the time for vigorous, creative, and differentiated instruction that meets the needs of each student we serve. We want to face these challenges and plan for success. In this blog, I’ll dig a bit deeper to define foundational literacy, introduce you to Lalilo and its important role at Renaissance, and outline some practical approaches that you can use right away to provide great instruction to all students.

Foundational literacy: Making the Science of Reading practical

For years, educators have known the importance of strong reading and literacy skills for lifelong learning, but they have sometimes differed on the best ways to help students acquire these skills. This is, however, increasingly a settled discussion. We now understand the critical importance of helping students to “learn the code” for reading the English language, and we often hear that systematic and explicit phonics instruction in the primary grades is the best way to assure this outcome. The Science of Reading has settled this argument, with a large and continuously growing body of empirical studies and some elegant summaries of this research. Let’s consider three of these summaries that have had a major impact on reading instruction:

The Simple View of Reading. In the 1980s, Phillip Gough and his colleagues demonstrated that reading can be described conceptually as a “mathematical” equation:

Reading = Decoding x Linguistic Comprehension

Here, two separate factors contribute to anyone’s reading skill. First, skillful reading requires linguistic comprehension, or students’ ability to understand the content they encounter. This includes the vocabulary, background knowledge, and logical inferences that are required to understand the information being presented and act on that information in ways that are meaningful to them and others.

While linguistic comprehension is necessary, it does not occur without first accessing the “raw text,” or decoding—that is, matching letters and letter combinations to specific sounds and then telescoping those sounds into understandable units (Gough & Tunmer, 1986; Hoover & Gough, 1990). It is this second factor, decoding, that is the primary focus of foundational literacy. Of course, we must continue to provide ongoing support to improve students’ linguistic comprehension while teaching phonics, but, during the early elementary grades, a greater degree of emphasis is often given to decoding.

Scarborough’s Rope. Hollis Scarborough (2001) proposed a complementary and somewhat more detailed analysis. Her “reading rope,” shown below, parallels and adds detail to the two major components of the Simple View. In her model, language comprehension (like “linguistic comprehension” in the Simple View) can be further defined as the student’s accumulated background knowledge, vocabulary, knowledge of language structures, verbal reasoning skills, and more general literacy knowledge. Similarly, word recognition (like “decoding”) includes a student’s phonological awareness skills (hearing and manipulating the sounds of language), basic decoding skills (from simple letter-sound correspondence to more complex phonics rules like “silent e”), and more fluent sight recognition of both frequently encountered and phonetically irregular words.

Like the Simple View, Scarborough’s analysis makes clear that skillful reading requires competence in both of these strands of development. One strand—decoding or word recognition—is an excellent candidate for direct and systematic instruction that efficiently equips the child with perhaps the more difficult skill set for success.

The Science of Reading. In recent years, much of the content above has been captured by a new summary term: the Science of Reading. The Science of Reading draws on both basic cognitive science (e.g., Seidenberg, 2017) and applications in educational practice (e.g., Shanahan, 2020) and has been broadly discussed in the popular press (Glatter, 2016; Hanford, 2018, 2019, 2020).

Mark Seidenberg (2017) has offered a comprehensive and well-regarded survey of this science. Most relevant here, Seidenberg describes reading as a “phonological process”—that is, a pathway where readers convert the shapes that we call letters into the sounds they represent and, in turn, into the words they produce. This allows them to “understand” these words and the passages that contain them. As he says, “The phonological pathway requires knowing how print relates to sound, the focus of ‘phonics’ instruction…. For reading scientists, the evidence that the phonological pathway is used in reading and especially important in beginning reading is about as close to conclusive as research on complex human behavior can get.”

Despite the differences in terminology, all three of these models reach a similar conclusion: Reading is a complex and demanding skill that rests necessarily on decoding—the task of turning letters on a page or a screen into words and language we can understand and act on. As a result, decoding is foundational, and we do best when we help our students to build this solid foundation.

The Science of Reading in the classroom

Parents, educators, and policymakers have heard the message: Both research findings and the evaluation of existing educational practices point to more closely and carefully focusing on foundational literacy instruction and early reading proficiency in the early grades. For this reason, educational standards explicitly mandate foundational literacy instruction. For example, the Common Core State Standards require “fostering students’ understanding and working knowledge of concepts of print, the alphabetic principle, and other basic conventions of the English writing system.”

At the same time, some commentators are concerned that educators have inadequate resources to ensure great foundational literacy instruction for all students (Hanford, 2018, 2019, 2020; Shanahan, 2020). This has led to a groundswell of efforts to provide teachers with both core foundational knowledge of the Science of Reading (Goldenberg et al., 2020; Moats, 2020) and access to core and supplemental instructional programs to directly support foundational literacy skill development.

Renaissance’s efforts to accelerate learning for all students have always held reading proficiency and opportunity at their core. These efforts also had at least an implicit emphasis on reading to learn—great resources and developmental experiences for emergent and proficient readers. In recent years, growing attention to the Science of Reading has led to fuller attention to younger learners, including those not yet skillful or independent readers. Our newest product, Lalilo, builds on this expanded focus, providing systematic and explicit phonics supplemental instruction that closely reflects what we know from the Science of Reading.

Introducing Lalilo for foundational literacy skills practice

So, what is Lalilo? In the simplest terms, Lalilo is a standards-aligned, developmental program that helps teachers to build essential foundational literacy skills for their students, especially in K–2. Lalilo accomplishes this by providing high quality, differentiated instruction. Lalilo covers eight important domains of learning:

  1. Phonemic awareness
  2. Letter recognition
  3. Letter-sound correspondence
  4. Blending
  5. Segmenting
  6. Decoding whole words
  7. Fluency in word recognition
  8. Comprehension

Lalilo provides students with engaging exercises, activities, and lessons and marks each student’s progress by providing access to both more challenging content and engaging, enjoyable stories and activities. It also provides tools for integrating with other instructional resources, giving teachers data they need to monitor students’ progress and develop plans for ongoing assessment and instruction. They can reassign Lalilo lessons, embed related content into large- and small-group teacher-directed lessons, and share information on individual students’ progress with other educators.

Lalilo uses the power of technology to support students’ foundational literacy development. The instructional sequence is adaptive, changing to repeat lessons and strengthen skills the child has not yet mastered. The program also employs the latest in speech recognition resources to provide speedy and precise feedback to students as they move through progressively more difficult activities.

Through its solid basis in sound pedagogical design and implementation for early reading, its engaging design, its individualized and adaptive activities, and its instructionally relevant reporting, Lalilo provides a supplemental foundational literacy instructional program that will fit any K–2 classroom and will help you to ensure that students gain the necessary skills to become independent, proficient readers.

Accelerating foundational literacy development this fall—and beyond

While it would be a welcome resource any year, Lalilo really shines given the demands teachers face right now: the need to provide high quality, intensive, and differentiated instruction to make up lost ground due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lalilo does this by providing each student with an easy-to-access, easy-to-use account that first asks them to complete a simple set of tasks to both introduce them to the Lalilo worlds, and to gather information that determines each student’s best starting place in the program’s scope and sequence.

Lalilo provides resources that can be used by all students in a classroom, or by those requiring supplemental intervention. Further, while we hope the 2021–2022 school year will be safe and stable, with teachers and students together in the classroom, Lalilo can be used in at-home or hybrid learning models to provide instruction for continuous learning and achievement.

Lalilo is also a perfect companion to our Star Assessments, helping teachers to answer “What’s next?” for students with lower seasonal screening scores. As a result, we have assessment and analysis resources that help us produce a promising and easy-to-implement three-step plan by pairing Lalilo with Star:

  1. Seasonal screening and benchmark evaluation. Star CBM Reading and Star Early Literacy provide efficient ways to assess reading skill for all students in a class, and to do so seasonally in fall, winter, and spring. These measures also provide scientifically based benchmarks of proficiency that allow teachers to quickly identify students who are struggling—so they can see where Lalilo is particularly needed.
  2. Resources to set individual goals. Teachers can use Star CBM Reading or Star Early Literacy to set goals for students scoring below established benchmarks, using their professional expertise to establish an ambitious yet reasonable goal for each student’s future achievement.
  3. Progress monitoring. Once students have started using Lalilo, teachers can monitor their learning progress with the program’s helpful reports and dashboards. Teachers can check whether students are using Lalilo as much as intended, and whether they are completing activities and lessons at a desired pace. Teachers can also get an external check on the impact of Lalilo’s instruction by completing additional Star CBM or Star Early Literacy assessments and comparing those results to grade-level norms and goals set for that student. This ongoing picture of growth in foundational literacy skills helps teachers to adjust and provide the “just right” instruction for each student.

It’s easy to imagine two scenarios in a classroom this year. First, a teacher uses Lalilo to supplement the core reading program, and then uses seasonal Star assessments to describe the growth that students are making. Alternately, a teacher completes an initial Star CBM or Star Early Literacy screening for all students soon after the school year begins, and then uses the results to help identify students who are particularly strong candidates to use Lalilo. The teacher completes Star progress monitoring every 2–4 weeks and tracks each student’s use of and performance in Lalilo, and then uses this information to keep instructional planning up to date. Dynamic, effective, rigorous, and fun—a great combination for kindergarten and early elementary students.

A strong start to the new year

This school year, like last year, will be unlike any we’ve seen before. We’ll be called to extend our reach and to accelerate learning for all students, regardless of where they’re at when they enter our classrooms. Students’ needs will vary greatly and, over time, we’ll work to help all of them achieve proficiency. How will we do it? With new tools that allow us to do more with the time and resources available to us, and to make the best instructional use of that time for each student. Resources like Lalilo will be essential to this effort.

Learn more about Lalilo—and create a free account—by clicking here. Building and district administrators can learn more about the premium version of Lalilo, which includes additional content and reporting, by clicking the button below.

References

Glatter, H. The ignored science that could help close the achievement gap. Retrieved from: https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/11/the-ignored-science-that-could-help-close-the-achievement-gap/506498/
Goldenberg, C., et al. (2020). The four pillars to reading success: An action guide for the states. Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/dmsView/the_four_pillars_to_reading_success
Gough, P., & Tunmer, W. (1986). Decoding, reading, and reading disability. Remedial and Special Education, 7(1), 6–10.
Hanford, E. (2018). Why aren’t kids being taught to read? Retrieved from: https://www.apmreports.org/story/2018/09/10/hard-words-why-american-kids-arent-being-taught-to-read
Hanford, E. (2019). At a loss for words: How a flawed idea is teaching millions of kids to be poor readers. Retrieved from: https://www.apmreports.org/episode/2019/08/22/whats-wrong-how-schools-teach-reading
Hanford, E. (2020). What words say: Many kids struggle with reading—and children of color are far less likely to get the help they need. Retrieved from: https://www.apmreports.org/episode/2020/08/06/what-the-words-say
Hoover, W., & Gough, P. (1990). The simple view of reading. Reading and Writing, 2(2), 127–160.
Moats, L. (2020). Teaching reading is rocket science: What expert teachers of reading should know and be able to do. Retrieved from: https://www.aft.org/ae/summer2020/moats
Scarborough, H. (2001). Connecting early language and literacy to later reading (dis)abilities: Evidence, theory, and practice. In S. B. Neuman & D. K. Dickinson (Eds.), Handbook of Early Literacy. New York: Guilford Press.
Seidenberg, M. (2017). Language at the Speed of Sight. New York: Basic Books.
Shanahan, T. (2020). What constitutes a Science of Reading instruction? Reading Research Quarterly, 55(S1), S235–S247.

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National Report Reveals Students Are Behind in Reading and Math https://www.renaissance.com/2021/08/02/news-national-report-reveals-students-are-behind-in-reading-and-math/ Mon, 02 Aug 2021 11:41:10 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=52515 How Kids Are Performing report shows that achievement gaps widened between fall and spring—and offers vital resources to help accelerate learning Bloomington, Minn. (August 2, 2021) – Renaissance, a global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, today released the full-year edition […]

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How Kids Are Performing report shows that achievement gaps widened between fall and spring—and offers vital resources to help accelerate learning

Bloomington, Minn. (August 2, 2021)Renaissance, a global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, today released the full-year edition of How Kids Are Performing, a new report detailing the academic impacts associated with COVID-19 school disruptions.

The new report summarizes performance and growth data across the entire 2020–2021 school year to document the extent to which the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have impacted students’ achievement in 1st- through 8th-grade reading and mathematics. The authors tracked the progress of more than 3.3 million US students who completed adaptive Star Assessments in the 2019–2020 school year (prior to school shutdowns) and throughout the 2020–2021 school year.

To estimate the effect of the pandemic on academic performance, Renaissance used historical data to establish reasonable estimates for how each student would have been expected to perform during the 2020–2021 school year had COVID-19 not disrupted teaching and learning.

A key finding of the report is that, over the course of the year, reading and math performance have fallen farther behind pre-pandemic expectations.

  • In reading, the report’s authors estimated that students ended the 2020–2021 school year, on average, 7 weeks behind expected progress.
  • These estimates vary by grade, ranging from 3 weeks behind in grades 1–3 to 14 weeks behind in grade 8.
  • In math, students ended the school year an average of about 11 weeks behind expected progress.
  • Estimates ranged from 5 weeks behind in grade 2 to 15 weeks behind in grade 6.

The report also found that the negative impacts of the pandemic have varied widely by student group, widening equity gaps.

  • On average, Black students finished the 2020–2021 school year 19 and 11 Percentile Rank points behind where they would have been in math and reading, respectively.
  • Students attending urban or Title I schools experienced more severe impacts than the overall averages, as did Latinx students, American Indian or Alaska Native students, students with disabilities, and English Language Learners.

“The pandemic had a disproportionate impact on students from different groups and communities,” said Dr. Katie McClarty, vice president of research and design at Renaissance, “and the results shown in How Kids Are Performing reflect that. As an education community, we need to have a disproportionate response and target students most in need. Our findings aim to give educators context at the national, state, and student group levels, and to offer them resources and support to interpret and act on their own data as we work toward accelerating learning.”

To help empower teachers this fall, Renaissance is providing the following resources:

  • Focus Skills in English and Spanish, so educators can target the most important learning at each grade level;
  • Trip Steps for Mathematics, showing the most difficult skills for students to master from grade 1 through Algebra 1;
  • A national webinar highlighting three key strategies for accelerating learning in the new school year; and
  • Helpful alignments between Renaissance products and ESSER funding under the CARES, CRRSA, and ARP Acts.

“Schools around the country will soon welcome students back this fall, and we should be prepared to accelerate learning with every tool at our disposal,” said Dr. Gene Kerns, vice president and chief academic officer at Renaissance. “How Kids Are Performing not only raises urgency for action by showing educators where their students are, but also provides guidance and tools that empower teachers to focus on where they’re going and how best to get there.”

The full How Kid Are Performing report is available at ​​Renaissance.com/How-Kids-Are-Performing.


About Renaissance

As a global leader in assessment, reading, and math solutions for pre-K–12 schools and districts, Renaissance is committed to providing educators with insights and resources to accelerate growth and help all students build a strong foundation for success. Renaissance solutions reach more than 40 percent of US schools and more than half a million students in other regions across the world. The Renaissance portfolio includes Star Assessments, for reliable, accurate insights into K–12 student learning; myIGDIs, for accurate assessment of early learning; myON, to increase students’ access to high-quality reading materials; Accelerated Reader, to support independent reading practice; Freckle, for teacher-led differentiated instruction; Schoolzilla, to give educators actionable insights into trends in student attendance and achievement; Lalilo, to develop critical foundational skills; and Nearpod, for teacher-facilitated instructional delivery. For more information, visit Renaissance.com.

Press contact:
Tracy Stewart
Director, Marketing Development
Renaissance
(832) 651-1189
pr@renaissance.com

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Mississippi Department of Education Approves Renaissance Assessments to Measure Early Childhood Outcomes https://www.renaissance.com/2021/07/29/news-mississippi-department-of-education-approves-renaissance-assessments-to-measure-early-childhood-outcomes/ Thu, 29 Jul 2021 20:45:11 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=52489 Bloomington, Minn. (July 29, 2021) – Renaissance, a global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, recently announced that the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) has approved myIGDIs Early Literacy and ProLADR assessments to measure early childhood outcomes for children aged 3–5. Local […]

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Bloomington, Minn. (July 29, 2021)Renaissance, a global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, recently announced that the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) has approved myIGDIs Early Literacy and ProLADR assessments to measure early childhood outcomes for children aged 3–5. Local Education Agencies can now utilize these assessments to collect data for Indicator 7 of the IDEA Annual Performance Report.

The MDE noted that the ability to efficiently and accurately measure the development of early literacy and social-emotional skills in traditional, hybrid, or virtual school environments is essential to inform instruction and improve outcomes for the state’s early learners.

“We’re pleased to offer Mississippi districts a valid and reliable assessment for monitoring early childhood outcomes,” said Jonathan Pounds, Regional Vice President at Renaissance. “Many districts are already using Renaissance assessment and practice solutions to support student learning. myIGDIs and ProLADR will provide further insights into foundational skills development for children aged 3–5.”

myIGDIs Early Literacy enables educators to screen and progress monitor in only 10 minutes per child, using either iPad or paper administration. ProLADR enables educators to easily gather data on children’s social-emotional development based on prompts and behavioral observations.

Together, the assessments provide actionable information in the key developmental areas identified by the MDE: (1) Positive social-emotional skills, including social relationships; (2) Acquisition and use of knowledge and skills, including early language/communication and early literacy; and (3) Use of appropriate behaviors to meet children’s needs.

To learn more about myIGDIs and ProLADR, visit: https://www.renaissance.com/products/myigdis-for-preschool/


About Renaissance

As a global leader in assessment, reading, and math solutions for pre-K–12 schools and districts, Renaissance is committed to providing educators with insights and resources to accelerate growth and help all students build a strong foundation for success. Renaissance solutions are used in over one-third of US schools and in more than 100 countries worldwide.

The Renaissance portfolio includes Star Assessments, for reliable, accurate insights into K–12 student learning; myIGDIs, for accurate assessment of early learning; myON, to increase students’ access to high-quality reading materials; Accelerated Reader, to support independent reading practice; Freckle, for teacher-led differentiated instruction; Schoolzilla, to give educators actionable insights into trends in student attendance and achievement; Lalilo, to develop critical foundational skills; and Nearpod, for teacher-facilitated instructional delivery.

For media inquiries only:
Tracy Stewart
Renaissance
(832) 651-1189
pr@renaissance.com

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Renaissance Celebrates Coming Together for Back-to-School https://www.renaissance.com/2021/07/28/news-renaissance-celebrates-coming-together-for-back-to-school/ Wed, 28 Jul 2021 15:36:00 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=52492 With weekly $500 gift card educator giveaways, fun and exciting classroom resources, and compelling student engagement kits, Renaissance is providing the most comprehensive resources to accelerate learning to date  Bloomington, Minn. (July 28, 2021) – Renaissance, a global leader in […]

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With weekly $500 gift card educator giveaways, fun and exciting classroom resources, and compelling student engagement kits, Renaissance is providing the most comprehensive resources to accelerate learning to date 

Bloomington, Minn. (July 28, 2021)Renaissance, a global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, has released a curated collection of resources to provide educators across all grade levels with valuable content and tools to accelerate student learning this fall. The company has also launched a back-to-school social media contest with the theme “Together Is a Wonderful Place” to celebrate learning in the classroom or wherever learning takes place.

“Back to school is always an exciting time of year, full of potential and promise, and never more so than this year, as many teachers and students come together in person for the first time in over a year,” said Renaissance Chief Marketing Officer Sarah DiFrancesco. “We know teachers are searching for ways to celebrate being together, and we want to help teachers all over the country prepare for the school year with essential tools for the classroom, for their students, and for parents and caregivers.”

The new Back to School with Renaissance resources include themed templates with engaging tools for both teachers and students; Student Engagement Kits tailored to Accelerated Reader, myON, Lalilo, and Freckle; and parent and caregiver checklists for getting ready for back-to-school. This is in addition to the traditional product-specific to-do lists for administrators and teachers, helpful tips on rostering options, information on key updates, new professional learning opportunities, and best practices for engaging families this school year.

The existing Focus Skills in English and Spanish and the What Kids Are Reading report are also included on the Back to School with Renaissance landing page.

Along with the new resources, Renaissance has launched the Together Is a Wonderful Place contest, which will award a $500 Visa gift card to one winner each week through August 13. To enter the contest, educators must visit Renaissance’s Facebook page, follow it, and share how they will celebrate being together for learning this fall, using the hashtag #TogetherIsaWonderfulPlace.

Educators can access the Back to School with Renaissance resources and learn more about the contest at Renaissance.com/back-to-school-2021.


About Renaissance

As a global leader in assessment, reading, and math solutions for pre-K–12 schools and districts, Renaissance is committed to providing educators with insights and resources to accelerate growth and help all students build a strong foundation for success. Renaissance solutions are used in over one-third of US schools and in more than 100 countries worldwide. The Renaissance portfolio includes Star Assessments, for reliable, accurate insights into K–12 student learning; myIGDIs, for accurate assessment of early learning; myON, to increase students’ access to high-quality reading materials; Accelerated Reader, to support independent reading practice; Freckle, for teacher-led differentiated instruction; Schoolzilla, to give educators actionable insights into trends in student attendance and achievement; Lalilo, to develop critical foundational skills; and Nearpod, for teacher-facilitated instructional delivery. For more information, visit Renaissance.com.

Press contact:
Tracy Stewart
Director, Marketing Development
Renaissance
(832) 651-1189
pr@renaissance.com

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8 new books to inspire your students this year https://www.renaissance.com/2021/07/23/blog-8-new-books-to-inspire-your-students-this-year/ Fri, 23 Jul 2021 13:53:04 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=52288 Since 1986, Accelerated Reader has helped millions of students in the US and around the world to discover a love of reading. As we celebrate 35 years of AR, we want to highlight the wide diversity of fiction and nonfiction […]

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Since 1986, Accelerated Reader has helped millions of students in the US and around the world to discover a love of reading. As we celebrate 35 years of AR, we want to highlight the wide diversity of fiction and nonfiction titles supported by the program. And who better to help us with this than the members of the AR Quiz Design Team, who read hundreds of new children’s and young adult books each year?

Below, you’ll find details on eight engaging titles to explore with your students, courtesy of our AR quiz designers. Remember that you can visit AR Bookfinder to explore all of the titles (more than 200,000 and counting!) supported by Accelerated Reader. You can also download the latest What Kids Are Reading report to see the most popular print and digital titles at every grade level, along with new insights on K–12 students’ reading habits.

Books to inspire students in grades K–3 (interest level)

Bartali's Bicycle

Bartali’s Bicycle: The True Story of Gino Bartali, Italy’s Secret Hero
By Megan Hoyt (Nonfiction)

Of all the books I’ve read in my experience as an AR quiz designer, none has affected me quite like Bartali’s Bicycle. The words “True Story” in the subtitle are a necessary addition, because Gino Bartali’s accomplishments would be hard to believe otherwise!

Bartali won the Tour de France in 1938, then worked for the Italian Resistance during World War II, saving the lives of over eight hundred Jewish people by delivering fake identity papers to them on his bicycle. After being drafted into the Italian Militia, he then rescued forty-nine English POWs without getting caught. Three years after the end of the war and a decade after his first Tour victory, he won the Tour de France for a second time. To top it all off, he never spoke publicly about his role in the Resistance or the hundreds of lives he saved, arguing that “good is something you do, not something you talk about.”

I think teachers and students alike will enjoy Bartali’s Bicycle. It’s a book that emphasizes goodness as its own reward, even in the face of monumental cruelty and injustice. Bartali used his skills as a cyclist and his fame as a Tour de France winner to help vulnerable people when they needed it most. More than that, however, he was one person among many who did the same, each using their own talents to help others as best they could. The man himself may have balked at the recognition, but Bartali’s story will doubtless serve as a source of inspiration to many readers. —John H.

Books to inspire students in grades 4–8 (interest level)

All Thirteen

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team
By Christina Soontornvat (Nonfiction)

All Thirteen is one of the best books I’ve written an AR quiz for. It’s a thrilling account of how the Wild Boars soccer team was rescued in 2018, after rising floodwaters trapped them in a cave in northern Thailand. Readers learn about karst caves, stateless people, Buddhism, and diving techniques. They will be inspired by examples of courage, resourcefulness, sacrifice, and international cooperation. The book has many photos and diagrams as well.

One person you get to know in the book is Thanet Natisri, a water expert who worked tirelessly to keep the cave from flooding even more than it already had. He is an American citizen who owns a Thai restaurant in Marion, Illinois. When I read this, I thought: “I know where that is!” My husband and I drive to Tennessee every year, and we spend the night in Marion. The THAI D restaurant is near our hotel. I resolved to buy this book before our next trip and ask Mr. Natisri to autograph it for me.

This past June, almost three years since the Wild Boars were rescued, we arrived in Marion. Would Mr. Natisri be at his restaurant? Well, no…but his lovely and gracious wife was. She told us that Thanet was in New York, working on a documentary about the rescue. She showed us to a table, and we enjoyed a delicious meal.

So, my book remains un-autographed, but that’s okay. It’s a beautiful book, with a great story to tell. —Ellen C.

A Place at the Table

A Place at the Table
By Saadia Faruqi  and Laura Shovan (Fiction)

I chose to write the AR quiz for this book based on my interest in cooking, knowing that books with cooking themes often contain interesting recipes to try. There is a recipe at the end, but I got so much more than that!

The story centers on two middle-school students and their families. Sara is a Muslim girl whose parents came to the US from Pakistan. Elizabeth is Jewish, and her mother came to the US from England. At first, the girls don’t think they have much in common, but they begin to form a hesitant friendship after being partnered in a cooking class. They learn more about each other, including the fact that both their mothers are studying for their US citizenship tests. Hijinks ensue (as the saying goes), and the girls eventually become true friends.

I love the idea that cultural differences can become a unifying force rather than a divisive one. A Place at the Table illustrates how sharing the food of one’s culture is a great first step to building a bridge of understanding and friendship.

With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to hear from the authors in person (or what passes for “in person” in the Age of Zoom!) I suggested the idea and was given a green light to invite Ms. Faruqi and Ms. Shovan to speak to the AR Quiz Design Team. Both women graciously accepted. It was exciting to meet the authors of a book I had just read, and we had a wonderful discussion of the experience of growing up in the US as a first-generation American, and the unique challenges of raising first-generation children. (Ms. Shovan’s mother, like Elizabeth’s, was born in England. Ms. Faruqi came to the US from Pakistan, and her children were born here.)

The conversation wasn’t about the book’s plot specifically. Instead, the story served as a springboard into a deeper exploration of diversity and inclusion. Sparking thoughtful discussion, awareness, and empathy is, after all, a book’s purpose, and A Place at the Table is an engaging read that will instill a sense of empathy in young readers. —Ann H.

Auggie y yo

Auggie y yo: tres cuentos de la lección de August
de R.J. Palacio (Ficción)

Somos dos hermanas escritoras de la Ciudad de México que hemos tenido la fortuna de colaborar por más de 20 años en Renaissance. Les compartimos esta aportación conjunta sobre la saga de Auggie, que logró cautivarnos por la trascendencia del tema y por su lectura ágil.

El primer libro, La lección de August, te lleva a recordar el cuento clásico del escritor danés Hans Christian Andersen, El patito feo, porque también trata el tema del rechazo a alguien por su aspecto físico. Auggie es un niño víctima de bullying o acoso, quien sufre el rechazo de niños y adultos debido a malformaciones de nacimiento, causadas por una rara enfermedad.

Otro libro de esta saga es Auggie y yo: tres cuentos de la lección de August. Podría esperarse que fuera la continuación de la historia del protagonista, sin embargo, no es así. La obra consiste en tres relatos contados por tres chicos relacionados con Auggie: Julien, quien lo acosa; Christopher, su amigo de siempre y Charlotte, la niña que es amable con él. Cada uno percibe y actúa de manera distinta ante su encuentro con este niño de rostro singular.

Ambos libros nos hicieron estremecer porque son relatos cargados de sentimientos y reflexiones que te permiten valorar la amistad, la lealtad, la compasión y la forma de relacionarnos con los demás. El tema principal es el acoso por el rechazo a lo diferente, que te ayuda a entender mejor un mundo real lleno de contrastes. Además, son de los libros que te atrapan desde un inicio y no puedes dejar de leer hasta llegar al final, disfrutando de su lectura.

Recomendamos ampliamente ambos libros para inculcar valores en los chicos, pero también para que los adultos, madres, padres y maestros reflexionemos sobre este tema del rechazo a las personas que por cualquier circunstancia son distintas a nosotros. —Maru G. y Ada G.

[We’re sisters and writers in Mexico City, and we’ve been lucky to collaborate for over 20 years at Renaissance. We’d like to share this joint contribution about the Auggie saga, which captivated us because of the importance of the topic and its clear, engaging style.

The first book, Wonder, will remind you of the classic tale “The Ugly Duckling” by Hans Christian Andersen, because it addresses the issue of rejection due to someone’s appearance. Auggie is a child who experiences bullying, as well as rejection by his peers and by adults, due to birth defects caused by a rare disease.

Auggie & Me: Three Wonder Stories continues the saga, collecting stories told by three children who know Auggie: Julien, who bullies him; Christopher, his best friend; and Charlotte, a girl who is kind to him. Each one perceives and acts in a different way when they meet this child with a unique face.

Both books made us feel strong emotions because the stories are full of feelings and reflections that help you value friendship, loyalty, compassion, and the way we relate to others. Because the main topic is harassment and rejection of what is different, the books help you to better understand a world full of contrasts. In addition, the books engage you right away, and you can’t stop reading until you reach the end.

We highly recommend both books to instill values in children. They are also great for adults—mothers, fathers, and teachers—to reflect on this issue of rejection of people who, for any reason, are different from us.]

Fish Out of Water

Fish Out of Water
By Joanne Levy (Fiction)

My kids have used Accelerated Reader for years, so I’m fortunate to get to see the product in action from beginning to end. When my daughter was in third grade, she challenged herself to beat the school’s reading goal for her grade level…and she did (with the help of the Harry Potter series)! Her name is posted on a huge sign in the cafeteria. She was so proud, and she advanced her reading skills tremendously that year. I love that the work I do helps to motivate my children to read.

One of my recent finds is Fish Out of Water. This book is about a twelve-year-old boy named Fishel who likes knitting and doing Zumba—activities that are stereotyped as feminine. He wants to pursue his passions and can’t understand why his peers and the adults in his life ridicule him. Eventually, he finds a teacher and a rabbi who encourage him and are proud of him. They teach him that treating “girly” or feminine things as inferior is an insult. Fish Out of Water is an inspiring story with a sweet ending. It has a wonderful message and brings to mind some tough questions.

When I read this book, I envisioned children seeing themselves in the story and feeling a sense of belonging and acceptance. They’ll understand that it’s okay to be passionate about something that isn’t considered “typical.” I recommended the book to the wonderful librarian at my children’s school, because I thought everyone should know about it. If you pick up a copy of Fish Out of Water, I challenge you to read it without shedding a heartfelt tear. —Jennifer B.

Books to inspire students in grades 9–12 (interest level)

Fish Out of Water

Dragon Hoops
By Gene Luen Yang (Nonfiction)

Years ago, my dad came home with a book called American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. It was a cheery-seeming graphic novel, full of bright colors and an easy, readable style. It was also an engrossing exploration of what identity and assimilation mean in America. Now, fifteen years later, if I spot Yang’s name on a list of titles, I jump at the chance to write the AR quiz.

Dragon Hoops—a memoir in graphic novel format—tells the story of the varsity boys’ basketball team at Bishop O’Dowd High School and their quest to finally win the state championship. The premise is a springboard, though, as Yang blends the students’ stories with cultural evolutions in basketball and world history. AR content designers will confess that we encounter scores of forgettable sports books every year. But Dragon Hoops takes a teen sports drama and artfully weaves in topics like racial integration, respectability politics in women’s sports, the history of NBA broadcast rights in China, and the experience of Sikh Americans. If this sounds like a textbook, it shouldn’t: Yang’s charm and drawings keep everything afloat, and the book remains focused on the lives of Coach Lou and his team.

Dragon Hoops also has crossover appeal. Readers unaccustomed to graphic novels will find the art accessible. For readers uninterested in sports, Yang himself serves as an avatar—a sports agnostic who learns to love the game by embracing the human sagas and anxieties of sports fandom. He also walks us through his decision to leave teaching in order to write graphic novels full-time. His hopes and dilemmas echo the athletes’, and the book offers something that’s not often explored in YA: a portrait of how adults continue to make life-changing decisions just as teenagers do—by taking a brave step forward. —Dana G.

Fish Out of Water

The King of Crows
By Libba Bray (Fiction)

I write a lot of AR quizzes for fantasy novels, and The King of Crows is one of my favorites. It’s the fourth book in the Diviners series, and the first three volumes are great as well. The book’s heroes are a diverse group of characters who have special powers. I’ve rarely seen so many groups represented in a single book—different genders, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and abilities.

The story is set in the 1920s, and the author paints a vivid and accurate picture of that historical period. Readers will be transported to a different era—but with supernatural elements added to make things even more interesting. I even learned a few things about American history. For example, I had never heard of “Sundown Towns” before, but they really existed.

This book has everything: action, adversity, romance, and humor. The characters are complex and well developed, which for me is the key to a good book. They face challenges they must overcome, including discrimination and prejudice, which were the norm at the time, as well as ghosts, ghouls, and floods. The heroes must also overcome their differences to work together, and each character brings different strengths to the group.

For me, the most rewarding part of writing the AR quiz for this book is that it’s not just an entertaining and enjoyable read, but will also engage kids in learning more about history. It helps them to either view history from the point of view of someone who is different from them, or to see themselves represented by a character they can identify with. —Jennifer Y.

Fish Out of Water

Sprawlball: A Visual Tour of the New Era of the NBA
By Kirk Goldsberry (Nonfiction)

During my childhood and adolescence, I had a keen interest in sports. When I became a young adult, I began to develop other interests too, such as literature, history, and music—while still loving sports. As an adult, I’ve been fortunate to explore these interests, mostly through reading. Reading is a skill that enriches my life. All of my other interests depend on it.

In college, I majored in English. After teaching for a while, my love of learning and reading led me to Renaissance. In my nearly twenty years of designing AR quizzes, I’ve read many great books: novels, biographies, histories, and, of course, books about sports. It’s hard to pick one that stands out above all others. However, one recent book does come to mind.

Sprawlball is authored by a sabermetrician and fellow sports fan named Kirk Goldsberry. In it, he details—using charts, graphics, visuals, and excellent prose—the profound change in the game of professional basketball set in motion by the NBA’s decision to put a three-point arc at each end of the court. Since then, the game has moved from the paint to the perimeter, not unlike how people have migrated from cities to the suburbs. The three-point arc has profoundly affected the game in ways unforeseen in the 1970s.

It was a fascinating read for the sports geek who still is very much a part of me. So fascinating, in fact, that I recommended it to an old friend, who is a high-school teacher, coach, and basketball junkie. In doing so, I mentioned how cool it is that I get to read sports books (as well as other interesting books) for a living. And it’s all thanks to Accelerated Reader. —Frank D.

Looking for more great titles to explore with your students this year? Check out What Kids Are Reading, the world’s largest annual survey of K–12 student reading habits. And to see everything that today’s Accelerated Reader has to offer, click the button below.

Explore today's AR

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Star CBM Reading Approved in Oklahoma as a Dyslexia Screening Assessment https://www.renaissance.com/2021/07/09/news-star-cbm-reading-approved-in-oklahoma-as-a-dyslexia-screening-assessment/ Fri, 09 Jul 2021 17:00:48 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=52123 Bloomington, Minn. (July 9, 2021) – Renaissance, the global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, recently announced that the Oklahoma State Board of Education has approved Star CBM Reading as a screening assessment for characteristics of dyslexia. The Board concluded that […]

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Bloomington, Minn. (July 9, 2021)Renaissance, the global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, recently announced that the Oklahoma State Board of Education has approved Star CBM Reading as a screening assessment for characteristics of dyslexia.

The Board concluded that Star CBM Reading meets the requirements for a Dyslexia Screening Assessment under state statute. The statute requires such screening assessments to include eight components: phonological awareness, advanced phonemic awareness, sound-symbol recognition, alphabet knowledge, decoding skills, encoding skills, rapid naming, and developmental language.

Beginning in the 2022–2023 school year, K–3 students in Oklahoma who do not meet the grade-level target on a universal screening assessment at the beginning of the year must also be screened for characteristics of dyslexia.

“We’re pleased to offer Oklahoma districts a valid and reliable screening assessment for characteristics of dyslexia,” said Dr. Luann Bowen, Vice President of Government Affairs at Renaissance. “Many districts are already using Star Assessments for universal screening, and Star CBM Reading will provide further insights into Oklahoma students’ instructional needs.”

In a related action, the Oklahoma State Board of Education reapproved Star Early Learning as a Universal Screening Assessment for K–3 students under the state’s Reading Sufficiency Act. Star Early Learning—which is comprised of the Star Early Literacy and Star Reading assessments—was originally approved by the Board in 2018.

Oklahoma educators can learn more about using Star CBM Reading and Star Early Learning to meet state screening requirements by watching this on-demand webinar.


About Renaissance

As a global leader in assessment, reading, and math solutions for pre-K–12 schools and districts, Renaissance is committed to providing educators with insights and resources to accelerate growth and help all students build a strong foundation for success. Renaissance solutions are used in over one-third of US schools and in more than 100 countries worldwide.

The Renaissance portfolio includes Star Assessments, for reliable, accurate insights into K–12 student learning; myIGDIs, for accurate assessment of early learning; myON, to increase students’ access to high-quality reading materials; Accelerated Reader, to support independent reading practice; Freckle, for teacher-led differentiated instruction; Schoolzilla, to give educators actionable insights into trends in student attendance and achievement; Lalilo, to develop critical foundational skills; and Nearpod, for teacher-facilitated instructional delivery.

For media inquiries only:

Tracy Stewart
Renaissance
(832) 651-1189
pr@renaissance.com

The post Star CBM Reading Approved in Oklahoma as a Dyslexia Screening Assessment appeared first on Renaissance.

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Finding the right instructional resources this school year https://www.renaissance.com/2021/07/09/blog-finding-the-right-instructional-resources-this-school-year/ Fri, 09 Jul 2021 13:42:03 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=52110 By Dr. Gene Kerns, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer Unless you’ve lived through the highly scheduled and regimented days of teaching, you cannot understand how nonstop the work is. It’s like walking on a treadmill with no “Stop” button. […]

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By Dr. Gene Kerns, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer

Unless you’ve lived through the highly scheduled and regimented days of teaching, you cannot understand how nonstop the work is. It’s like walking on a treadmill with no “Stop” button. Because of this, teachers know that the term “planning period” is a misnomer. The name implies that instructional planning will be done at this time, but my planning periods were spent making photocopies, answering email, and returning phone calls. Like most teachers, my planning occurred before and after school, at night, and on the weekends.

Yet, in stolen moments, I was constantly searching for new and better resources to support my lessons.

This dynamic has profound implications for what teachers are able to accomplish with and for their students. For all the talk of personalized learning and differentiation, there are only so many hours in the day. Teachers are caught between doing the greatest good for the greatest number of students and maintaining a work-life balance that is remotely reasonable. Constant tension exists between what students need and what teachers can realistically support.

Over the past 10 years, Renaissance has been working to address this constant pressure by assembling a comprehensive collection of educational resources within our Star Assessments suite. This library of resources now numbers more than 80,000. We want to make sure that Star users know this library exists and that it offers significant advantages over the content you might find elsewhere. A better understanding of these resources can save valuable time and greatly support teachers in meeting the wide range of instructional needs that exist in every classroom—needs that have only been heightened by the COVID-related disruptions.

Resources to connect assessment and instruction

So, what’s available? The educational resources in Star take two forms. First, there are instructional resources, such as videos, lesson plans, online interactives, and other activities designed to support the teaching of specific reading and math skills. Second, there are assessment resources, such as multiple-choice questions, open-ended/Depth of Knowledge questions, and performance tasks designed to assess students’ level of understanding of these skills.

These resources come from both Renaissance and a wide variety of third-party providers. For example, every Khan Academy math video has been indexed against the skills in Star’s learning progression, meaning that if there is a Khan Academy video that you could use to teach a skill that is within range for your students, you’ll see the link to that video. Other popular third-party resource providers include:

While many of these resources would also be available to teachers if they went directly to the various provider websites, working in Star offers several advantages:

  • A single sign-on (SSO) experience, meaning that once you’re logged in to Star, you will not need to create accounts for the individual provider sites or remember multiple passwords. Instead, you’ll see resources from multiple providers within the Star Assessments Planner.
  • Direct alignment between suggested resources and the skills your students are ready to learn, meaning that you do not need to browse through multiple webpages and topics looking for appropriate resources.
  • A detailed certification process, meaning that all resources are reviewed for quality, rigor, classroom appropriateness, and standards alignment before they’re made available in Star—and are then regularly re-reviewed as well.

What makes Star’s resource collection so unique?

While several other assessment companies also pair educational resources with their interim tests and could claim an experience similar to what I’ve outlined above, there are key aspects of Renaissance’s approach that are truly unique.

First of all, the scale of the resources available to teachers in Star is vast, and offers the variety and depth to support teachers in a way that other assessment companies cannot. This large collection of resources includes multiple options for each skill, helping you to personalize learning based on your students’ specific needs. This is a strong contrast with other companies, some of whom offer no more than one or two resources per skill. Such sparse offerings cannot possibly meet the wide array of student needs that exist—even in a normal, “non-COVID” school year.

Second, the ecosystem of resources available in Star is “open,” meaning that the resources come from both Renaissance and a wide variety of other providers. While some companies restrict you to only their resources or have an onerous connection process for third-party providers, we believe that students learn better when we all work together. This includes us working with other companies.

We do not charge providers to connect to the Star ecosystem, and we work to make the process as easy as possible for them. The result of this is reflected in the sheer number of resources now available in Star—the largest and most diverse in the industry. We contend that the wide variety of needs present within the pre-K–12 student population exceeds the resources of any one company to fully address. If these varied needs are to be met, companies must work together.

Third, our strong beliefs about the role of teachers and what constitutes quality education are reflected in how resources are matched with students. At Renaissance, we keep the teacher central to the process, and teachers—not algorithms—decide which resources students will use. Why so? Technology is exceedingly capable of indexing resources to specific standards and skills. Technology is less capable of identifying which resources are most appropriate for individual students. Teaching is part science and part art, and teachers will always know things about their students that no assessment can measure and no algorithm can account for.

In contrast, one widely used product auto-assigns instructional resources to students based solely on the scaled score achieved on the assessment. This means, for example, that if a high performing second-grader and a struggling seventh-grader receive the same scaled score, they’ll be auto-assigned the same activity—despite the significant developmental differences between a student in grade 2 and a student in grade 7. This vendor claims to support personalized learning—but how is learning personalized when students are not considered personally?

At first glance, auto-assignment might appear beneficial, especially when students in the same classroom are working at very different levels. But there is a significant downside. Teachers are not involved in and do not inform the assignment process. What they know about the student is not factored into the assignment algorithm. Is this really “personalized” learning?

With Star, teachers select the resources that will be used with individual students and groups—and this is by design. We believe that teachers are more critical than algorithms for accelerating learning, and that technology is at its best when it supports teachers, rather than trying to replace them.

This bring us to a fourth and final point. Teachers can decide to assign select resources to students within Star. This means there’s no need to spend a planning period printing worksheets and making photocopies because the resources can, with a click, become digital assignments. When the resources are assigned through Star, anything that can be machine scored is, and the results from each activity are reported back, providing a more detailed view of student achievement, as shown below.

Focus Skills + Resources = A powerful combination for addressing learning loss

In Star, you’ll find resources for nearly every reading and math skill in your state-specific learning progression, including for Focus Skills. Focus Skills are the skills considered most essential at each grade level—the skills that students must master in order to progress. Focus Skills are important every school year but will be critical in 2021–2022, as schools work to reverse the academic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last fall, as we all worked to quickly adapt to new learning models, Education Week summarized the recommendations of various education agencies and think-tanks in an infographic titled “Deciding What to Teach? Here’s How.” The resources in Star and the guidance provided by Focus Skills will help you to make this model come alive and to accelerate learning in the new school year:

Step 1: Prioritize the most important grade-level standards. Focus Skills are aligned to your state’s standards of learning, showing you “the most important work of the grade.” You can use the aligned educational resources within Star for each Focus Skill to support and enhance instruction.

Step 2: Begin with grade-level content—but be aware of important prerequisites. Consult the Focus Skills from prior grade levels to see “prerequisite skills or understandings that students need to succeed.” Within the Star Assessments Planner, you can see detailed information about each skill, including its prerequisites.

Step 3: Determine whether students have mastered these prerequisites. Remember that there are assessment resources for each Focus Skill within Star, such as multiple-choice items, constructed-response items, and performance tasks.

Step 4: If needed, provide “just-in-time” support on missing prerequisite skills. Star’s curated instructional resources—videos, lesson plans, interactive activities, and more—provide a variety of options to support you in reviewing or reteaching specific skills.

Step 5: Re-assess students’ understanding of these prerequisites. Again, Star’s assessment resources are aligned with individual Focus Skills, eliminating the need to create one-off assessments or perform lengthy internet searches.

Step 6: Repeat this process as needed. Once students have mastered both the necessary prerequisites and the grade-level standard, you’re ready to move on. Repeat steps 2–5 as you work on the next standard in your list of priorities.

See where to find instructional resources in Star Assessments

Acceleration, not remediation

The instructional model described above aligns with recent recommendations from the US Department of Education, as well as much of the current dialogue about the new school year. In fact, there’s widespread agreement that “accelerating learning” will be the most productive approach for helping students who struggle. A recent report from TNTP sums it up, using the title “Accelerate, Don’t Remediate.” Unlike our historical “remediation” approach, where a fourth-grade teacher, for example, might focus on third-grade skills with struggling students, “in this approach, the fourth-grade teacher starts with fourth-grade content, and strategically builds in key third-grade concepts when students might need them to master the grade-level work.”

The skills that students need to learn are addressed, but the main reference point—the guiding star—remains grade-level content. The phrase “just-in-time” is often used when describing this model, as in “just-in-time teaching” or “just-in-time review.” As the TNTP report explains, the benefit of this “acceleration” or “grade-level” focus is that it “ensures students spend more time on the work of their grade—the key to ultimately catching up.” During the 2021–2022 school year, Focus Skills and the educational resources in Star will be powerful tools for helping students to catch up—and for maximizing the impact of your instruction.

Are you up-to-speed on everything that Star Assessments have to offer? Learn more about Star curriculum-based measures, Star Assessments in Spanish, and other features that will help you to accelerate student learning this year.

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Product Highlights: Supporting early learners (and more) https://www.renaissance.com/2021/06/25/blog-product-highlights-supporting-early-learners-and-more/ Fri, 25 Jun 2021 13:37:59 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=51969 Summer is finally here! For many educators, this provides an opportunity to look back at the school year that just ended—and to look ahead to the new school year as well. In that spirit, we’d like to share recent and […]

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Summer is finally here! For many educators, this provides an opportunity to look back at the school year that just ended—and to look ahead to the new school year as well. In that spirit, we’d like to share recent and upcoming enhancements to your Renaissance products. We’ll focus specifically on new features that support early learners, who were especially impacted by the COVID-19 disruptions.

If you haven’t already, we invite you to watch our Summer 2021 Renaissance Roadmap Report, presented by Todd Brekhus and Dr. Scott McConnell. We also invite you to bookmark our Product Updates Blog for the latest news and information throughout the year.

Introducing Lalilo

This spring, we were thrilled to welcome Lalilo to the Renaissance family. Lalilo is an online program that is built on Science of Reading research and that makes foundational reading development fun for K–2 learners.

As students journey through playful, engaging worlds, Lalilo systematically presents them with activities focusing on phonics, comprehension, sight words, word families, grammar and conventions, and vocabulary—based on the student’s individual needs. Students earn treasures after completing a series of activities and badges as they master a skill, which unlock stories to read for pure enjoyment.

We know teachers are the experts on their students, so Lalilo also includes powerful dashboards that put a wealth of learning data and performance metrics at your fingertips. Whether by assigning lessons to students, observing whole-class trends, or tracking progress against national reading standards, Lalilo gives you insights to better differentiate reading instruction for your early learners.

This summer, our team is taking that data even further by building a new Administrator dashboard that will provide an in-depth overview of the foundational literacy development for your entire school or district.

Learn more: Get more details on the student and teacher experience in Lalilo. See the research foundation for Lalilo’s pedagogical approach. Create a free account to explore what Lalilo has to offer your early learners.

New myON placement process

This summer, you’ll see a new myON placement test that’s powered by Star Reading. This new placement is quick and efficient for students, meaning they can access just-right digital books more quickly than ever. The new placement also provides administrators with flexible administration options. By default, students below grade 2 don’t receive the placement test at all, so they can immediately begin to explore books in myON.

myON is also a great resource for children in preschool and pre-K programs. With more than 1,200 titles appropriate for pre-K, myON supports emerging and early readers on a wide range of topics students will love. Titles also feature natural-voice audio narration, to model fluency and capture young children’s attention. Each word in myON is highlighted as the book is read, supporting read-along and early literacy development. Associated short quizzes help teachers to monitor children’s comprehension.

Learn more: Explore the new myON placement process. Watch our recent myON webinar, which includes a helpful Q&A about the new placement process. Explore the benefits for early learners of the natural-voice audio in myON.

Coming soon: AR Friends

As we celebrate 35 years of Accelerated Reader, we’ve also been implementing new ideas based on educators’ feedback. For example, you told us that K–2 students sometimes struggle with understanding AR points and how point totals are calculated.

To support a more motivating experience for early learners, we’ve created a new goal-setting feature called AR Friends. AR Friends uses virtual stickers and tokens to give the youngest readers a clearer, more visual representation of their reading goals and progress. 

What makes AR Friends so motivating? Instead of using AR points to measure reading quantity, AR Friends helps students to celebrate each book they read. Counting the total number of books is an easier metric for beginning readers to understand. AR research and best practices are still active behind the scenes to recommend how much reading students should be completing. 

Student comprehension also remains an important metric, but AR Friends de-emphasizes the concept of Average Percent Correct. Averages can be difficult for younger students to understand, especially students who are just learning to read. The AR Friends model pauses students after they complete a quiz to focus on how they did on that specific quiz. Students who earn a 100 percent will see a trophy icon instead of a star, as an extra way to celebrate their success.

Teachers will have the option of using AR Friends with their youngest readers beginning in Fall 2021. We’ll share more details soon on the Product Updates Blog.

Learn more: Watch a short introduction to AR Friends. See more upcoming enhancements to the AR Record Book and goal-setting features.

Unified Scale in Star Assessments

Beginning in August, most educators will see the Star Unified Scale as the default for the English and Spanish versions of Star Early Literacy, Star Reading, and Star Math. The Unified Scale provides improved measurement precision on a consistent, common scale across all Star computer-adaptive assessments. Because the Unified Scale spans the range of skills measured by both Star Early Literacy and Star Reading, you’ll also find it much easier to measure student achievement and growth as students transition from emergent readers to independent readers.    

The Unified Scale doesn’t change the content of the assessment; it just provides a more precise and continuous scale on which to measure student performance.

Note that the Star Enterprise Scale will still be available during the 2021–2022 school year. It will be retired prior to back-to-school 2022.

Learn more: Get more details on transitioning to the Unified Scale. Access shareable resources about the Unified Scale, including a video overview, answers to common questions, and guidance on using this scale with K–3 students.

Focus Skills for Spanish reading

At Renaissance, we recognize the differences between learning to read in English and learning to read in Spanish. We also understand that students must have the opportunity to show what they know and are ready to learn in the context of literacy acquisition in their home language.

Over the past several years, we’ve worked to design and enhance our Star Assessments to give you the data you need to make informed decisions for students who are learning in two languages. This includes creating a research-based learning progression for Spanish reading, and identifying both Focus Skills and transferable skills in Spanish at each grade level. All of these resources are available within Star Assessments.

In our effort to shape the future of emergent bilingual learners, we’re pleased to also make Spanish Focus Skills available on our website to every school and district. Spanish Focus Skills span pre-K through grade 12. You can view Spanish Focus Skills for each grade level online, and you can download a helpful workbook listing all Spanish Focus Skills for your state. Within the workbook, Focus Skills are organized by grade level and domain.

Learn more: Explore Star Assessments in Spanish. Watch our webinar on assessing emergent bilingual learners. See 6 common myths about this population of students.

Star CBM for Reading and Math

In Fall 2020, we were pleased to introduce curriculum-based measures for reading (K–6) and math (K–3) as part of the Star Assessments suite. These measures are brief (60 seconds), engaging, and can be used for both screening and progress monitoring, with multiple equated forms of each measure provided.

Star CBM Reading also includes Rapid Automatic Naming (RAN) measures, which are commonly used as a screening tool for characteristics of dyslexia and other reading difficulties. Like other Star CBM measures, the RAN measures can be administered either online or in print, and are suitable for both in-person and remote learning environments.

We recognize that younger learners may have a difficult time understanding their growth and skill development. The audio recording feature in Star CBM provides a way to help them understand and celebrate the growth they’ve made. You can play back recordings of prior administrations for up to two years to demonstrate to students how far they’ve come.  

The new Star CBM Data Insights Dashboard is a great way to track your assessment usage and results. Check screening progress, performance against grade-level benchmarks, and movement between benchmark categories from one convenient place.  

Additionally, throughout the 2021–2022 school year, we’ll be field testing Star CBM Reading measures in Spanish to help you cultivate growth for your emergent bilingual learners. These new measures are being built by experts and administered to students across the country to assure high quality design, reliable scores, and actionable data for planning instruction.

Learn more: Take a closer look at Star CBM Reading and Star CBM Math. Explore the research behind Star CBM. See how educators are using Star CBM alongside the computer-adaptive Star Assessments.

Focus Skills practice mode in Freckle

During the 2020–2021 school year, many teachers covered less content than in the past, given the COVID-19 disruptions and the challenges posed by remote learning. This raises an obvious question: How can you help to ensure that students are working toward grade-level proficiency? This is especially pressing for early learners, who may have spent more of their time learning remotely than in a traditional classroom setting.

If you’re using Freckle Premium along with Star Assessments, then students in grades 2–8 have access to Focus Skills practice mode. This offers a unique way to fast-track students’ grade-level math and/or ELA competencies by focusing on the most critical skills—those that are essential to their progress.

Focus Skills practice mode does not require assignment creation. Students simply log in to Freckle and select the “Focus Skills” option. They will then be given a practice session specific to their current needs. If students struggle, their next practice session adapts to incorporate that Focus Skill’s prerequisites. Proficiency can still be achieved through high accuracy in the prerequisite practice sessions. Freckle provides immediate positive feedback by celebrating students who demonstrate proficiency on a Focus Skill with an animated summary screen.

You can monitor students’ practice on Focus Skills from the Math Standards and ELA Standards pages, which include an “Only show Focus Skills” filtering option.

Learn more: See the student experience with Focus Skills practice mode for math. Get tips for using Freckle to support summer learning. Discover how a middle-school teacher uses Freckle inside and outside the classroom to promote grade-level proficiency in math.

Looking ahead to the new year

Even though it’s only June, we’re already working on back-to-school resources for your Renaissance products. You’ll be able to access these resources on our website later this summer. We’d also ask administrators to start thinking about your school or district’s professional development needs for the fall. We offer a variety of professional learning options, including sessions that focus on early learning. We’re happy to discuss your specific needs—and to answer any questions about using your Renaissance products to accelerate student learning in the new school year.

If you haven’t already, bookmark our Product Updates Blog for the latest news and resources. To learn more about any of our products, or to discuss your professional development options, click the button below. We’re here to help.

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How to accelerate learning in preschool https://www.renaissance.com/2021/06/18/blog-how-to-accelerate-learning-in-preschool/ Fri, 18 Jun 2021 13:28:44 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=51895 In a recent blog, we explored the impact of COVID-19 school closures on preschool- and kindergarten-aged children. In this blog, we’ll continue the conversation by focusing specifically on preschool and pre-K programs—and on how teachers and administrators can best address […]

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In a recent blog, we explored the impact of COVID-19 school closures on preschool- and kindergarten-aged children. In this blog, we’ll continue the conversation by focusing specifically on preschool and pre-K programs—and on how teachers and administrators can best address children’s needs and accelerate learning in the new school year.

We discussed these topics with Dr. Scott McConnell, Director of Assessment Innovation at Renaissance and Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Minnesota, and Dr. Alisha Wackerle-Hollman, Assistant Research Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Minnesota. We were joined by Dr. Jan Bryan, Vice President and National Education Officer at Renaissance, and Heidi Lund, Senior Product Manager at Renaissance.

Q: Let’s start with terminology. Can “preschool” and “pre-K” be used interchangeably? Or do these refer to different types of programming?

Scott McConnell: There are a lot of service delivery models for children before they enter kindergarten. In the past, we used a variety of terms for slightly different experiences: nursery school, childcare, daycare, preschool, Head Start, etc. Now, it’s more common to talk about preschool, pre-K, or early education. There are still slight variations across programs, but they’re all resources for helping children to develop socially and academically.

This change in terminology happened over several decades, as federal and state governments blurred the lines between traditional daycare and early childhood education. Advocates and policymakers recognized that many children—especially those in high-risk groups, such as children living in poverty and children with disabilities—were spending hours in daycare, which presented an opportunity to make better use of this time for children’s development.

We’ve also recognized that what happens to kids before they enter kindergarten is an important contributor to how well they do in K–12 education. That’s why we’ve directed more attention and resources to these programs, and why states have implemented formal processes—such as targeted and universal pre-K, Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS), and a variety of practice innovations—to provide stronger supports for early learners.

Alisha Wackerle-Hollman: I think “quality” is the key term here. I worry less about the differences among programs and more about the quality of what’s happening in each of those spaces. The level of services and support they’re providing to children in key domains—language, literacy, numeracy, and social-emotional development—is far more important than the label each program uses.

Q: Is it accurate to say that “kindergarten readiness” is the goal of preschool programs? Or is this a misunderstanding?

Scott McConnell: In some states, school isn’t compulsory until children are 7 or 8, but there’s still a fairly common cultural expectation that children will be enrolled in kindergarten when they turn 5. What happens before this is generally not compulsory, however, and kindergarten teachers accordingly expect a wide variation in the skills and capabilities of the children who arrive in their classrooms each year. Some children will have received a lot of resources and attention from parents and from preschool programs, while others won’t have received these things.

Contrast this with, say, high school graduation requirements. In the case of high school seniors, we can say that school districts have had these kids for 13 years, so there is a certain degree of accountability we can assign to the district, the schools, the teachers, the parents, and the students. We’re saying: Here’s the content we expect you to learn, and we’re going to provide instruction and resources and support for this. It seems reasonable to have expectations after 13 years.

But when children arrive for kindergarten, we can’t make this argument. We haven’t necessarily given them any specific supports, so talking about “readiness requirements” doesn’t make a lot of sense. Granted, we know that foundational skills in language, literacy, and numeracy are predictive of later success, so it’s important to encourage and support children’s development in these domains. In some places, you’ll find a tighter alignment—such as in pre-K programs that are run by districts, with the expectation that kids will then enroll in kindergarten in the district. This provides an opportunity to align what we expect of the children, and the resources we provide to them, so that when they enter kindergarten, they have skills that fit well with that environment.

We see similar effects when public and private programs work toward common goals. Again, we’re aligning our supports and expectations for preschool students with the expectations and instruction we will provide to them in the primary grades.

Alisha Wackerle-Hollman: States have established different early learning standards. Here in Minnesota, we have the Early Childhood Indicators of Progress (ECIPs), for example, which are sometimes called “kindergarten readiness” standards. Like Scott, I think this is the wrong term to use, because children will always arrive for kindergarten with very different skill sets and experiences.

And I think the COVID-19 pandemic is only going to exacerbate these differences. In Fall 2021, the variability in children’s skills will be greater than at any time in the past, given the recent disruptions. Rather than asking, Are the children ready for kindergarten?, we should be asking, Is kindergarten ready for the children? I’d argue that this is the question we should have been asking all along, because the onus is not on the children but rather on the programs, which need to be ready to assess the needs of the children who arrive each year so they can meet them where they are.

Q: Does this mean that assessment will play a larger role during the 2021–2022 school year? Should programs assess children as soon as they arrive?

Heidi Lund: In some ways, Fall 2021 might feel like a repeat of Fall 2020, when there was a hesitancy to assess children—because some educators felt this was “stealing” instructional time, or because it required special logistics due to remote learning, or because we weren’t going to like the results anyway, so some schools and districts preferred to wait. But this year, it will be more important than ever to do fall screening. This applies to both preschool and kindergarten programs, to help teachers have a clear understanding of where students are and how their learning has been affected by the COVID-19 disruptions.

Yes, in some cases, the scores will be lower than what teachers and administrators are expecting. In other cases, the scores may be higher. In either case, the assessment will help educators to better understand each child in the program, so they can provide the “just-right” experiences for that child to thrive.

Alisha Wackerle-Hollman: In early childhood education, we talk a lot about differentiated instruction and how to build classroom environments that attend to children’s specific needs. Assessment sometimes gets a bad rap, but a well-designed assessment is a valuable tool for helping teachers to identify these needs, so they can allocate time and resources appropriately.

I agree that it will be critical to begin with fall screening, so we understand what children bring to the classroom. The caveat is that the assessment must be instructionally relevant, showing you where the needs are most critical so you can focus your efforts there. How you interpret your fall screening data should inform how the rest of the year will look—how you’ll allocate resources, which children you’ll identify for individual goals and progress monitoring, and when you’ll screen the children again. Without these data, you’re left to make assumptions about what children need, and you can’t differentiate in ways that lead to the best outcomes for them.

We designed the myIGDIs for Preschool assessment based on this philosophy. We recognize that teachers need to understand the baseline skills children have in key domains in a way that’s quick, easy, and instructionally relevant.

Q: What about claim that preschool children are too young for formal assessment?

Jan Bryan: Assessment is something that humans do all the time—especially young children. They’re constantly observing and comparing things: “How many trucks do I have?” “How many bubbles came out of the bubble machine this time?” “How many minutes until we get there?” Etc. They’re natural data-collectors, so assessment isn’t something that has to be forced on them.

Alisha’s point about instructionally relevant assessment is key here—once teachers have the data, what will they do with it? I really dislike the phrase “data-driven decisions.” Data don’t decide; humans decide. Screening provides valuable data for making decisions, but it’s not the only consideration. As an educator, I’m going to use all of the data available—both from formal assessment and from talking with and observing a child—to make decisions about what to do next. I’ll then continue to reassess based on what I’m seeing.

Scott McConnell: I always return to two points when thinking about preschool assessment. First, the assessment has to be developmentally appropriate. We can’t expect preschoolers to fill in bubble sheets, for example. That’s why curriculum-based measures like myIGDIs are brief, engaging, and are completed by the teacher and child working together. We actually want the assessment to be fun, with the children asking, “Is it my turn yet?”

Second, the assessment has to drive differentiated services for the students.We’re not trying to answer global questions, like “Are the children doing OK?” We’re trying to answer specific questions about what to do next: what does this child need, and this child, and this child? For this reason, preschool assessment needs to be very efficient, with a direct line between giving the assessment and then providing instruction.

Q: What advice do you have for preschool educators as they plan for the 2021–2022 school year?

Alisha Wackerle-Hollman: I’m sure that teachers are already thinking about how to set up their classrooms to create spaces that really promote exploration and interaction. I think the home-to-school connection will also be a lot stronger in the new school year. Because of the pandemic, a lot of families went through a sort of “trial by fire,” where they took on a teaching role during at-home learning. I think teachers will need to support and build on this expanded educational partnership between families and children.

Teachers will also want to involve families more—by, say, explaining children’s seasonal screening results to them, and helping to ensure that what happens at home supports children’s development in the key domains we’ve talked about.

Heidi Lund: As the parent of a 3-year-old, I’ve definitely found myself wondering about the long-term effects of the disruptions. I had some valuable time with my son at home this year, but there were also times when, because of work commitments, I had to ask him to play quietly by himself for the afternoon. I think the ProLADR multidomain measures in myIGDIs—which assess social-emotional, physical and motor, cognitive development, and more—will be especially helpful for educators in the new year.

We talk a lot about children being resilient—and they are—but there will still be gaps that need to be addressed. The myIGDIs English and Spanish early literacy measures, along with the early numeracy measures, are important indicators’ of children’s academic development, but we can’t overlook the importance of taking a whole-child, multidomain approach.

Jan Bryan: That’s such an important point, Heidi. There are a lot of 3- and 4-year-olds who didn’t participate in preschool or daycare this year. Returning in the fall will involve a new environment for them, and they’ll probably have to relearn certain skills. Forming a line, for example, which can be stressful for young children. Or knowing how to take conversational turns, which is so important for later literacy development. I’d definitely reemphasize Alisha’s earlier point here—it won’t be a question of whether the children are ready for 3K, 4K, preschool, etc., but whether the programs are ready for the children.

Scott McConnell: I haven’t heard anyone say that benchmarks will be changing because of the pandemic, but we know it will be harder for a lot of children to reach those benchmarks. This means that in some instances, we’ll need to help students make up for lost opportunities quickly. In other instances, we’ll have to extend our supports and supplemental services for a long time. We also know that we’re going to have a greater mix of children than in the past—not just variations in skills, but greater variation in the age of the children enrolled in the same preschool and pre-K programs.

This means we’re going to have to be a lot smarter about providing differentiated services. Not everyone will need everything. Some children received a lot of attention and support over the last 18 months. Others clearly missed out on important opportunities. Teachers and program leaders will need to be even smarter—and this is hard—about identifying what each child needs, and then providing the services and support to meet these needs.

In some sense, preschool in 2021–2022 will look different than in prior years. We’ll have to focus even more closely on the skills and experiences that are most critical for future success. Without question, preschool needs to be fun and engaging—this is the natural state for preschoolers. Perhaps more than ever, though, “fun and engaging” will need to be connected to “learning and development.” Yes, we’ll still go on neighborhood walks and field trips, but how can we use these activities to expand children’s vocabulary and language skills? We’ll still have music and finger plays, but how can we more often sing about letters and numbers? Preschool teachers are incredibly creative and energetic, and the new school year will provide a great opportunity to direct those talents to make the best use of the time we have with our earliest learners.

Looking for a developmentally appropriate assessment for your preschool or pre-K program? Explore myIGDIs early literacy, early numeracy, and multidomain measures. Also, please contact us with any questions or to request a personalized demo.

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Using Accelerated Reader in high school https://www.renaissance.com/2021/06/04/blog-using-accelerated-reader-in-high-school/ Fri, 04 Jun 2021 12:26:39 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=51754 By Dr. Gene Kerns, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer In 1996, I was teaching high school in Milford, Delaware—a state that was home to a massive credit card bank called MBNA. The bank created the MBNA Excellence in Education […]

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By Dr. Gene Kerns, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer

In 1996, I was teaching high school in Milford, Delaware—a state that was home to a massive credit card bank called MBNA. The bank created the MBNA Excellence in Education Foundation and was very willing to fund thoughtful grant proposals from teachers. My colleague, Mercedes, and I had both heard about Accelerated Reader, and we were certain that bringing the program to our school would make a positive impact on students.

We stayed late on an early dismissal day and carefully crafted our grant proposal for the AR software, as well as a massive infusion of books for our school library. A few months later, we were unpacking the new books and arranging for professional development for our Accelerated Reader implementation.

Now, implementing AR isn’t unusual, but starting the implementation in a high school is. Most districts begin the program with their elementary grades and later expand to higher grades. In some districts— even those with well-established AR implementations—you might not find AR in the high schools at all. Yet our implementation in Milford made such an impact that within 6 months, AR was rolled out to our middle school. Within 18 months, AR was used in every school in the district.

For Mercedes and me, there was never a question of AR’s relevance to high school students. Even a quick review of the book titles supported by AR reveals both classics and the best in new young adult literature. So, why is it that AR sometimes does not continue through all the grades in a district? Why is it that, despite including titles such as Hamlet, Invisible Man, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, The Hunger Games, and The Outsiders, AR is more often associated with the elementary grades than the secondary ones?

Understanding student reading motivation

I think a primary reason for this is the shifting attitude toward reading as students ascend the grades. Daniel Willingham (2015) notes that “although kids like reading (both at home and at school) in the early grades, their opinions become more and more negative as they get older,” creating the reality that “by high school, the average kid is at best indifferent to reading.” As a result of plummeting motivation, secondary students in most schools read very little—in fact, shockingly little.

When he polled the teachers and parents of teenagers, Willingham found that, on average, they hoped that students were reading roughly 75 minutes a day. But, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey, “the actual time American teenagers spend reading is 6 minutes” per day (Willingham, 2015). He cautions us, however, that behind this average is the stark reality that “most kids don’t read at all, and a few read quite a lot.”

We also see the wide variance in student reading practice when Willingham (2017) notes that while “reluctant readers read 50,000 words each year…avid readers encounter many more words—as many as 4,000,000.” When represented in a graphic format, this difference is eye-opening:

Willingham’s statement echoes a finding by Terry Paul (1992), the co-founder of Renaissance, that the “top 5% of readers read 144 times more than the bottom 5%.”

The benefits of wide independent reading

The impacts of these disparate rates of reading practice are profound. Wide reading supports the development of fluency, the acquisition of vocabulary, and the development of background knowledge. This means that regular readers, who also tend to be the top readers, become even better readers because they read.

The idea that better readers get even better while non-readers fall further behind may evoke associations with “the Matthew effect,” a concept based on the following Bible verse:

For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance:

but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.

Matthew 13:12, King James Version

Loosely paraphrased, this verse is familiar to many as the aphorism, “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” But, is wide reading—an activity that many high school students choose not to engage in—really an example of the Matthew effect? It’s clearly not the case that massive numbers of students cannot get access to books. Most are not “book poor.” On the contrary, thanks to digital reading platforms, today’s students have easier access to text than any prior generation. As Mark Bauerlein (2008) points out, “Never before have opportunities for education, learning, political action, and cultural activity been greater…. The fonts of knowledge are everywhere, but the rising generation is camped in the desert.”

I think this comparison to a desert is very appropriate. If what we desire is a landscape of wide student reading, we must acknowledge that, in general, the secondary grades are a barren desert into which it is very difficult to introduce new life.

In Raising Kids Who Read (2015), Willingham asserts that we must strive to support all students in having a positive attitude toward reading. He suggests that “one source—probably the primary source—of positive reading attitudes is positive reading experiences. This phenomenon is no more complicated than understanding why someone has a positive attitude towards eggplant: you taste it and you like it.”

He adds that “for many students, ‘reading’ means books written by dead people who have nothing to say that would be relevant to your life. Nevertheless, you are expected to pore over their words, study them, summarize them, analyze them for hidden meaning, and then write a five-page paper about them.” For most students, there is no pleasure in this.

So, how might we better support secondary readers in forming a positive reading attitude through positive reading experiences? Here are four ideas that are applicable to both in-person and remote learning environments:

1. Schedule 20 minutes daily for pleasure reading

First, Willingham (2015) suggests that schools “make reading expected and normal by devoting some class time to silent pleasure reading.” While this is good for all students, Willingham remarks that it “is the best solution [he] can see for a student who has no interest in reading,” because “it offers the gentlest pressure that is still likely to work.”

A critical element of making this time optimally successful is the setting of student reading goals, a topic we explored in detail in an earlier blog. Accelerated Reader helps teachers to set personalized goals for students, including a goal around daily reading time. Our research has consistently shown that students who have worked with their teachers and have goals entered in AR demonstrate more growth than students with no goals set.

2. Delineate between academic reading and pleasure reading

When establishing time for pleasure reading, Willingham is direct in his call for educators to delineate between academic and pleasure reading, not only in their own minds but also for students. His “concern is that kids might confuse academic reading with reading for pleasure. If they do, they’ll come to think of reading as work, plain and simple.” While, as teachers, “we’d like to think that academic reading is pleasurable…in most schools, ‘pleasure’ is not a litmus test. Academic reading feels like work because it is work. But pleasure ought to be the litmus test for reading for pleasure.”

Here, student choice in what to read is critical, especially for reluctant readers. With more than 220,000 titles available, almost any student choice is encompassed with the Accelerated Reader quiz collection.

3. Manage reading practice—but not too rigidly

Using “pleasure” as the litmus test has implications. While research is clear that engaging with more challenging texts generally yields the most growth and that reading widely (across multiple topics and genres) is also beneficial, for struggling readers, we must first get them to willingly read. Reading something is clearly better than reading nothing. But if we restrict, push, or direct things too much, we can easily sap the pleasure from pleasure reading.

For example, teachers are often concerned when students choose books that are below their reading level or are perceived as lacking in literary merit. I discussed this point in detail in a recent blog, where I pointed out that sometimes our focus should be “less about pushing students—particularly those who are struggling or reluctant readers—to higher-level books than allowing them to read in order to find success and joy.”

Again, Willingham (2015) and many others note that choice in what to read is very important, because it “allows the greatest possibility that when the reluctant reader does give a book a try, he’ll hit on something that he likes.” He adds, “If my teen avoided all reading, I would be fine with him reading ‘junk.’ Before he can develop taste, he must first experience hunger. The first step is to open his mind to that idea that printed material is worth his time.”

4. Use every resource available

Given the barren “desert” of secondary reading motivation, we must be honest that there is no silver bullet. Motivating and engaging most secondary readers is just plain hard work. In our high school in Delaware, we found that Accelerated Reader was an indispensable tool—not a “silver bullet.”

For us, the massive infusion of new books into the school library was another critical motivator. If your collection is limited and/or older, students are less likely to engage with the titles. A new cover on a classic title can create renewed interest. And you can take simple steps to better display the books in your library, helping them to take on the qualities of a bookstore.

Also, the growing ease of accessing texts digitally can be a powerful motivator. Willingham (2017) remarks that “if it’s affordable, an e-reader is wonderful for instant access,” because we can create a dynamic where books are not “just available, but virtually falling into children’s laps.”

35 years—and counting

This year, we’re celebrating 35 years of Accelerated Reader, which began as a program intended to get a reluctant reader to read. Decades have passed, and educators still keep coming back to the question of how to motivate students to read as much as possible. The enduring nature of this challenge does not mean it’s a lost cause; it’s merely a difficult one—and one that becomes even more difficult as students age.

The difficultly and gravity of this challenge make me think of lyrics from “The Man of La Mancha,” the musical adaptation of Don Quixote. In striving to get every student to read, teachers “dream the impossible dream” and “fight the unbeatable foe.” New tools and insights help us in this quest and— because we know the quest is so important—we’re “willing to march into Hell, for a Heavenly cause.” “And the world will be better for this: That [caring teachers], scorned and covered with scars/Still strove, with [their] last ounce of courage, to reach the unreachable star.”

Looking for the most popular books in high school? Check out the new edition of What Kids Are Reading, the world’s largest annual study of K–12 student reading habits. And to see everything that today’s Accelerated Reader has to offer, click the button below.

Explore today’s AR

References

Bauerlein, M. (2008). The dumbest generation: How the digital age stupefies young Americans and jeopardizes our future. New York: Penguin.

Paul, T. (1992). National reading study and theory of reading practice. Madison, WI: Institute for Academic Excellence/Renaissance Learning.

Willingham, D. (2015). Raising kids who read: What parents and teachers can do. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Willingham, D. (2017). The reading mind: A cognitive approach to understanding how the mind reads. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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How to address COVID-19 impacts in middle school https://www.renaissance.com/2021/05/21/blog-how-to-address-covid-19-impacts-in-middle-school/ Fri, 21 May 2021 13:16:25 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=51633 By Julianne Robar, Educational Content Program Manager I love this quote from a recent EdSurge article on the importance of valuing teachers: “The phrase ‘learning loss’ has become as widespread as ‘you’re on mute’ in the era of the COVID-19 […]

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By Julianne Robar, Educational Content Program Manager

I love this quote from a recent EdSurge article on the importance of valuing teachers: “The phrase ‘learning loss’ has become as widespread as ‘you’re on mute’ in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic.” As a former educator, I am in awe of the steadfast dedication that teachers, students, and families have applied to continued learning this school year, despite the many challenges. As a member of the Research & Design team at Renaissance, I am equally inspired by the student performance data that show the learning growth resulting from everyone’s dedication. I agree it’s time for the discussion to move away from “learning loss” and shift towards how to keep the growth momentum going.

In this blog, I’d like to dig into some of the findings from the new Winter Edition of How Kids Are Performing. The report compares the Fall 2020 and Winter 2020–2021 performance of 3.8 million students in grades 1–8 who completed a Star Early Literacy, Star Reading, and/or Star Math assessment in both time periods. I’ll focus specifically on (a) grade levels where we’re continuing to see some larger discrepancies between typical-year student performance and COVID-impacted performance, (b) some of the critical and potentially challenging skills that may be responsible, and (c) ideas for prioritizing instruction and classroom interaction time to accelerate student learning in these grades.

As context for identifying specific skills, I’ll draw on the work we’ve undertaken at Renaissance to create detailed reading and math learning progressions for every US state. Our learning progression developers—all of whom have educational backgrounds—first identify the skills inherent in each state’s reading and math standards. They then place the skills in a teachable order from kindergarten through high school, based on pedagogy, standards, and assessment data. An important component of this work is the identification of the most critical reading and math skills at every grade level, which we refer to as Renaissance Focus Skills. Focus Skills are embedded in our Star Assessments and are also freely available to educators on our website.

Understanding student performance in reading

The following table from How Kids Are Performing translates the academic impact of COVID-19 into the number of weeks of reading instruction required to bring students in line with pre-pandemic expectations. (In other words, where we would expect students to be if the pandemic had not occurred.) The squares labeled “F” show the COVID-19 impact in Fall 2020. Those labeled “W” show the impact in Winter 2020–2021.

In grades 1–5, the data show that students made clear progress between fall and winter. In grades 6–8, however, the data indicate that students have fallen behind. After beginning the school year close to expectations, students in grade 6 were 4–7 weeks behind at the time of winter screening. Students in grades 7–8 were 8–11 weeks behind.

What might be responsible for this change?

Identifying challenging reading skills

The type of skills in grades 6, 7, and 8 that fall within the fall-to-winter instructional window require nuanced vocabulary, including shades of meaning like connotation, synonyms, and multiple-meaning words. They also require students to read for deeper understanding, such as identifying what an author thinks or feels and how the author wants the reader to feel. 

For example, consider the following graphic, which shows a segment of our learning progression for reading. The solid line on the right shows grade 7 students’ expected position on the learning progression in Winter 2020–2021. The dotted line on the left shows students’ observed (actual) position. The shaded blue area represents the distance between the two.

Within the shaded area, there are multiple Focus Skills, which are represented by the stars, along with non-Focus skills, which are represented by the dots. Each skill’s difficulty is expressed using the Star Unified Scale—the higher above the dotted blue line, the more challenging the skill.

In taking a deeper look at the shaded area, we encounter challenging Author’s Word Choice skills such as:

  • Analyze how word choice creates tone/mood. This requires students to interpret the tone and mood of a text—and to analyze how the author’s word choice creates this tone and mood.
  • Analyze characteristics of informational texts. This requires students to analyze and explain the characteristics and devices employed by different types of informational texts—including literary nonfiction (e.g., essay, biography) and argument—to begin to establish an interpretive framework for understanding different works.

Maximizing instructional impact on these skills

These grade 7 skills are reflective of key pillars of reading instruction at the middle-school level, as captured by a 2016 paper titled “Common themes in teaching reading for understanding.” The paper’s authors highlight the importance of active engagement with a variety of texts, classroom discussions, and building on students’ prior knowledge and vocabulary. 

To make the best use of limited classroom interaction time—whether this is done face-to-face or using a platform such as Zoom—educators might consider:

  • Prioritizing skills that benefit from discussion and interaction, such as those about the effect on audience, impact of word choice, or making inferences. As mentioned earlier, Focus Skills are a resource for identifying critical skills that should be prioritized.
  • Combining similar skills during instruction. For example, at grade 6, our data identifies both Analyze characteristics of different forms of informational text, explaining structural differences and modes of discourse and Analyze characteristics of different forms of literary text, recognizing structural differences as challenging skills. Savvy text selection by the teacher might enable students to learn important text analysis skills in a way that transfers well between informational and literary texts.
  • Ensuring that prerequisite skills are in place. For challenging skills like nuances of vocabulary and how word choice affects the reader, educators might revisit vocabulary from earlier grades, along with revisiting author’s purpose, because both will support students in going deeper on author’s word choice. This would also apply to cross-text analysis. Students are likely to struggle in comparing how two texts handle a theme if they don’t know how to identify a theme and how the author develops it in a single text.

Understanding student performance in math

Like the table for reading we considered earlier, How Kids Are Performing translates the academic impact of COVID-19 into the number of weeks of math instruction required to meet pre-pandemic expectations. Again, the squares labeled “F” show the COVID-19 impact in Fall 2020, while those labeled “W” show the impact in Winter 2020–2021.

Here, we see that students at every grade level brought learning closer to expected performance in winter. The data for grades 4–6 show that even though student learning remains 8–11 weeks behind pre-pandemic expectations, students are clearly making up ground.

Identifying challenging math skills

As in the earlier example for reading, the following graphic shows a segment of our learning progression for math. In this case, we’ve shown the difference between estimated and observed performance for students in three grade levels—4, 5, and 6—as represented by the blue shading.

The types of skills that fall within these instructional windows include challenging Geometry-based measurement skills that are also essential building blocks towards Algebra Readiness and problem-solving ability. The Focus Skills listed below highlight the importance of building a solid math foundation in middle school to support learning in subsequent grades:  

  • Grade 4: Solve a problem using the area or perimeter formulas for rectangles. This requires students to apply the concept of multiplication and knowledge of what perimeter and area mean to a real-world scenario.
  • Grade 5: Find the volume of a right rectangular prism to solve a problem, using a formula. This requires students to continue to build understanding of three-dimensional shapes, to understand how volume differs from area, and to solve complex problems.
  • Grade 6: Determine the area of a triangle, square, or rectangle to solve a problem. In this case, the student needs to determine which formula to apply in order to solve specific problems.

Maximizing instructional impact on these skills

The examples above also reflect the benchmark learning goals for these grade levels, as summarized in the National Math Advisory Panel’s “Foundations for success” document. Because achieving math milestones is critical for student motivation and future progress, and because of the many math skills that need to be covered at each grade level, educators might consider:

  • Prioritizing challenging Algebra Readiness skills that that benefit from discussion and interaction, such as Divide mixed numbers or fractions. Students might grasp this concept more readily with visual modelling of separating everyday objects into parts (e.g., a pizza, a piece of paper, or sticks). Again, Focus Skills are a resource for identifying the critical skills to prioritize.
  • Combining similar skills during instruction. For example, data skills like Use a line graph to represent data and Answer a question using information from a line graph could be incorporated into classroom discussions of the amount of time students spend on independent reading or math practice, with intentional sharing around the details of the structure and function of the graph.
  • Ensuring that prerequisite skills are in place for application skills. For example, revisiting shapes, properties of shapes, and composing/decomposing shapes and ensuring students are proficient in their understanding of multiplication may also help new concepts of perimeter and area feel more accessible.

How persistence contributes to students’ success

In a recent blog, my colleague Dr. Gene Kerns pointed out that despite all of the challenges, many students are having a very legitimate school year. Although the phrase “persistence pays off” isn’t exactly original, I think this is a key takeaway from How Kids Are Performing. Educators have clearly found innovative ways to connect with students this year and to make full use of limited instructional time.

As I mentioned at the outset, it will be critical to maintain this positive momentum over the summer and throughout the 2021–2022 school year—not necessarily by doing new things, but by continuing to do things that you know are effective. And Focus Skills can continue to play an important role here, helping you to prioritize instruction to best support your students’ needs.

If you haven’t already, explore the reading and math Focus Skills for your state. Also, download the new Winter Edition of How Kids Are Performing for more insights on students’ progress and growth this school year.

Download the report

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How the COVID-19 disruptions will impact state proficiency rates https://www.renaissance.com/2021/05/14/blog-how-the-covid-19-disruptions-will-impact-state-proficiency-rates/ Fri, 14 May 2021 14:10:57 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=51520 By Amanda Beckler, Senior Research Analyst; David Butz, Senior Research Analyst; and Eric Stickney, Senior Director of Education Research In the new Winter Edition of our How Kids Are Performing report, we estimate the lingering impacts of the pandemic on […]

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By Amanda Beckler, Senior Research Analyst; David Butz, Senior Research Analyst; and Eric Stickney, Senior Director of Education Research

In the new Winter Edition of our How Kids Are Performing report, we estimate the lingering impacts of the pandemic on student performance in reading and math through the middle of the 2020–2021 school year. Results are presented in a variety of metrics, including Scaled Scores, Percentile Ranks, and estimated weeks of instruction. The report uses aggregated data from millions of students who took Renaissance’s Star Reading and Star Math assessments in both Fall 2020 and Winter 2020–2021.

In this blog, we’ll estimate the pandemic’s impact using another metric—likely performance on spring state summative exams. This is a timely topic, given that many states are administering their exams in March, April, and May of 2021 for the first time since 2019. As we document in How Kids Are Performing, many educators and other stakeholders have noticed lower-than-usual performance this year as a result of the pandemic and the many challenges it has brought to education. Consequently, many are wondering what to expect from their state test results.

This is an especially challenging question because the population of students expected to take statewide standardized tests in 2021 is anticipated to be smaller and potentially systematically different than students who tested in Spring 2019, making year-over-year comparisons impossible. As such, we hope this analysis provides a helpful national context for local and state leaders as they interpret their own results.

Quantifying the pandemic’s impact on student performance

Consistent with the How Kids Are Performing findings, we estimate a small negative impact on state reading performance and a larger negative impact on math performance. More specifically, we estimate that the pandemic will result in an overall decline of about 1 percent in the percentage of students who will reach proficient status or higher on their state reading/ELA test. We estimate the impact on math will be an overall decline of about 4 percent in the percentage of students who will reach proficient status or higher on state math tests. The two grades where math achievement is likely to be most negatively impacted are grades 4 and 5, where we anticipate that 9 percent and 6 percent fewer students will reach proficiency due to the pandemic, respectively. Impacts at other grade levels are smaller.

How are we able to estimate state test outcomes? First, Star Reading and Star Math scales have been statistically linked to state end-of-year test scales. Evaluations of those linkages indicate that Star correlates strongly with state assessments and predicts results with a high degree of accuracy.1 In other words, we can use Star test results from fall and winter to reliably estimate whether students are likely to meet their state’s standard for proficiency in reading and math in the spring, long before official state results are released.2

Second, because the How Kids Are Performing analysis also includes student-level estimates of how each student would be performing this year had the pandemic not occurred, we can also project that value to the date of each student’s state test, as shown in the graphic below.

State Tests

Study sample size and considerations

This analysis includes a subset of students from the Winter Edition of How Kids Are Performing, restricted by grade level and state.3 It focuses on grades 3–8, which are the grades that states are mandated to assess. States were included if we felt we had a sufficiently large sample as well as a current linking study between Star and the state test. In total, this analysis included 1,701,098 students from 33 states in reading and 1,085,652 students from 35 states in math.

Any research project has limitations, and there are a few to note with this analysis. First, the growth norms we used to project students within-year are from pre-COVID school years and may not reflect actual student growth patterns during 2020–2021. However, it is worth noting that fall to winter growth from 2020–2021, as documented in How Kids Are Performing, approached typical pre-COVID levels in both reading and math. Therefore, there is reason to expect these growth norms might accurately project the remainder of the school year.

Second, there will always be some degree of imprecision in using performance on one test (in this case, Star) to predict performance on another (state summative exams). That said, Star has an extensive track record of predicting state summative results with high, though not perfect, accuracy. Technical reports from each Star-state linking study can be found by searching our research library. Each state linking study includes accuracy results, correlations, sample sizes, and other details.

Finally, this analysis is limited to students who took Star and met other sampling requirements. We do not claim to have a fully representative sample of students from the US or from any individual state. Similarly, we realize that some students have not been participating in schooling during the pandemic, and our sample may be systematically excluding certain types of students. The results might differ if we were able to involve a larger sample of students. Like the state summative tests administered in 2021, our data provide one piece of information in understanding a larger educational picture.

Addressing learning loss this summer—and beyond

In a recent blog, our colleague Dr. Gene Kerns pointed out that the academic recovery from COVID-19 will have more in common with a marathon than a sprint. In that spirit, we’d like to conclude with three actionable “next steps” for educators and education leaders.

First, take advantage of summer learning opportunities and extended school-day/extended school-year programs to help make up “lost ground” due to the pandemic. Second, use our Renaissance Focus Skills for reading and math to help prioritize the most critical content at each grade level. Finally, remember the important role of your interim assessment tools for answering essential questions about students’ instructional needs—and for tracking your district’s progress in reversing the academic impacts of COVID-19.

If you haven’t already, download the new Winter Edition of How Kids Are Performing for more insights on student performance and growth this year. To access the report and supporting resources, click the button below.

Notes

1 Star Reading and Star Math meet the highest standard of evidence for classification accuracy (being able to predict important outcomes later in the school year), as judged by the independent National Center on Intensive Intervention’s Academic Screening Review. See Star’s reviews by clicking here.

2 Note that proficiency means different things in different states—for two reasons. First, in some states, “proficient” is set at a considerably more challenging level of performance than in other states. Second, although every state has a set proficiency benchmark on its test that indicates meeting grade-level state performance standards, the language states use to explain that level of performance is inconsistent. For example, in Florida, the desired proficiency level is called “Level 3.” In Wisconsin, it’s called “Proficient,” and in Massachusetts, “Meeting Expectations.” For this study, we connected Star to each state’s specific proficiency level that represents meeting state grade-level performance standards.

3 See the report for more details about the study.

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Assessing preschool and kindergarten readiness this fall https://www.renaissance.com/2021/05/07/blog-assessing-preschool-kindergarten-readiness-this-fall/ Fri, 07 May 2021 14:58:22 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=51448 Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many families decided not to enroll their children in preschool or kindergarten this school year. This raises two key questions as we look ahead to Fall 2021: (a) Will the children who arrive for preschool, […]

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Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many families decided not to enroll their children in preschool or kindergarten this school year. This raises two key questions as we look ahead to Fall 2021: (a) Will the children who arrive for preschool, kindergarten, and even grade 1 be prepared for the social, emotional, and academic demands of in-person learning? (b) What can educators and families do now to support children’s success?

We recently discussed these questions with Dr. Jan Bryan, Vice President and National Education Officer, and Dr. Scott McConnell, Director of Assessment Innovation. We were joined by two of our colleagues who are also the parents of preschool children: Ali Good, Senior Director of Product Marketing, and Heidi Lund, Product Manager.

Q: Why have the COVID-19 disruptions affected early learners so significantly?

Scott McConnell: So much of what we do in preschool and kindergarten is hands-on. That’s why we tend to structure these classrooms around “activity centers” where kids are interacting with each other and with physical objects—such as blocks and tiles—to get an understanding of how the world works. Activity centers are also the place where teachers “drop in” to comment, reinforce, and expand on young learners’ actions. This mix of child-child, child-teacher, and physical interaction is difficult to reproduce in a remote learning environment.

For many children, preschool or kindergarten is also the first time they’re left in the care of an adult who isn’t a family member for an extended time period. We hear a lot about “shyness” at the beginning of the school year, as children figure out how they’re going to interact with this new adult, what they’re going to do when they’re asked to line up, wait for their turn, etc. This is another important learning experience that’s difficult to reproduce virtually.

Compare this to the experience of a high school student who’s enrolled in, say, pre-calculus. Granted, many teenagers aren’t enthusiastic about advanced math classes. But when school buildings are closed, lessons can be delivered over Zoom, and these older students are much more capable of reading the textbook and working through problems on their own. Over their years of schooling, they’ve learned to self-regulate and to manage their learning in ways that younger children cannot.

Jan Bryan: I know a family with a 3-year-old and a 9-year-old, both of whom are learning at home this year. The 9-year-old is doing well with online learning. Once the school day ends, she often logs back in to chat with her friends, just as she used to do in the lunchroom or during recess.

The 3-year-old obviously doesn’t have this option. He’s doing well academically—either his parents or his grandparents talk and read to him during the day, and he practices saying the letters and numbers, so he’s having a lot of the same educational experiences he would have had in preschool. What’s missing is the opportunity to interact with other 3-year-olds. The writer Dylan Wiliam says that a child’s best resource is another child, and I suspect that every early childhood educator can think of a student who arrived at school not wanting to share or take turns—and who faced the natural consequences of this from his or her peers.

As Scott said, this peer-to-peer interaction is a critical social-emotional learning experience that may have been missed this year. The 3-year-old communicates beautifully with his parents, but they have no way of knowing whether he can communicate with other 3-year-olds.

Q: Why will kindergarten readiness present such unique challenges this fall?

Ali Good: My son turned 5 a few weeks ago, so I can share firsthand experience here. He attends Montessori school now, so we have to decide whether to enroll him in public school for kindergarten or to continue in Montessori for another year, since it offers a kindergarten curriculum.

The pandemic made the decision a lot more difficult. I wasn’t able to visit schools or meet with staff. They did offer Zoom meetings where the principal and several teachers answered questions—but it’s difficult to get a sense of the spirit of a school and of the educators who teach there via Zoom. A lot of my information came from connecting with other parents, especially through social media groups.

What makes Fall 2021 unique is also the number of children who—because of COVID-19—are not enrolled in either preschool or kindergarten this year. What will their families decide to do in the fall? Will we suddenly have a large number of 6-year-olds enrolled in kindergarten? Or will these students go directly to first grade, skipping kindergarten completely?

Each scenario presents challenges, especially in terms of staffing and resource allocation. During the Zoom calls, I asked principals what they were expecting in terms of kindergarten and first-grade enrollment in the fall. The consistent response was, “We’re not sure.”

Scott McConnell: Different US states have different “cut-off” dates for kindergarten eligibility. Every year, you’ll have kids who turn 5 on the first day of eligibility and kids who turn 5 on the last day of eligibility entering kindergarten and learning together. So, you could have kids who are 5 years and 1 day old and kids who are 6 years old in the same program. That’s a difference of almost 20 percent of their lives. As a result, some children will have had significantly more time than others to learn language, to learn about the world, and to learn about themselves—and to learn how to use this knowledge and how to gather more of it.

Kids also bring a wide variety of experiences to kindergarten. Some will be from two-parent homes and others from single-parent homes. Some will be native English speakers while others will be recent immigrants. Some will be reading semi-independently while others are just learning the alphabet. My point is that every year, kindergarten educators have an incredible mix of children and skills in the same classroom—but they can use both previous experience and their knowledge of the community to draw some general conclusions: X percent of students speak English at home, Y percent qualify for free or reduced lunch, etc.

In Fall 2021, however, I don’t think educators will feel confident making predictions like this. In addition to children “red-shirting” this year, we’ll have families who’ve had to move to a different city or state due to the loss of employment, along with children who’ve had to move in with grandparents or other family members because of the pandemic. I think educators’ first question this fall will be: Who are these children? And what are their immediate needs?

This is why formal assessment and teacher observations will be so critical, because we’ll be starting with much more of a “blank slate” than usual. There’s sometimes a reluctance to assess kindergarten students early in the school year, on the grounds that they need 6–8 weeks to acclimate to the classroom, to get used to their teacher, etc. In Fall 2021, I think this would be 6–8 weeks that educators are wasting. Because of the disruption to schooling this year, we’ll really need to press on the accelerator.

Luckily, we have an increasing number of assessment tools that kindergarteners find engaging—so there will be less need to wait.

Q: What advice do you have for teachers and administrators as they look ahead to fall?

Heidi Lund: Even before COVID-19, kindergarten placement could be a difficult conversation. As Scott pointed out, you’ll always have children whose birthdays are either right before or right after the cut-off date. My older son was born in January, so he was already 5-and-a-half when he started kindergarten. My younger son was born in June, however. He’s 3 and in preschool now, but my husband and I are already discussing whether to send him to kindergarten at age 5 or to wait until he’s 6.

My plan is to be strategic, but to also take a “wait-and-see” approach. I’ll register him to enter kindergarten at age 5, so I’m not scrambling to enroll him at the last minute. When he turns 5, I’ll see what his knowledge is like, what his demeanor is like, how his social skills are—and I’ll have a backup plan in place if we then decide to wait another year. I’ll also be assessing him for kindergarten readiness. While test scores won’t be the only factor I consider, they’ll go a long way toward validating what I already suspect and will provide additional data points for consideration.

At Renaissance, we offer myIGDIs for Preschool to assess children’s kindergarten readiness and ongoing development. myIGDIs provides early literacy measures in English and Spanish, along with early numeracy measures and observational assessments of children’s social-emotional and related development. Measures can be administered either in-person or remotely, and the easy-to-read reporting shows how children are performing in relation to seasonal benchmarks.

Actionable Insights on Early Learning

In addition to myIGDIs, we offer Star CBM and Star Early Literacy for assessing students in K–1 (and beyond), and we recently added a popular foundational literacy program called Lalilo to the Renaissance family. So, in response to the uncertainty caused by the pandemic, I’d remind educators that they have access to tools and resources that help to answer key questions about their students, to identify students’ individual needs, and to validate the knowns and unknowns about students’ proficiency.

These data points will also be critical for administrators, as they work to ensure that classrooms are resourced appropriately. For example, next year’s kindergarteners probably won’t need instruction on how to use a touchscreen—they’ve had plenty of experience this year! But in other areas, children’s instructional needs will likely be greater than in the past, especially if they’ve missed out on peer-to-peer interaction. Gathering as much observational data as possible this spring and summer, and then assessing children when the new school year begins, will help administrators to budget for and provide the right programming and resources to these children.

Jan Bryan: That’s such an important point, Heidi. Most teachers and administrators have seen enough and have enough life experience that when they meet these children, they’ll begin to form an understanding of their needs pretty quickly—I’ve seen this before, I’ve walked this path before with a child. As you noted, one important role of assessment is to validate what educators already feel instinctively.

But assessment is also critical for identifying needs that we might otherwise miss. I’ve seen the term “leapfrogging” used to describe this, in the sense that if we don’t assess, we’re in danger of moving ahead too quickly and skipping important skills that a child hasn’t learned yet. Given everything we’ve said today, it’s clear that educators will need to make full use of both aspects of assessment next fall—combining their observations and instincts with specific data points provided by their assessment tools. When you put the two pieces together, you really start to see the pathway ahead for each child.

Scott McConnell: For better or worse, US education has traditionally taken a “cookie-cutter” approach, where all first graders learn addition, all second graders learn subtraction, and so on. We’ve known for a long time that this approach works for some students but not for others. We’ve also known for years that if you give every student the same thing, you won’t get the same results. Educational equity depends not on “sameness” but on allocating support differentially, so we give more to the kids who need more. This has been a long-standing practice in education, even before it was formalized in special education programs and Response to Intervention (RTI) models.

Equity: A Long-Standing Principle

Over the last several years, we’ve seen a move away from the cookie-cutter approach toward something we refer to as continuous learning. Simply put, this means that educators use technology to do what it does best—to support targeted and personalized learning experiences, whether children are in the school building or not. I think the pandemic will only accelerate this shift. In the fall, it won’t be a matter of doing new things but of doing more of the things we know are effective. We’ll need to be more attentive to the different needs of children in the same classroom, and we’ll likely need to be more flexible in grouping students and reallocating resources to where they’re needed the most.

Administrators will also need to be prepared with on-the-fly professional development for their teachers. Because of the disruptions, many more children will arrive in kindergarten and first grade missing foundational skills they would otherwise have developed. For teachers, it won’t be a matter of reviewing these skills with children but rather of starting from scratch. And this is where assessment data will help the most—showing us what kids need right now, and then helping us to track their progress throughout the year.

Looking for reliable data on your early learners’ strengths and instructional needs? See how the following Renaissance products will help to guide your decision-making throughout the school year:

Also, check out Scott and Jan’s webinar for more helpful insights on guiding students’ early learning journeys.

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Renaissance Provides Georgia Students Unlimited Access to Digital Books and News Articles with Summer Reading Program https://www.renaissance.com/2021/05/03/news-renaissance-provides-georgia-students-unlimited-access-digital-books-news-articles-summer-reading-program/ Mon, 03 May 2021 16:45:00 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=51418 Renaissance is providing access to thousands of enhanced digital books and age-appropriate news articles this summer to all children, families, and educators in Georgia Bloomington, Minn. (May 3, 2021) – Renaissance, a global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, is providing […]

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Renaissance is providing access to thousands of enhanced digital books and age-appropriate news articles this summer to all children, families, and educators in Georgia

Bloomington, Minn. (May 3, 2021)Renaissance, a global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, is providing children, families, and educators in Georgia unlimited free access to myON, Renaissance’s digital reading platform, from May 3–July 31, 2021, in partnership with Get Georgia Reading—Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

Designed to get reading materials into the hands of students in the Peach State, the reading program will help children continue learning and growing throughout the summer months. Children, families, and educators can access digital books and news articles using myON through a shared log-in, and low-bandwidth and offline reading options will maximize the reach.

Throughout, Renaissance (@RenLearnUS) and Get Georgia Reading (@GetGAReading) will also publish live metrics on social media. In 2020, students read 1,196,588 minutes and completed 46,757 books.

“Renaissance’s long-term commitment has provided much-needed access to high-quality educational opportunities at home that’s available to every family in Georgia,” said Get Georgia Reading Campaign Director Arianne Weldon. “Their support could not have been more meaningful and essential this past year, and we’re so pleased that they continue to feed our children’s hunger for learning and reading.”

“It’s important students have access to high-interest reading materials,” said Alysse Daniels, Regional Vice President at Renaissance. “We’re thrilled to partner with Get Georgia Reading and keep students engaged in daily reading, preventing the summer slide.”

myON provides students with 24/7 access to thousands of fiction and nonfiction books and news articles—in English, Spanish, and additional languages. Georgia schools and districts that opt to provide their students with year-round, personalized myON accounts after the free summer program get access to even more ways to build reading and writing skills, including close reading tools, customizable literacy projects, and a large collection of titles to support lesson plans across all subject areas.

For more information, visit www.renaissance.com/getgeorgiareading.


About Renaissance

As a global leader in assessment, reading, and math solutions for pre-K–12 schools and districts, Renaissance is committed to providing educators with insights and resources to accelerate growth and help all students build a strong foundation for success. Renaissance solutions are used in over one-third of US schools and in more than 100 countries worldwide. The Renaissance portfolio includes Star Assessments, for reliable, accurate insights into K–12 student learning; myIGDIs, for accurate assessment of early learning; myON, to increase students’ access to high-quality reading materials; Accelerated Reader, to support independent reading practice; Freckle, for teacher-led differentiated instruction; Schoolzilla, to give educators actionable insights into trends in student attendance and achievement; Lalilo, to develop critical foundational skills; and Nearpod, for teacher-facilitated instructional delivery. For more information, visit www.renaissance.com.

Ken Stoflet
Communications Specialist
Renaissance
(715) 424-3636 ext. 2332
ken.stoflet@renaissance.com

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Renaissance Provides Students Unlimited Access to Digital Books and News Articles with the Kentucky Derby https://www.renaissance.com/2021/04/26/news-renaissance-provides-students-unlimited-access-digital-books-news-articles-kentucky-derby/ Mon, 26 Apr 2021 17:54:46 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=51379 Partnering with the Kentucky Derby, Renaissance is providing unlimited access to thousands of enhanced digital books and age-appropriate news articles this summer to third-grade students in the Bluegrass State Bloomington, Minn. (Apr. 26, 2021) – Renaissance, a global leader in […]

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Partnering with the Kentucky Derby, Renaissance is providing unlimited access to thousands of enhanced digital books and age-appropriate news articles this summer to third-grade students in the Bluegrass State

Bloomington, Minn. (Apr. 26, 2021)Renaissance, a global leader in technology-enhanced literacy, is providing third-grade students in Kentucky access to myON, Renaissance’s digital reading platform, from June 1–August 31, 2021, through a partnership with the Kentucky Derby.

Designed to get reading materials into the hands of students, the all-new “Read to the Races” initiative ties into the excitement of the Kentucky Derby and encourages students to keep reading and learning throughout the summer months. Students will be able to log in to myON using school-level shared accounts and choose from thousands of age-appropriate digital books and daily news articles.

To add to the fun, participating districts will be entered automatically into a reading challenge. Schools from the districts with the highest average time spent reading by their students this summer will be recognized in a variety of ways.

“We’re thrilled to partner with Renaissance and help students stay on track as they continue reading and learning during the summer months,” said Cathy Shircliff, Director of Community Relations for Churchill Downs. “We urge families to join us by encouraging students to read with myON every day!”

“The Kentucky Derby is sending a strong message to students across the Bluegrass State about the importance of reading,” said Alysse Daniels, Regional Vice President at Renaissance. “We are looking forward to supporting these efforts and celebrating the results with them!”

myON provides students with 24/7 access to thousands of fiction and nonfiction digital books and news articles—in English, Spanish, and additional languages. Students can read online with myON wherever they have access to the Internet, including in low-bandwidth locations. Students can even download digital books to read offline using free mobile apps—providing additional opportunities to read.

For more information, visit www.renaissance.com/kyreadtotheraces.


About Renaissance

As a global leader in assessment, reading, and math solutions for pre-K–12 schools and districts, Renaissance is committed to providing educators with insights and resources to accelerate growth and help all students build a strong foundation for success. Renaissance solutions are used in over one-third of US schools and in more than 100 countries worldwide. The Renaissance portfolio includes Star Assessments, for reliable, accurate insights into K–12 student learning; myIGDIs, for accurate assessment of early learning; myON, to increase students’ access to high-quality reading materials; Accelerated Reader, to support independent reading practice; Freckle, for teacher-led differentiated instruction; Schoolzilla, to give educators actionable insights into trends in student attendance and achievement; Lalilo, to develop critical foundational skills; and Nearpod, for teacher-facilitated instructional delivery. For more information, visit www.renaissance.com.

Ken Stoflet
Communications Specialist
Renaissance
(715) 424-3636 ext. 2332
ken.stoflet@renaissance.com

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Why the COVID-19 recovery is a marathon, not a sprint https://www.renaissance.com/2021/04/23/why-the-covid-19-recovery-is-a-marathon/ Fri, 23 Apr 2021 13:29:00 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=51321 By Dr. Gene Kerns, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer If we’ve learned anything about surviving a pandemic, it’s that the process has more in common with a marathon than a sprint. Nothing about this was going to be over […]

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By Dr. Gene Kerns, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer

If we’ve learned anything about surviving a pandemic, it’s that the process has more in common with a marathon than a sprint. Nothing about this was going to be over quickly. While we may have naively thought in terms of weeks when this began, we now know that the course of time necessary for both navigating and recovering from the pandemic will be measured in months and years instead. We were not ready for that message a year ago, but having negotiated things so far and with improvements on the horizon, we can now accept this.

Whether we understood it or not, it was always going to take more than a year for some control of the coronavirus outbreak to be established. This meant that it would take even longer to rebuild things both economically and academically. Last spring, multiple studies attempted to predict the academic impacts of the pandemic. Then in the fall, new studies appeared using back-to-school data to show students’ performance at the start of the school year. Now, a new crop of findings provides insight into how kids are growing this year—and whether this growth is sufficient to close COVID-related achievement gaps.

Earlier this week, Renaissance released the new Winter Edition of our How Kids Are Performing report. This new data set provides important insights on how the academic impacts of the pandemic are playing out across the country—and what steps educators can take this summer and beyond to accelerate student learning.

Addressing the academic impact of COVID-19

The new winter report shows that despite all of the challenges, many students are having a very legitimate school year. This is evidenced by the solid Student Growth Percentile (SGP) scores for the fall-to-winter period, drawn from our Star Assessments. While an SGP of 50 is average and these numbers fall slightly below that, the SGP scores for most grades are within a few points of 50, with the possible exception of reading in grades 7–8.

Table 1 Star Student Growth Percentile results

This should be considered something of a victory overall, considering the widespread concern that many students could fall further behind this school year. Such concerns were based on (a) the lack of access to in-person instruction in many places, (b) teachers not being able to fully cover content because of limited instructional time, and (c) well-founded fears about student attendance, access, and engagement in online learning.

While it’s encouraging to see fall-to-winter growth rates approaching typical levels, this also means that there is still unfinished learning from last fall. How so? Students would have needed above-typical growth rates to erase all of the COVID-19 impacts that we saw at the beginning of the school year. In reading, while students in grades 1–3 have gained ground and either remain close to expectations or are no longer behind, the average performance of students in grades 4–5 has held steady. They remain either 4 to 7 weeks behind (grade 4) or close to expectations (grade 5). Students in grades 6–8 have fallen further behind expectations since last fall, however, with those in grades 7–8 now between 8 and 11 weeks behind.

In math, where the largest drops in performance were seen in the fall, students are making headway. While students in most grades are generally now performing at a higher level than they did in the fall, these levels still vary. Students in grades 2–3 are close to expectations, while those in grades 4–8 remain behind typical-year expectations to differing degrees.

Additionally, hiding behind these high-level averages are some stark realities. Disaggregated data reveal widening gaps between demographic subgroups. In the new report, we found larger negative impacts for students who are Black, Hispanic, or American Indian or Alaska Natives, as well as students with disabilities and English Language Learners. Students attending urban schools and schools designated as Title I Schoolwide also experienced greater COVID impacts than the overall averages.

Figure 2 Impact on Percentile Ranke performance in winter by subgroup

So, while there is evidence of progress, there remains both cause for concern and work to be done. The academic impacts that I have highlighted here speak not to getting students up to various benchmarks of performance, but rather to getting students back to performing at the typical or expected level in a normal, pre-pandemic school year. As we move forward, we also need to keep in mind that not only are schools faced with erasing COVID’s impact, but also with addressing the far larger gaps in achievement that existed well before the pandemic.

How one story has become multiple stories

The findings in the Winter Edition of How Kids Are Performing are much harder to summarize than the findings from last fall. This is because in Spring 2020, there was primarily one story for all schools. Over a fairly short period (March 9–17), more than 75,000 schools closed their doors to in-person learning due to COVID-19. The following week, an additional 25,000 schools closed. This meant that nearly all US schools were closed, resulting in a fairly homogeneous experience for students across the nation. Whether you were in a dense urban center or the most remote, rural location, you were out of your school building.

March 2020 school building closures

In the fall, however, students’ educational experiences varied widely. Current estimates are that 30 percent of students are continuing with remote learning into the spring, while other students have had in-person instruction all year. Others have had every possible combination of remote, in-person, and hybrid learning experiences. Given the variety of instructional modes, is it any wonder that we see a wide variety of performance outcomes?

Focusing on students’ academic recovery

The most recent round of federal stimulus funding for education contains language and areas of emphasis that shift the focus from schools’ immediate needs to a multi-year time period for recovery. While initial COVID-19 relief bills dealt with things like personal protective equipment (PPE), reworking physical spaces, hardware, and connectivity, the recent American Rescue Plan Act addresses the need to catch students up academically through summer learning, afterschool learning, extended school days, and extended school years.

So, with the need to catch students up before us and the funding to do so provided, which approaches might prove most useful? How can we use the next 15 months of academic time (Summer 2021, the 2021–2022 school year, and Summer 2022) to address the academic impact of the pandemic? Also, what does research reveal about the most effective approaches to extended school time (extending core teaching and learning time and/or the use of targeted before- and afterschool programs) and about summer learning? And how might we adjust what we do in terms of core instruction to get greater gains from the time that we already have?

Let’s explore these areas in order of decreasing cost. Summer learning is estimated to be the most expensive approach, followed by extended day/extended year, and then by adjustments to core instruction. In this discussion, I’ll rely on the excellent research summaries done by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) in England and presented in their Teaching and Learning Toolkit.

What do we know about effective summer learning?

Key insights regarding summer school/summer learning programs include:

  • On average, summer school/summer learning experiences typically result in two additional months of growth.
  • Greater impact (up to four months of growth) is possible “when summer schools are intensive, well-resourced, and involve small group [tutoring] by trained and experienced teachers.”
  • “Some studies indicate that gains are greater for disadvantaged pupils, but this is not consistent.”
  • “One of the greatest barriers to summer schools having [an] impact was achieving high levels of attendance.”

The EEF’s full report on summer learning is available here. When reviewing their reports, it is useful to pay particular attention to the “what should I consider” section, which highlights key considerations.

What do we know about extended teaching and learning time?

Approaches in this area include extending the school day, extending the school year, and/or providing additional learning time for targeted groups of students. Key insights include:

  • On average, extended time approaches yield two additional months of growth per year. There is evidence that disadvantaged students benefit more, with close to 3 months of additional growth. This evidence also suggests “wider benefits for low-income students, such as increased attendance at school, improved behavior, and better relationships with peers.”
  • Not surprisingly, programs with “a clear structure, a strong link to the curriculum, and well-qualified and well-trained staff” yield the best results.
  • Programs that are less-structured and more enrichment in nature “can have an impact…but the link is not well-established.”

The EEF’s full report on extended learning time is available here. As mentioned earlier, it is helpful to pay particular attention to the “what should I consider?” section.

What’s common to both approaches?

For both summer learning and extended-time learning, the EEF stresses the power of one-to-one and small-group tutoring (which is referred to as “tuition” in England). Their guidance on one-to-one tutoring is available here.

Another consistent point is the importance of enhancing core instruction. Key elements to focus on or strategies to use in this area include (a) improvements to homework, which is shown to be most effective at the secondary level; (b) increasing the quality of feedback provided to students; (c) adopting mastery-based and collaborative learning approaches; (d) teaching meta-cognition and self-regulation strategies; and (e) providing targeted instruction on reading comprehension strategies.

A marathon, not a sprint

At Renaissance, we will continue to track students’ performance in order to better understand the differential impacts of COVID-19 by subject, grade, and demographic subgroup. We will also continue to offer free resources—such as our Focus Skills for reading and math—to help educators target the most critical learning at every grade level, both during the school year and throughout the summer. As I mentioned at the outset, the academic recovery from COVID-19 will require years rather than weeks and will be closer to a marathon than a sprint. But every journey begins with a single step—and a clear view of the road ahead.

Download the new Winter Edition of How Kids Are Performing for more insights on students’ recovery from COVID-19. Also, learn more about the report—including a discussion of remote vs. in-person test administration—in our new on-demand webinar. To watch, click the button below.

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National Achievement Report Finds Varied Rates of Recovery from COVID-19 Impact https://www.renaissance.com/2021/04/20/news-national-achievement-report-finds-varied-rates-recovery-covid-19-impact/ Tue, 20 Apr 2021 11:07:08 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=51272 Bloomington, Minn. (Apr. 20, 2021) – Renaissance, a global leader in technology-enhanced literacy, today released the Winter Edition of How Kids Are Performing: Tracking the Midyear Impact of COVID-19 on Reading and Mathematics Achievement, a new report detailing the academic […]

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Bloomington, Minn. (Apr. 20, 2021)Renaissance, a global leader in technology-enhanced literacy, today released the Winter Edition of How Kids Are Performing: Tracking the Midyear Impact of COVID-19 on Reading and Mathematics Achievement, a new report detailing the academic impacts associated with COVID-19 school disruptions.

Designed to provide educators with targeted data to help them understand how students are performing relative to typical years, the report is based on the results of more than 3.8 million students’ assessments.

Assessment scores from all 50 states and the District of Columbia were included in the sample, which consisted of students in grades 1–8 who took Star Early Literacy, Star Reading, or Star Math assessments during fall 2019, fall 2020, and winter 2020–2021. Using historical data from recent pre-COVID years, the authors established reasonable estimates for how each student would have been expected to grow in the first half of the 2020–2021 school year, had the pandemic not struck. Each student’s observed performance was then compared to an expected score, with results presented by subject, grade, and subgroup.

The report’s overall conclusion is that student growth during the first half of the 2020–2021 school year is approaching expected levels in both reading and math. On a Percentile Rank basis, students are about 2 points behind pre-COVID expectations in reading and 6 points behind in math. So, while students remain close to expectations for reading (+/- 3 weeks), students are still 4–7 weeks behind in math. Based on comparisons between performance results in winter 2021 and fall 2020, COVID achievement impacts are beginning to shrink in many grades.

Some specific findings of the report include the following:

  • Rural schools are adapting: Regardless of locale, all schools were performing similarly in reading, averaging from two Percentile Rank points behind to on track. In math, students in schools located in rural and suburban areas and towns performed consistent with or above the overall sample, while students in urban schools were further behind expectations than their peers. Students at rural schools also saw the greatest improvement in achievement results between the fall and winter reports.
  • Middle school students continue to experience academic impacts: While students in grades 1–3 and 5 are, overall, meeting expectations for reading, students in grade 4 are still behind typical achievement. Students in grade 6 are further behind than those in earlier grades, and students in grades 7 and 8 are, overall, the furthest behind pre-pandemic expectations.
  • At-risk demographics are disproportionately affected: Students of all races and ethnicities were below pre-pandemic expectations for math, with Asian and white students closest to typical achievement levels and Hispanic or Latino students, Black, and American Indian or Alaska Native students experiencing more substantial impacts. Black, Hispanic, and American Indian or Alaska Native students also lost the most ground in reading from the fall to winter assessments.

“We were pleased to see many students making typical school-year progress despite shifting instructional approaches this year,” said Dr. Katie McClarty, vice president of research and design at Renaissance. “That finding and the ability of rural schools to make up ground from the fall to the winter suggests that schools and students can catch up, even if there’s still a lot of work ahead.”

Renaissance will continue tracking this sample of students to better understand the differential impacts of COVID-19 by subject, grade, and subgroup. Because summer 2021 will be critical for reversing COVID-19’s impact, the company has curated a variety of free resources to fully support summer learning. This includes: free access to the myON digital reading platform, reading and math engagement kits, and summer school implementation guides for Renaissance’s Star Assessments, Accelerated Reader, myON, and Freckle programs.

Educators can download a free copy of the new report by visiting Renaissance.com/How-Kids-Are-Performing.

Educators can access the summer learning resources at Renaissance.com/SummerLearning.


About Renaissance

As a global leader in assessment, reading, and math solutions for pre-K–12 schools and districts, Renaissance is committed to providing educators with insights and resources to accelerate growth and help all students build a strong foundation for success. Renaissance solutions are used in over one-third of US schools and in more than 100 countries worldwide. The Renaissance portfolio includes Star Assessments, for reliable, accurate insights into K–12 student learning; myIGDIs, for accurate assessment of early learning; myON, to increase students’ access to high-quality reading materials; Accelerated Reader, to support independent reading practice; Freckle, for teacher-led differentiated instruction; Schoolzilla, to give educators actionable insights into trends in student attendance and achievement; Lalilo, to develop critical foundational skills; and Nearpod, for teacher-facilitated instructional delivery. For more information, visit www.renaissance.com.

Ken Stoflet
Communications Specialist
Renaissance
(715) 424-3636 ext. 2332
ken.stoflet@renaissance.com

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Why reluctant readers need authors they can trust https://www.renaissance.com/2021/04/16/blog-why-reluctant-readers-need-authors-they-can-trust/ Fri, 16 Apr 2021 13:15:08 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=51186 By Dr. Gene Kerns, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer With the recent passing of Beverly Cleary, we lost a giant in children’s literature. She is among a small, select group of authors whom massive numbers of children just seem […]

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By Dr. Gene Kerns, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer

With the recent passing of Beverly Cleary, we lost a giant in children’s literature. She is among a small, select group of authors whom massive numbers of children just seem to trust. That is rather magical. Cleary’s adventures of Ralph S. Mouse (Runaway Ralph and The Mouse and the Motorcycle), Ramona Quimby, Henry, Beezus, and others are perennial favorites. Along with series like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, and The Hunger Games, Cleary’s novels are widely read, year after year.

The appeal of Beverly Cleary is also part of Renaissance lore. Don Peak, who was one of the first and most successful principals to oversee an implementation of Accelerated Reader in Texas, often told the story of how his son connected with Cleary’s books. This story was so impactful that it was embedded in our AR professional development for years.

Peak’s son was a very capable middle-school reader with a grade equivalent (GE) of 10.0. His first book selection when using Accelerated Reader was Cleary’s Henry Huggins. Believing this book to be too low in terms of readability level, Peak bit his tongue because his son, who previously didn’t read much, was choosing to read. This became harder when the next book choice was Beezus and Ramona. When his son brought home Ribsy, a third Clearly book, Peak “made a beeline to the library” to consult the librarian who had assisted in bringing Accelerated Reader into the school. The story continues in his words:

I asked her, “My son has read three Beverly Cleary books in a row, so what do I need to do?” She gave me a good piece of advice. She said, “You told me he’d never read before and he’s reading now. You don’t ‘do’ anything. You let him read.” Then she said, “Besides, we only have two more Beverly Cleary books in the library.”

So, I left him alone and he read those two other Beverly Cleary books, and then he came home without a book. I said, “You didn’t get a book?” He said, “No, you know I read all of the Beverly Cleary books in the library, but this kid at school told me that they have two more of them at the county library. Will you drive me over there?” Now, I am one who can take good advice, so I said, “You bet. Let’s load up.” So, he read those two Beverly Cleary books and there were no more Beverly Cleary books in our county. The next book he selected to read was Tom Sawyer.

You see, we go through stages of reading. I did. You probably did. At the point where he was—where he found himself and he found that first book, Henry Huggins—he trusted that author and he was not willing to trust any other author. It brought him pleasure, so why not stick with it? And that’s what he did. You’ll see many kids doing this, and I don’t think we need to discourage it.

While many reluctant or struggling readers willingly engage with texts like Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Gangsta Granny, some educators express concern about these choices, just as Peak did. They question the literary merit or the relative reading level of these books, particularly when students who might be a bit older engage with them. But I say, if the choice is between a struggling reader either (a) reading nothing, or (b) willingly engaging with a lower-level text, the choice is clear. As Don Peak’s school librarian advised him, let reluctant or struggling readers read what they want to read, and then work to guide their reading practice from there. Reading something is better than reading nothing.

A first taste of success

For many students, finding pleasure in and truly connecting with reading must begin with finding some success—often their first success in reading. Don Peak’s son was a reluctant reader, not a struggling one, but the point is the same. Consider this story from one of our Renaissance Coaches who regularly delivers professional development around Accelerated Reader:

I had been working with a librarian who was working so hard to get AR set up and running at her school. We had been working together for a while, and one day out of the blue she called me because she had to share what had just happened. She was in the library and a student came up to her and said that she had just gotten a 100 percent on an AR quiz! The student was so excited about the score, because “it was the first time she had ever gotten a 100 in reading. She hadn’t thought she would ever accomplish that.” My librarian friend told me that after talking with the excited student, she went into her office, shut the door, and cried.

Authors Whom Students Trust

 

Part science, part art

In our guidance to educators on using Accelerated Reader, we have written that “matching students to books remains as much art as science, which is why teachers and librarians are, as they have always been, essential in the teaching of reading.” We add that “no formula can take the place of a trained educator who knows her students. Readability formulas, reading tests, and reading ranges are important tools” because “they give teachers and librarians a beginning—a place to start in their task of matching a student to a book.” But ultimately they are just that: tools. The educator brings the human element and additional considerations about specific students, such as: Are they enthusiastic readers? Reluctant readers? Struggling readers? As Daniel Willingham (2015) points out, “Choice is enormously important for motivation, but there must be teacher guidance” as well. We are always working to strike the right balance between the two.

I was teaching high school at the height of the Harry Potter craze and, for most of my students, the first few books in that series were below their suggested reading ranges. But when students—particularly those who were not generally enthusiastic about reading—approached me with a 400-page book in their hands and earnestly asked, “Mr. Kerns, I know this book is a bit below my reading range, but can I read…?,” the rest of what came out of their mouths generally sounded like the “blah blah blah” of Charlie Brown’s teacher. The last thing I was going to say was “No, you can’t read that.”

While reading formulas and readability levels are useful tools, we sometimes need to lay down the tools and ignore the science of them in favor of the art of knowing the needs of specific students. By all means, push your capable, successful readers to higher-level books when they need to be pushed. But also know when it’s less about pushing students—particularly those who are struggling or reluctant readers—to higher-level books than allowing them to read in order to find success and joy. In other words, manage your students’ independent reading practice—but not too rigidly.

Time spent “just” reading

In our recent book Literacy Reframed, my coauthors and I advise educators to “divide discussions about reading into a few distinctly different categories—reading to students, having students read independently, and reading with students (instructional reading)…[because] different rules govern what constitutes success within each category.” We add that “wide independent reading holds significant, overlooked, and undervalued potential,” yet convincing some people of the importance of regular independent reading time is still a challenge. “How could we possibly allocate so much time to the students just reading?,” these critics ask. Some would prefer that all reading time be reserved for whole-group reading of a common text, with any additional time spent on reading strategies and the lessons of the curriculum.

In fact, one middle-school teacher recently wrote about how he resented the use of school time for Accelerated Reader. He called for this time to be cut from the school day, in order to allow more time for “grappling with complicated narrative structures, idiosyncratic narrative perspectives, enigmatic plots, and multi-faceted characters.” While these elements all have a time and a place—grade-level reading instruction clearly must occur—I contend that students, particularly those who are struggling or reluctant, also need to be able to experience reading as a fluent and pleasurable activity, lest they never find a love of books and reading.

Willingham (2015) remarks that “setting aside class time for silent pleasure reading seems to [him] the best way to engage a student who has no interest in reading,” because “it offers the gentlest pressure that’s still likely to work.” As an educator, I’ve experienced few, if any, instances where whole-class reading experiences turned non-readers into readers. But I can think of many occasions—including those I’ve discussed in this blog—where independent reading experiences have accomplished this.

Looking for diverse books to engage your students? Check out the latest edition of What Kids Are Reading, the world’s largest annual study of K–12 student reading habits. And to see everything that today’s Accelerated Reader has to offer, click the button below.

References

Fogarty, R., Kerns, G., and Pete, B. (2020). Literacy reframed: How a focus on decoding, vocabulary, and background knowledge improves reading comprehension. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.
Willingham, D. (2015). For the love of reading: Engaging students in a lifelong pursuit. American Educator, 39(1), 4–13, 42.

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The true impact of Accelerated Reader https://www.renaissance.com/2021/04/09/blog-the-true-impact-of-accelerated-reader/ Fri, 09 Apr 2021 13:17:08 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=51057 Life has changed significantly since 1986. Back then, Top Gun and Crocodile Dundee ruled at the box office; Tom Clancy and Judith Krantz had best-selling novels; the Commodore 64 and Apple McIntosh were popular computers; and a talk show called […]

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Life has changed significantly since 1986. Back then, Top Gun and Crocodile Dundee ruled at the box office; Tom Clancy and Judith Krantz had best-selling novels; the Commodore 64 and Apple McIntosh were popular computers; and a talk show called Oprah first hit the airwaves.

That same year, educator Judi Paul launched a program called Accelerated Reader, which is now used in thousands of schools and districts around the world. In an earlier blog, we shared a video—originally distributed on VHS!—of Judi telling the Accelerated Reader story. Recently, we had the chance to discuss AR’s impact with Judi and with Renaissance employees both past and present. Here are some highlights from our conversation.

Q: What are your memories of Accelerated Reader’s early days?

Judi Paul: People sometimes ask me if it was exciting to start an edtech company in the 1980s. To be honest, it was terrifying! I was a teacher and a mother. I’d never worked in an office before, much less run my own business.

When I created Accelerated Reader, I thought that my children would use it, and maybe—someday—my grandchildren. I wrote the first 300 reading comprehension quizzes myself, mostly by checking out books from the local library. Once I started selling AR to schools, I saw the downside of this. I would occasionally get letters from educators about the wording of a particular quiz question, and I’d have to go back to the library to consult the book—hoping that nobody else had checked it out!

At the time, it surprised me that many people—including a lot of parents—didn’t recognize the importance of daily reading practice. They thought that once children learned how to read, they basically had what they needed. But this clearly isn’t the case. Nobody would try to run a marathon without training beforehand. And we can’t expect students to read long, complex texts when they get to college or into the workforce unless they’ve done a lot of reading in middle and high school, in order to build reading stamina and to learn to read more deeply.

That was my goal when I created Accelerated Reader—knowing that if teachers could motivate students to read more, and that if both teachers and students had ongoing feedback about reading practice, then students could become better and stronger readers. While many “tests” are about failure or limiting access, I always hoped that AR quizzes would be used to help ensure that students were being successful and were growing. I wanted the quizzes to be motivational, to help students succeed, and to let teachers know when they needed to step in.

Melissa Budzinski (Technical Support Supervisor): Judi hired me in 1987, when the company was called Read Up! and was still located in the basement of the Pauls’ home. When Judi would get a phone order for Accelerated Reader, she’d write the information on a notepad, and then sit down at her typewriter to fill out the paperwork. Once she was finished, she’d walk to another part of the basement, where she’d box up the AR floppy disks and manuals to mail to the customer.

We also published an AR newsletter called Horizons. Once we received the printed copies, it was a major operation to stick on the mailing labels, carry the bags up the stairs and out to the station wagon, and then deliver them to the local post office. After we moved out of the basement, we ended up in an office building next door to the post office, which saved us a step!

Vintage AR manuals and diskettes

Q: For those of you who are former educators, what was your first experience with Accelerated Reader?

Carolyn Denny (former Vice President of Strategic Initiatives): I was working as a long-term substitute, teaching PE. Students would come to class carrying books, and I’d have to explain why it wasn’t safe to jump rope and read at the same time. I’d never seen students this motivated—they would literally stand in line waiting to get into the school library.

Later, I was offered a job as a Title I teacher in a neighboring district, and I said that I’d only accept if they implemented AR. Early in the school year, I told my students that they’d be expected to read in the evenings and on weekends. One boy raised his hand and asked if I’d like him to read the phone book or TV Guide, because those were the only reading materials in his household. The first time I took my students to the school library, and they saw all of the choices they had at their reading level, their eyes lit up.

We talk a lot about the achievement gap, but it always struck me that—in the middle grades especially—there is more of an opportunity gap. When students have access to a school library, along with a program like Accelerated Reader to guide them to books and to help them track their progress toward reading goals, they really flourish.

D’Etta Coit (former Regional Vice President): I was a fifth-grade language arts teacher, and quarterly book reports were a big part of my job. This involved taking the kids to the school library to check out a book…only to have them copy long passages—usually from the book’s opening pages—into their book reports. There clearly wasn’t a lot of reading going on.

Our school received Judi’s Horizons newsletter, which never really caught my eye until I saw the headline Never Grade Book Reports Again. I thought, This is the program I’ve been looking for! At that time—1988—it cost $500 to get the program started, but my principal told me there wasn’t any money available. So I applied for a foundation grant, which I used to bring Accelerated Reader into my classroom. And the change was immediate, with kids genuinely reading and enjoying books—something that rarely happened in the days of books reports.

Whenever I moved to a new school, I brought AR with me. I would write a grant request, and then get the librarian and the other teachers on board, because I’d seen the difference the program could make.

Marcy LeMaster (former Renaissance Consultant): I taught in Chicago Public Schools, and I found a box of Accelerated Reader diskettes that the previous teacher had left behind. I used the program in my classroom that first year, but it was only when I attended an AR professional development session that I fully understood everything the program can do.

The second year, I implemented all of the AR best practices—especially around goal-setting—and the results were amazing. In fact, the students did so well on the ITBS high-stakes test that spring that my classroom was audited. This was an inner-city school, and the central office thought the students couldn’t possibly have done so well in reading. So the test was administered again—and this time the students’ scores were even higher.

Shortly after this, I joined Renaissance and began delivering professional development for AR. When the program is implemented with fidelity, it completely changes the culture of reading in a school, as D’Etta and Carolyn have explained.

AR brochure

Q: When you’re asked to describe the impact of Accelerated Reader, does a particular student come to mind?

Marian Staton (former Executive Vice President of Sales): My husband and I recently moved to a new house, and I put something on the Nextdoor app to introduce myself to our neighbors. A few days later, the doorbell rang, and I heard someone ask, “Does Miss Staton live here?” I recognized the voice immediately: a former student who didn’t like to read at all until I introduced her to the Accelerated Reader program. She’s now in her 30s and is still an avid reader. In fact, we now run a city-wide book club together.

When I joined Renaissance in the 1990s, people asked me why I was “leaving” education, since I’d worked as a school librarian for so many years. I said that I wasn’t leaving at all, because I was continuing to work with educators and to help them have the same level of success with AR that I’d had.

Barbara Wright (Senior Renaissance Consultant): I was the principal of a Title I building, where we had a strong reading culture built around AR. One year, we had a new fifth-grade student named Robert, who was a foster child. Early on, he announced that he didn’t like to read, and he wasn’t going to do it.

I worked with Robert’s homeroom teacher and the school librarian. We administered the Star Reading assessment to determine his reading level, and we then used AR to help him choose a book on a topic he was interested in. Once he finished reading, he took his first AR quiz and got an 80 percent. After that, there was no stopping him. That child absolutely blossomed. It was the first time he felt successful in school—and the first time he was able to clearly see his progress over the course of the school year.

Not long after that, I met Judi at a Renaissance event. I asked her about the first AR quiz she ever wrote, and she told me that it was for Adam of the Road, by Elizabeth Gray Vining. I went out and bought a copy of the book, which I still keep next to my desk to inspire me.

Judi Paul (mid-1990s)

Q: Judi, you created Accelerated Reader to inspire your son Alex—who’s here with us today—to read more. How did the program impact him?

Alex Paul: I was the typical middle-school boy, in the sense that I’d rather play with my friends or watch TV than read. I didn’t like school very much, and I didn’t do particularly well. Accelerated Reader gave me my first taste of success, which was clearly Judi’s goal.

Judi Paul: When I was creating Accelerated Reader, I dug out my notes from a children’s literature class I’d taken in college. The basics of AR came from that class, which stressed the importance of letting kids choose books that interest them and are at their reading level. The first AR quizzes that I wrote were for Alex, so they focused on books that a middle-school student would find engaging.

Alex Paul: As I got older and read more, I began to discover new genres and new authors. I remember Judi reading The Hobbit and then the Lord of the Rings trilogy, because I got interested in J.R.R. Tolkien and fantasy. My kids use Accelerated Reader now, and my daughter recently took the quiz on The Hobbit. I know that the quiz has changed since the 1980s, to stay one step ahead of the film adaptation!

Judi Paul: We calculated that by the time Alex started college, he’d read around 100 books in order to help me test new AR quizzes. And this extra reading paid off. He had classmates—some of whom had been high school valedictorians—who struggled in college. They simply weren’t used to reading long, complex texts, or to extracting meaning from those texts.

One of the things that surprised me in 1986 was the number of teachers who asked me where they could buy books. I remember thinking, If anyone knows how to get ahold of books, shouldn’t it be teachers? Certain states—Texas and North Carolina come to mind—provided school librarians with separate budgets, but for many educators, getting books was a real challenge.

Today, we have national bookstore chains, along with digital reading platforms that provide access to books electronically. But many students—especially in high school—would rather spend their time scrolling through their phones. I find myself worrying that with all the distractions today, many students aren’t reading very deeply, and they’re not getting the regular practice they need for future success.

I also worry that they’re missing out on the social-emotional aspects of reading. As I explain in the video, I grew up in a small town in Iowa, and reading really helped me to discover the wider world. Today, I think many people rely on social media for this—not realizing that what they’re seeing is just the surface, with people smiling for the camera as they raise a glass of wine or something.

Reading allows us—adults and children alike—to go beneath the surface, to experience other people’s lives, and to see what they’re thinking and feel what they’re feeling. Reading helps us to understand different viewpoints, to think more deeply about our own beliefs, and perhaps to even change our minds. Reading also shows us that we’re not alone, that other people have felt the same way that we feel and have faced the same challenges that we face.

These are all tremendously important lessons. When I look back at my life, and at my children’s lives, I can’t help but see all of the opportunities that reading has opened for us.

Looking for diverse books to engage your students? Check out the latest edition of What Kids Are Reading, the world’s largest annual study of K–12 student reading habits. And to see everything that today’s Accelerated Reader has to offer, click the button below.

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In response to: Misunderstanding the Science of Reading https://www.renaissance.com/2021/03/26/blog-in-response-to-misunderstanding-the-science-of-reading/ Fri, 26 Mar 2021 15:11:16 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=50910 By Dr. Gene Kerns, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer In my role at Renaissance, I regularly present to teachers and administrators on student literacy. Recently, I’ve received many questions about the Science of Reading: what this term truly means, […]

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By Dr. Gene Kerns, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer

In my role at Renaissance, I regularly present to teachers and administrators on student literacy. Recently, I’ve received many questions about the Science of Reading: what this term truly means, what we definitively know about effective reading instruction, and what questions are still to be answered.

A helpful definition is provided by Mark Seidenberg of the University of Wisconsin, who writes:

“The ‘Science of Reading’ is a body of basic research in developmental psychology, educational psychology, cognitive science, and cognitive neuroscience on reading, one of the most complex human behaviors, and its biological (neural, genetic) bases. This research has been conducted for decades in the US and around the world. The research has important implications for helping children to succeed.”

Generally speaking, I think the growing energy around the Science of Reading is a very good thing. We should ensure that reading instruction is informed by research to the greatest extent possible. However, there seems to be a bit of a wrinkle. Seidenberg’s definition above is immediately followed by his statement in bold that reads: “The science of reading is not just ‘phonics’.” With this statement, he is suggesting that some conversations about the Science of Reading may be limited. Even a quick review of documents and guidance on the subject reveals a narrative dominated almost exclusively by phonics and other foundational reading skills. But isn’t there more that we know from the Science of Reading that extends beyond the earliest grades and the most foundational of skills?

Let me be clear here. I firmly believe that serious attention must be focused on the early grades, given that critical foundations are built there. Phonics and other foundational reading skills must not only be taught explicitly but also systematically—which calls for far more coordination and precision than we have typically achieved.

I take this stance because I concur with Susan Pimentel (2018) that “phonics approaches have been consistently found to be effective in supporting younger readers to master the basics of reading…a school that doesn’t have a phonics program is doing its students a huge disservice.” Similarly, a research summary from Britain’s Education Endowment Foundation notes the research base for phonics as having “very extensive evidence,” its highest rating.

All of this is to say that I have no quarrel with the Science of Reading, but I do have a question. When will we focus equally, or even just a bit more, on the older kids? While the core concept of the Science of Reading is that all reading instruction must be guided by research, with no limitations as to grade level, the conversations I hear are only about the early grades. We need to realize that the Science of Reading also has important implications for middle and high school—implications that we have largely failed to understand or implement.

Why focusing on early literacy is not enough

In the early 2000s, the Reading First grants pumped billions of dollars of funding into grades K–3. However, there was no parallel grant program of any scale for literacy in grades 4 and above. There are also numerous state-level initiatives to ensure that students are reading on grade level by the end of grade 3. But as E.D. Hirsch (2006) pointed out, “It’s in the later grades, 6–12, that the reading scores really count because, after all, gains in the early grades are not very useful if, subsequently, those same students, when they get to middle school and then high school, and are about to become workers and citizens, are not able to read and learn.”

Clearly, the dominant share of our dialogue and our efforts is focused on the early grades. While this is appropriate—literacy cannot be built on shaky foundations—the steady stream of initiatives at the elementary level stands in stark contrast to the lack of dialogue, guidance, energy, and concern about literacy in grades 4 and above. It’s time we “showed some love” to literacy beyond the early grades.

The two phases of literacy acquisition

I believe that it’s not enough to point out a problem without also proposing a solution. In that spirit, I’d like to offer up a piece of guidance relevant to this dilemma—guidance that hinges on the connection between the Science of Reading and the importance of student self-teaching in middle and high school.

As I argued in an earlier blog, we’d be wise to envision literacy acquisition as involving two distinct phases. Phase 1 is about what we should do for students before they have learned the mechanics of reading. Phase 2 is about what we should do after they have learned this.

Phase 1 is all about the Science of Reading and ensuring that students receive explicit and systematic instruction around phonics and other foundational reading skills. Some students may struggle during this phase, and the more teachers understand how reading acquisition works, the more effective their interventions can be in supporting all students, including those who struggle. So, during this phase, the teacher’s role is very much about providing direct instruction on key, essential skills.

Importance of direct, phonics-based instruction in Phase 1

This stands in stark contrast to Phase 2. After students have learned the mechanics of reading, the focus should be less on what the teachers need to teach than on the conditions that teachers need to create so that students can accomplish the “self-teaching” they need for success (Share, 1995; Share, 1999).

Let me explain.

After they have learned the mechanics of reading, students—through wide exposure to text—build (or teach themselves) the ability to recognize more and more words instantly by sight. This is what cognitive scientists refer to as strong orthographic representations. At this point, reading comprehension increases substantially, because “adding orthographic representations results in a smaller attention demand for decoding, leaving more attention available for comprehending what you’re reading” (Willingham, 2017). This, in turn, facilitates students’ reading development: “Children make the transition from being ‘novices,’ reading words primarily via alphabetic decoding, to ‘experts,’ recognizing familiar written words rapidly and automatically, mapping their spellings directly to their meanings without recourse to decoding” (Castles et al., 2018).

In other words, when we encounter a word in print, we have two ways of taking it in:

  • If it is a known word—one for which we have a strong orthographic representation—we take it in in a fraction of a second.
  • If the word is not known to us, we must rely on our decoding and phonics skills, hoping to sound it out and find associated meaning.

A colleague once told me about the first time she encountered the word “façade” in print. She had heard this word before and knew its meaning, but she anticipated that it would begin with “ph-.” When she first saw f-a-ç-a-d-e, she had to slow down and sound it out. Already armed with some vocabulary knowledge of this word, when she sounded it out, associating meaning was instant. And with just a few more encounters, her orthographic representation for this word was built, and she recognized it instantly. This is how we become fluent readers capable of comprehension.

During wide reading, students also “self-teach” vocabulary at a rate that far exceeds what we can teach them directly. As Cervetti, Wright, and Hwang (2016) note, “It is not possible to directly instruct enough words to close the word knowledge gap.” They note that “learning words incidentally through reading and listening to text has the greatest potential to build” vocabulary. This is not to say that we should never teach vocabulary directly. Clearly, we should. But we should also realize the limitations of direct instruction and understand that if we do not create the conditions for students to read regularly, they will be unable to build the vocabulary base needed for future success.

As Stanovich and West (1989) state, “The single most effective pathway to fluent word reading is print experience: Children need to see as many words as possible, as frequently as possible” (cited in Castles et al., 2018). Mike Schmoker (2018) advises, “Once students learn to decode, they learn to read better and acquire large amounts of vocabulary and content knowledge by reading—not by enduring more skills instruction.”

But we should tread carefully here. We must realize how important the distinction between the two phases of literacy acquisition is, because the phases are so very different in terms of their dynamics:

  • In Phase 1, before having learned the mechanics of reading, it’s not possible for students to self-teach. In Phase 2, self-teaching is critical.
  • In Phase 1, the teacher’s role is central: she or he must impart key skills to students. In Phase 2, the teacher’s role becomes secondary, while the students’ role in self-teaching is at the center.
  • In Phase 1, it’s about imparting critical skills. In Phase 2, it’s about avoiding the temptation of “over-skillification.” This means that the emphasis is placed so firmly on covering all of the standards and teaching all of the perceived reading “skills” that, at the end of the day, students have received many lessons and done many worksheets, but they have not actually read or written much at all.

Again, notice how different the two phases are. What is important in one is not all that important in the other. What is true in one may actually be false in the other.

Two phases of literacy acquisition

The critical role of daily reading practice

Consider a quick example: guidance on the Science of Reading from one US state notes that “Children do not learn to read and write through exposure to print.” Yet it also calls for teachers to “ensure students read and are read to—a lot.” Here is where the two-phased approach sheds new light. Before they have learned the mechanics of reading, children do not learn to read and write through exposure to print. But after they have learned the mechanics of reading, much of their success is based on exposure to print—whether in hard-copy or digital format. This means that teachers must ensure that students read and are read to a lot, both in and out of school. So, what is false in one phase turns out to be true in the other.

Schmoker (2018) puts it this way: “Once students can effectively decode, we must organize time in language arts to ensure that students spend large amounts of time reading, both purposefully and for pleasure.” This is why programs that encourage and support daily reading—including the Accelerated Reader program and the myON digital reading platform from Renaissance—are so critical for students’ success. They help to create the conditions for self-teaching to occur.

Why literacy must be reframed in middle and high school

As my co-authors and I note in our new book Literacy Reframed, “becoming fully literate is analogous to taking a journey to a faraway land. Assume that getting there requires a flight and that the first step in getting to the airport requires exiting your driveway and turning right. Phonics instruction is that first right turn. That first turn is the correct, most efficient first step, but there’s much more to the journey.”

It’s time we balance the emphasis on a successful start to the journey with the critical importance of the entirety of the journey. Let’s make sure that our understanding and implementation of the Science of Reading is both broad and comprehensive enough to include the entire research base on what we’ve learned about reading—at all grade levels.

Looking for popular print and digital books for students in grades 4–12? Explore the latest edition of What Kids Are Reading, the world’s largest annual study of student reading habits. And if you’d like to learn more about using Accelerated Reader or myON in middle and high school, please contact us. We’re here to help.

References

Castles, A., Rastle, K., & Nation, K. (2018). Ending the reading wars: Reading acquisition from novice to expert. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 19(1), 5–51.
Cervetti, G., Wright, T., & Hwang, H. (2016). Conceptual coherence, comprehension, and vocabulary acquisition: A knowledge effect? Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 29(4), 761–779.
Hirsch, E. D. (2006). Reading-comprehension skills? What are they really? Retrieved from: www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2006/04/26/33hirsch.h25.html
Pimentel, S. (2018). Why doesn’t every teacher know the research on reading instruction? Retrieved from: www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2018/10/29/why-doesnt-every-teacher-know-the-research.html
Seidenberg, M. (n.d.) Connecting the Science of Reading and educational practices. Retrieved from: https://seidenbergreading.net/science-of-reading/
Schmoker, M. (2018). Focus. 2nd ed. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Share, D. (1995). Phonological recoding and self-teaching: Sine qua non of reading acquisition. Cognition, 55(2), 151–218.
Share, D. (1999). Phonological recoding and orthographic learning: A direct test of the self-teaching
hypothesis. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 72(2), 95–129.
Stanovich, K., & West, R. (1989). Exposure to print and orthographic processing. Reading Research Quarterly, 24(4), 402–433.
State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE). (2020). Applying the Science of Reading in Tennessee. Retrieved from: https://tnscore.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Science-of-Reading-2020.pdf
Willingham, D. (2017). The reading mind. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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Renaissance Delivers on Its Commitment to Early Literacy with the Launch of Lalilo https://www.renaissance.com/2021/03/22/news-renaissance-delivers-commitment-early-literacy-lalilo/ Mon, 22 Mar 2021 13:51:10 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=50827 Lalilo’s innovative literacy program to be introduced as a comprehensive support of foundational literacy for early grade teachers and students Bloomington, Minn. (Mar. 22, 2021) – Renaissance, a global leader in technology-enhanced literacy, announces the addition of Lalilo, a ground-breaking […]

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Lalilo’s innovative literacy program to be introduced as a comprehensive support of foundational literacy for early grade teachers and students

Bloomington, Minn. (Mar. 22, 2021)Renaissance, a global leader in technology-enhanced literacy, announces the addition of Lalilo, a ground-breaking research-based foundational literacy program, to its portfolio.

Designed for K–2 students, Lalilo supports foundational literacy instruction through innovative research-based technology that drives engagement, reporting that provides a wealth of learning data and performance metrics, and planning tools that provide teachers the ability to review student progress and assign practice in specific skills to match classroom curriculum. Lalilo leads students through a standards-aligned series of engaging lessons to perfect pre-reading and reading skills, including phonological awareness, phonics, word work, comprehension, and grammar.

“Renaissance has long been the leader of technology-enhanced literacy with our practice and assessment programs Accelerated Reader, myON, Star, and Freckle. Reading to learn has been our area of expertise for 35 years,” said Todd Brekhus, chief product officer at Renaissance. “With the addition of Lalilo, we will deliver an exceptional solution to our most common customer request—that we provide a powerful early learning solution to support students who are learning to read.”

Lalilo provides students with a comprehensive, supportive digital learning environment to promote independence and proficiency, providing them with the best opportunity to master the skills necessary to become lifelong readers. Its systematic phonics approach to building foundational literacy based on the latest research on the science of reading instruction enriches Renaissance’s commitment to continued innovation and serving early literacy teachers.

Lalilo was founded in 2016 in Paris, France, by three graduates of the prestigious École Polytechnique with a goal of ending illiteracy. Lalilo has brought together teachers, experts in pedagogy, designers, and technologists who work hand-in-hand to build the best classroom resources for educators and students. Each month, more than 50,000 teachers and 362,000 students complete several million exercises in the United States and France.

“Lalilo is designed to work as a complement to any teacher’s instructional method and curriculum, and supports students in elements that are critical to success in literacy learning,” said Laurent Jolie, co-founder of Lalilo. “Together, Renaissance and Lalilo share a similar mission of accelerating learning for all children—no matter where learning happens. We are excited to join Renaissance and expand the reach of Lalilo to help children worldwide develop essential skills for literacy success.”

Lalilo customers will continue to receive the support and service they have come to expect and love from the company. Existing Renaissance customers can look forward to learning more about Lalilo in the months ahead.


About Renaissance

As a global leader in assessment, reading, and math solutions for pre-K–12 schools and districts, Renaissance is committed to providing educators with insights and resources to accelerate growth and help all students build a strong foundation for success. Renaissance solutions are used in over one-third of US schools and in more than 100 countries worldwide. The Renaissance portfolio includes Star Assessments, for reliable, accurate insights into K–12 student learning; myIGDIs, for accurate assessment of early learning; myON, to increase students’ access to high-quality reading materials; Accelerated Reader, to support independent reading practice; Freckle, for teacher-led differentiated instruction; and Schoolzilla, to give educators actionable insights into trends in student attendance and achievement. For more information, visit www.renaissance.com.

About Lalilo

Lalilo’s mission is to end illiteracy, the number one education problem that affects young students and is proven to have a critical impact on their educational and professional future. Lalilo has built a revolutionary, adaptive program that helps every child learn how to read at their own pace and empowers teachers to personalize learning in any instructional environment.

Ken Stoflet
Communications Specialist
Renaissance
(715) 424-3636 ext. 2332
ken.stoflet@renaissance.com

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How to address learning loss this summer https://www.renaissance.com/2021/03/19/blog-how-to-address-learning-loss-this-summer/ Fri, 19 Mar 2021 13:27:47 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=50806 By Dr. Gene Kerns, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer March 2021 marks the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 school closures. Do you remember our naivete as this all began? We were thinking in terms of weeks rather than months, […]

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By Dr. Gene Kerns, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer

March 2021 marks the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 school closures. Do you remember our naivete as this all began? We were thinking in terms of weeks rather than months, and we thought buildings might actually reopen before the end of the school year.

An article in the Hechinger Report on April 3, 2020, made the shocking statement (at the time) that “students might not return to school this year” and asserted that “now is the time to start planning ahead…to catch students up when school reopens after coronavirus.” Even this article, one of the first to suggest that students would not return to buildings during the 2019–2020 academic year, did not have a full handle on how far out “after coronavirus” would be.

At the same time, phrases like “addressing learning loss,” “unfinished learning,” and “the COVID-19 Slide” filled the pages of our professional journals. Schools were being asked how they would address the COVID-19 Slide when, in reality, they were not even sure what form “school” would take the following week. Long-term planning could not occur because there were far more immediate matters to address, like “What are we going to do with students when they get online tomorrow morning?”

The good news is that we are now far more comfortable with our abnormal “new normal.” We realize that the pandemic is more of a marathon than a sprint, and we have generally accepted this. We have even built some useful new skillsets. We are far more adept with online platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, and with our microphones, headsets, and virtual backgrounds. We have video production skills we never anticipated. The shock has passed, and now we are coping.

Nearly a year ago, I wrote a SmartBrief article on the potential of using summer to address learning loss. I remarked that many educators were likely “looking to make [summer 2020] more academic than the typical summer.” While some may have done this, I think I was wrong overall. Too many educators were still in the “shock phase” rather than the “coping phase,” and the idea of a deeply thoughtful summer learning program was too early then. But I think we are in a far better position to capitalize on the potential of summer 2021.

I say this because the dynamics have changed significantly. As I noted earlier, we are coping. Also, we better understand the gravity of the situation, because multiple studies have documented the scale of pandemic-related learning loss, particularly in math. Finally, the recent round of federal stimulus funds provides resources schools can use to support summer learning. In other words, we are far more capable of doing something this summer, our urgency is up because we’ve seen the drops in student performance, and we have funding available.

So, how do we capitalize on the summer of 2021 as an opportunity for “catching up?” Let’s explore specific options from Renaissance for both reading and math, as well as how assessments can inform the process.

Meeting students’ summer learning needs

First, let’s establish a framework for thinking about summer learning initiatives, ranging from those that are optional and less structured to those that are required and highly structured. This type of mindset is reflected in the current dialogue, which typically references “summer learning” rather than “summer school,” and includes considerations such as whether the experience is required or optional. We’ll base our recommendations on three levels of intensity:

  • Level 1: This represents the less structured approaches that are designed to serve large numbers of students. The emphasis here is on keeping students regularly practicing reading and math skills, rather than on formal intervention. Students who participate may or may not be below a targeted level of proficiency. An example of this level is an optional, district-wide summer reading program open to all students.
  • Level 2: At this intermediary level, participation may be either voluntary or mandatory. The needs at this level are not as extreme as at Level 3, but students targeted for such work are often below the desired level of proficiency. As a result, the instruction/intervention at this level is typically accomplished in a group setting (either large or small). This level may be referred to as an “acceleration academy” or “summer camp.”
  • Level 3: At this level, we’re approaching the dynamics associated with formal—and mandatory—summer school, whether it’s offered in-person or remotely. Here, the desire is to intervene, catch students up, and address unfinished learning. The experience reflects a form of intervention and, as a result, often takes an individualized or small group approach. This level is sometimes called “high-dosage tutoring.”

With these three levels in mind, let’s consider reading and math practice over the summer months.

“Keeping the learning faucet open” for reading

For many students, the “summer slide” in reading is caused by the fact that they simply do not read during the summer months. This is often caused by a lack of access to books rather than a lack of motivation. In fact, as James Kim (2006) points out, “A synthesis of studies on summer learning loss showed that middle-income students enjoyed reading gains during the summer, whereas low-income students lost ground.”

Perhaps there is no better example of the connection between socio-economic status and access to books than the analysis of three Los Angeles neighborhoods by Smith, Constantino, and Krashen (1997). They documented consistent and wide disparities between the number of books available in the home, classroom, school library, and public library (cited in Trelease, 2013). The higher the neighorhood’s poverty rate, the less access students had to texts. While these neighborhoods were just miles apart, students’ access to books was worlds apart—particularly in the home.

Average print climate in three California communities

For these reasons, Kim (2006) remarks that “voluntary reading interventions, in which children receive free books and are encouraged to read at home, may represent a scalable policy strategy for promoting reading achievement during summer vacation.” He viewed this as a cost-effective option in the early 2000s, when the cost of providing print books to students exceeded the cost of providing access to thousands of titles through a digital library like myON today.

Consider the scale that could be achieved by providing a Level 1 summer program of myON access to all students, with regular check-ins and celebrations of summer reading. Districts serving emergent bilinguals would realize additional benefits as well. Because these students are learning English, myON’s natural-voice audio will help to further develop their listening skills as they read. For students whose home language is Spanish, myON’s Spanish books provide the opportunity to build knowledge and master skills that are transferable from Spanish to English. The research is clear in this area—learners who develop literacy in both the home and target languages achieve at the highest levels (Thomas and Collier, 2017).

Addressing learning loss in math

Last fall, our How Kids Are Performing report showed that the COVID-19 Slide was greater in math than in reading at every grade level and across every student demographic group. In a recent blog, my colleagues discuss why math was impacted the most. They also interview a middle-school teacher who uses the Freckle Math program to help prevent summer learning loss.

Freckle supports teacher-assigned, targeted math practice, with students working on the same activities. It also supports student-driven, adaptive practice, with students working at their own levels. This offers tremendous flexibility across all three levels of summer learning experiences:

  • Level 1: In the same way that students (with guidance) choose the books they’d like to read over the summer, Freckle’s adaptive practice allows them to select (again, with guidance) the domains they’d like to work on. The program then continually adapts to their level, so they stay challenged and engaged as they work independently.
  • Levels 2–3: In these settings, targeted practice—with the domains and skills selected by the teacher—helps to ensure that students focus on specific concepts and skills to address unfinished learning. Freckle’s Inquiry Based Lessons can be especially valuable at these levels, providing the opportunity for practice and small-group collaboration to help students secure new math skills.

Recent research by Renaissance further validates the use of Freckle Math over the summer months. As shown in the graphic below, students who used Freckle Math during the spring and summer of 2020 were less impacted by the COVID-19 Slide than students who did not use Freckle. Moreover, the Freckle users who’d previously struggled in math actually exceeded expectations when they returned to school last fall.

Positive impact of using Freckle Math

Using assessment data to target support

Finally, let’s explore how data from Star Assessments can factor into effective summer learning experiences. First off, if you’re regularly administering Star and you close out the core academic year with spring screening, you’ll have up-to-date instructional planning information available through Star’s reports and dashboards. This will be particularly helpful in deciding placements between the three levels, and in planning the groups and instructional topics for summer learning in Levels 2–3.

Also, given both the intensity and the “catch up” emphasis at these levels, a subsequent Star test at the end of the summer learning experience is also likely warranted. This may even be desired to document the efficacy of a Level 1 experience. A final Star test at the end of a summer program would serve to both gauge student growth over the summer months and offer a “fresh crop” of instructional planning and placement information for back-to-school.

Additionally, the many instructional and formative assessment resources embedded in Star will be tremendously useful in planning and monitoring the daily activities within a Level 2 or Level 3 summer learning experience.

Star Math Instructional Resources

Making the most of summer 2021

Despite deeply held beliefs about summer learning loss, the findings of some recent studies do not directly align with some of the more historical ones. Consider the following observations from a leading researcher on summer learning, Paul von Hippel (2019):

“So what do we know about summer learning loss? Less than we think. The problem could be serious, or it could be trivial. Children might lose a third of a year’s learning over summer vacation, or they might tread water. Achievement gaps might grow faster during summer vacations, or they might not.”

While the findings of some research on the scale of summer loss are conflicting, von Hippel stresses that this should not dissuade us from using the summer to catch students up and close learning gaps. He stresses that we do conclusively know that “nearly all children, no matter how advantaged, learn much more slowly during summer vacations than they do during the school year.” This means “that every summer offers children who are behind a chance to catch up. In other words, even if gaps don’t grow much during summer vacations, summer vacations still offer a chance to shrink them.” And “summer learning programs for disadvantaged children can take a bite out of achievement gaps, especially if students attend them regularly for several years.”

Let’s take these words as a call to make the most of our programs and resources this summer.

Visit our Summer Learning page for free resources to support your summer initiative. Also, please contact us to discuss purchasing or piloting myON, Freckle, or other Renaissance solutions. We’re here to help.

References

Kim, J. (2006). Effects of a voluntary summer reading intervention on reading achievement: Results from a randomized field trial. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 28(4), 335‒355.
Trelease, J. (2013). The read-aloud handbook. New York: Penguin.
Thomas, W., & Collier, V. (2017). Validating the power of bilingual schooling: Thirty-two years of large-scale, longitudinal research. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 37, 1–15.
Smith, C., Constantino, R., & Krashen, S. (1997). Differences in print environment for children in Beverly Hills, Compton, and Watts. Emergency Librarian 24, 8–9.
Von Hippel, P. (2019). Is summer learning loss real?: How I lost faith in one of education research’s classic results. Available at https://www.educationnext.org/is-summer-learning-loss-real-how-i-lost-faith-education-research-results/

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Product Highlights: Supporting K–12 student literacy https://www.renaissance.com/2021/03/12/blog-product-highlights-supporting-k12-student-literacy/ Fri, 12 Mar 2021 14:31:28 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=50739 March is National Reading Month. At Renaissance, we’re celebrating student literacy with the release of the new 2021 edition of our What Kids Are Reading report. We’re also marking the 35th anniversary of Accelerated Reader. In this blog, you’ll learn […]

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March is National Reading Month. At Renaissance, we’re celebrating student literacy with the release of the new 2021 edition of our What Kids Are Reading report. We’re also marking the 35th anniversary of Accelerated Reader. In this blog, you’ll learn more about these topics, as well as recent product enhancements to support student reading engagement. If you haven’t already, we invite you to bookmark our Product Updates Blog for new information and resources throughout the year.

Fostering a love of reading for 35 years

It all started in the mid-1980s, with our founder Judi Paul’s drive to motivate her children to read during the summer months. Sitting in her basement in Port Edwards, Wisconsin, Judi created a list of classic novels, along with a points system based on each book’s difficulty and length. To ensure her children actually read the books, she wrote multiple-choice questions for each one—and challenged her kids to show what they’d learned through their reading.

With this simple and inspiring idea, Judi sparked what would become the most meaningful piece of educational technology that’s still in use today. Thirty-five years later, Accelerated Reader has helped millions of students to find engaging books and to discover a lifelong love of reading.

How has Accelerated Reader endured over time? The answer is in the simplicity of motivating kids and creating a classroom culture of reading. While Accelerated Reader was created on a small scale initially, it now has over 220,000 quizzes on a wide range of fiction and nonfiction titles—and this number continues to grow.

We have rigorous standards for keeping AR current, and we make sure that new titles are continuously added so that students’ enthusiasm for reading stays high. Our team has even written quizzes that have been available the day after a new book is released. With an eye for accommodating flexibility in learning environments, we’ve also adapted Accelerated Reader so that kids can quiz from anywhere—in the school building or at home—to help ensure continuous reading and learning.

Learn more: See highlights from 35 years of Accelerated Reader. Explore the making of an AR quiz. Get best practices for quizzing at home in AR. Discover strategies for recognizing your students’ reading accomplishments.

Supporting daily reading during the pandemic

COVID-19 not only disrupted familiar classroom routines and daily schedules, but also required the temporary closure of school and public libraries. We recognize the tremendous efforts of teachers and librarians over the past 12 months to get books into kids’ hands, ranging from bookmobiles and book drop-offs to the quick adoption of eBooks and digital reading.

At Renaissance, we’ve supported these efforts with our myON digital reading platform, which provides students with 24/7 access to thousands of engaging titles. As mentioned earlier, we also enabled districts to allow their students to quiz from home in Accelerated Reader. And using myON and Accelerated Reader together ensures that students have anytime, anywhere access to high-quality texts and the ability to quiz on these titles right away.

We’ve made important updates over the last year to make this connection even tighter. Students can now see myON book suggestions in Accelerated Reader, and they can launch an Accelerated Reader quiz within myON at the click of a button. myON has also been optimized to accommodate lower bandwidth internet access, ensuring greater equity and access for all students.

Learn more: Get insights on using AR and myON together. Explore the low-bandwidth reading option in myON. Access reading challenge ideas, student certificates, and more in our myON Spring Resources. Get an expert’s tips for promoting deeper student engagement with digital texts.

New read-aloud support in Freckle ELA

Students are at varying reading levels, regardless of their grade placement. To accommodate students who need additional support while reading, the Freckle ELA program has added a read-aloud feature to its entire article library. This feature can be turned on or off for each student in a class.

In addition, the program’s ELA Standards Page has been updated to make creating standards-informed exercises quick and easy for educators. As shown in the example below, teachers now see all of the standards for the selected grade level, organized by domain—in this case, Reading Information, Reading Literature, Writing, and Language. When teachers select a standard, a new Explore Topic Page helps them to quickly create a relevant Article or Skills Practice assignment for their students.

ELA Standards Page

Learn more: See additional details about expanded read-aloud support and the ELA Standards Page. Learn more about Freckle ELA by creating a free account.

Tracking literacy development with Star CBM

With students engaging in reading practice both in and out of school, you’ll want to know how it’s impacting their achievement. Renaissance provides an array of assessment tools to measure student performance and growth and to report the results from the district level down to the student level.

The new Star CBM Reading includes six different measure types that educators administer to students in a 1-to-1 setting, either in-person or remotely. Passage Oral Reading measures are available for grades 1–6 and include the option to assess using nonfiction passages for students in grades 4–6.

Included with Star CBM Reading are two Rapid Automatic Naming (RAN) measures for colors and objects. RAN measures are commonly used to assist in the early identification of children who are at risk for reading difficulties—including dyslexia—to provide educators with additional insight into their development.

Star CBM measures are also great opportunities to hear students read aloud, celebrate their successes, and track progress. While administering a measure, you can use the note-taking field to write your observations of student progress and patterns of error. Additionally, you now have the option to record the audio of a student verbally responding to a Star CBM measure when using the Online or Mixed Format. Listening to these audio recordings gives educators, students, and/or parents a way to understand how reading has improved over time.

Later this spring, school and district leaders will have access to a Star CBM Data Insights Dashboard. This new tool will help administrators to track reading performance across the classrooms that are using Star CBM. It will also help to answer essential questions to keep reading growth on track.

Star CBM Data Insights Dashboard

Learn more: Explore the new audio recording feature and nonfiction reading passages in Star CBM. Discover how educators can use Star CBM to support distance and hybrid learning. See how Star CBM works with the computer-adaptive Star Assessments to provide two perspectives on student performance.

Strengthening literacy skills in both English and Spanish

To meet the needs of bilingual, dual-language, and immersion programs, we’ve made a number of recent enhancements to the Spanish versions of our computer-adaptive Star Assessments. We also recognize the importance of helping emergent bilingual students to make connections between reading skills in the English and Spanish languages.

We’re pleased to announce that the Instructional Planning Reports in the Star Spanish assessments now flag transferable skills, which are skills that can be transferred from one language to another. When educators understand transferable and non-transferable skills, they can strengthen and build upon the reading skills their students already know and help them to develop new skills in both English and Spanish.

Star Instructional Planning Report

Learn more: See where to find transferable skills on your Star reports. Learn about Focus Skills in Spanish in Star Assessments. Explore 6 common myths about emergent bilinguals—and what these myths get wrong.

Seeing performance against literacy standards

With Schoolzilla, district and school leaders can see the progress students make in literacy throughout the year. With the recent enhancement in support of standards-level data, educators can gain insights into how their students perform against specific literacy standards. Schoolzilla enables you to drill down to see standards-level data and then filter to compare the performance of different groups of students:

Standards-level Reporting

Having this granular view will help inform classroom instruction, as well as the overall curricular adjustments that might be needed across the district or in specific buildings, grade levels, or with groups of students.

Learn more: Explore the new standards-level analysis in Schoolzilla. Get an expert’s tips for creating an effective data culture in the COVID-19 era. View 8 essential questions to ask about any metric.

What kids are reading…in your state

The new 2021 edition of What Kids Are Reading shows you the most popular print and digital titles at every grade level. It also provides research-based insights on how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted students’ reading habits—including how much they’re reading, whether they’re choosing easier or more difficult books, and how well they’re comprehending what they read.

After you download the report, be sure to take advantage of the online reporting tools. You can see the most popular books at each grade level in your state, and you can click the “Create your own report” button to further filter the results by reading level, interest level, student gender, fiction/nonfiction, English/Spanish, and more. We also invite you to explore the history of What Kids Are Reading, which includes key insights on reading growth and student motivation.

Looking back—and looking ahead

Over the past thirty-five years, Renaissance’s mission has been to accelerate learning for all. New assessments, instructional tools, and learning data have made Renaissance a partner that educators have come to rely on.

As we embark on our next thirty-five years, Renaissance will continue to innovate and deliver additional ways for educational technology, data analytics, and professional learning to support you as you work to help every student discover a lifelong love of reading.

Stay informed on the latest enhancements to your Renaissance products. Bookmark the Product Updates Blog and check back often for new information and resources.

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35 years of Accelerated Reader https://www.renaissance.com/2021/03/05/blog-35-years-accelerated-reader/ Fri, 05 Mar 2021 14:26:24 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=50611 In the mid-1980s, educator Judi Paul created a program to help motivate her four children to read over the summer months. Word of her program’s success soon spread—and Accelerated Reader was born. To celebrate thirty-five years of AR, we’re taking […]

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In the mid-1980s, educator Judi Paul created a program to help motivate her four children to read over the summer months. Word of her program’s success soon spread—and Accelerated Reader was born. To celebrate thirty-five years of AR, we’re taking a look back at the program’s history, starting with this early 1990s video in which Judi herself tells the Accelerated Reader story.


We recently had the opportunity to discuss this video with Ali Good, Director of Product Marketing; Dr. Gene Kerns, Chief Academic Officer; and Kristi Holck, Manager of Content Design. Here are some highlights from our conversation.

Q: What struck you the most as you watched the video?

Ali Good: I’ve always had the idea that Judi avoided the spotlight, but the video shows that she’s a natural speaker. Even if she’d told the Accelerated Reader story hundreds of times before, she absolutely owns that room—the audience is hanging on every word!

I also have to marvel at the fact that she created an edtech start-up in the Midwest in the 1980s, before “start-ups” were even a thing. In a sense, she paved the way for me and other women in edtech, creating the most meaningful piece of educational technology that’s still in use today.

Gene Kerns: Judi definitely had a strong connection with educators, who related to her as both a parent and an advocate for student literacy. They understood where she was coming from, and they recognized that she shared the same goals they did. Judi and her husband Terry were constantly meeting and speaking with teachers and librarians, asking for their input on both the Accelerated Reader software and best practices for using the program.

The video mentions “Advantage Learning Systems,” which was the company’s name at the time, as well as “The Reading Renaissance,” which was the wrap-around professional development on AR Best Practices. Ultimately, the PD was so popular with educators that Judi and Terry changed the company’s name to “Renaissance”—something that’s surely unique in the history of edtech!

It’s also striking that AR’s success was based almost entirely on word-of-mouth, given that Judi launched the program long before websites and social media existed. As she explains in the video, Accelerated Reader was piloted at a Catholic grade school in Wisconsin during the 1985–1986 school year. It was so successful that teachers and librarians at other schools began asking for the program as well—ultimately leading to the launch of the company that fall. It was truly a grassroots effort.

Kristi Holck: I joined the company in 1999, and I remember that Judi would always stop by and say “hello” to the AR Quiz Design Team. I guess this isn’t surprising, since she was the original quiz designer!

While watching the video, I was really interested in her childhood experiences in Iowa, where the arrival of the bookmobile was her favorite part of the month. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of people probably would have said that access to books isn’t a major issue for today’s students, given the availability of digital reading platforms like myON and Kindle, and the ability to order print books online with a single click. COVID-19 has shown us that we haven’t come quite as far as we think, and that access and equity are still pressing issues in K–12 education.

Q: How has Accelerated Reader changed since 1986?

Gene Kerns: Since the 1980s, technology has changed almost beyond recognition. The computers of the time seem primitive by today’s standards, and the original AR quizzes were delivered on floppy disks, which teachers or librarians had to manually insert into a computer’s disk drive in order for students to take the quiz.

Disks for Macintosh and MS-DOS

As Judi explains in the video, her husband Terry was an “early adopter” of computers in the 1970s and 80s, and he helped to drive the technical innovation around AR. In the early days, the company also relied on teachers and librarians to send back the AR quiz results. In a good year, we maybe received reading data on 50,000 students.

In 2001, AR was one of the first edtech products to move to the cloud—and this was before “the cloud” was a widely used term. During the 2001–2002 school year, more than three million students used Accelerated Reader, which provided a large database of student reading behavior. Terry saw the value in analyzing this data and sharing insights with educators and parents—he liked to say that when you know better, you do better. This led to the publication of a study called Patterns of Reading Practice, which was a forerunner of today’s What Kids Are Reading report.

Kristi Holck: Accelerated Reader’s content has also expanded dramatically. We now have quizzes on more than 210,000 books—with new quizzes added each week. Along with the Reading Practice Quizzes, which assess literal comprehension, we’ve added a variety of quiz types over the years: Vocabulary Practice, Literacy Skills, and Spanish-language quizzes, along with Recorded Voice Quizzes for early learners.

Needless to say, the quiz-writing process has also changed. In the early years, quizzes were written by hand, and the writers came into the office to type the final version into the quiz entry software program designed by our engineers. As Gene mentioned, quizzes were sent to schools on floppy disks, and schools bought individual quiz collections. Now, when AR quizzes are published, they are immediately available to every school or district.

Catalogue and teacher's guides

As a team, we have a lot of “lessons learned” over the years, and we have a comprehensive Writer Resource Guide we follow on best practices for AR quiz writing. We also regularly review and refresh existing quizzes. Take The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton as an example. This is still the most read print book in grade 8, according to our 2021 What Kids Are Reading data. Anyone who took the AR quiz 20 or 30 years ago would encounter some different questions today—which makes sense, given that educators approach this and other novels differently now than they did in the 1980s and 1990s.

Ali Good: Despite all the changes, we should note that the fundamentals of Accelerated Reader haven’t changed. As Judi says in the video, she had three goals when she created the program. First, to guide her children to books they’d find engaging, but to give them the final say in what they actually read. Second, to emphasize reading quality—to make sure they weren’t simply choosing the shortest, easiest books they could find. Third, to stress accountability, in the form of a short assessment of reading comprehension. Whether educators and students are using AR in the school building or in a virtual environment, these elements all apply today.

And it’s still the case—as Judi also notes in the video—that AR is just a tool, and that the relationship between educators and students is key to fostering a lifelong love of reading.

Judi demonstrating AR (1990s)

Q: How have books for children and young people changed since 1986?

Gene Kerns: Specific titles and authors have always been popular, from classics like Charlotte’s Web and The Secret Garden to the work of more contemporary writers like Judy Blume and Lois Lowry. However, I think the Harry Potter series was a game-changer—the first time you had a shared reading experience across an entire generation of kids.

Kristi Holck: For each of the Harry Potter books, someone from our team stood in line for the midnight book release and then spent the weekend writing the AR quiz, so it would be available the following week. As the movie adaptations were released, we revisited the quizzes to make sure they covered scenes and characters that didn’t make it into the movie—just so students weren’t tempted to skip the book!

Other changes that come to mind are the growing popularity of graphic novels, which weren’t on many students’ reading lists in 1986, and the increase in nonfiction that’s available for young people now. We’re also seeing more diversity in children’s books, in terms of both authors and subject matter, as well as more books that address social issues. Children obviously have questions about the world around them, and we now have a greater understanding of the role of reading in social-emotional learning, and in supporting diversity and inclusion.

Q: What else do we know about reading now that we didn’t know in 1986?

Gene Kerns: Back then, educators knew that students who read more had greater success in school and throughout their lives. Now, we have a better understanding of why this is the case. Research has shown, for example, that reading is critical for building vocabulary and background knowledge, and that background knowledge plays a greater role in comprehension than general reading ability does.

As Kristi noted, we also know that reading is important for social-emotional learning—that it builds empathy by helping students to “walk in someone else’s shoes.” It also helps students to think critically—to question what they’re seeing and hearing, to consider different ideas and viewpoints, and to seek out evidence to support or refute an argument.

In the video, Judi mentions that there were only 19 kids in her high school graduating class. When she arrived at the University of Iowa, she was surrounded by kids who’d attended large urban and suburban high schools and who’d taken classes that she’d never even heard of. But once her university courses started, she was able to hold her own. Because she’d been such an avid reader throughout her K–12 education, she’d connected with people and places and ideas through books that she wouldn’t otherwise have encountered. For her, reading literally made all the difference.

The Accelerated Reader

Q: What are your personal Accelerated Reader stories?

Kristi Holck: I lived in Minnesota in the 1990s, where my sons used AR in school. I remember that my second grader was determined to beat his reading goal for the year—and he read a wide variety of books that he otherwise wouldn’t have picked up.

When we moved to Wisconsin, I saw an employment ad in the local newspaper, from a company called Advantage Learning Systems. Strange as it sounds now, I didn’t immediately make the connection to Accelerated Reader. It was only when I decided to apply for the job that I realized—wait, I know them!

Gene Kerns: In the 1990s, I was using AR as an educator in Delaware. I was also writing my doctoral dissertation on the use of technology to support student learning. I wrote a letter to the company, asking if I could interview a few educators who were implementing AR with a high level of fidelity. About a week later, I got a phone call from Terry, inviting me to a dinner with AR users at an upcoming educational conference.

After we ate, I took out my notebook and started asking questions—and I remember that Judi and Terry were just as interested in the educators’ responses as I was. There was even a comic moment when the waiter, who was trying to serve the desserts, tried and failed to get Judi’s attention because she was listening to the educators so intently.

To be honest, I wasn’t looking for a job in edtech, but when I saw how passionate these teachers and librarians were about Accelerated Reader, and how committed Judi and Terry were to educators’ and students’ success, I realized they’d created something magical.

Ali Good: My AR story is connected to the first trip I took after I joined Renaissance. I struck up a conversation with the woman sitting next to me on the plane, who turned out to be a teacher. She told me that Accelerated Reader had had a major impact on both her students’ lives and her daughter’s life. In fact, her daughter had been a struggling/reluctant reader, and AR played an important role in helping to change this. Her daughter is now a literacy specialist who works with struggling/reluctant readers. I was really moved by this story, and at that moment, I realized I’d absolutely come to the right place.

Looking for diverse books to engage your students? Check out the latest edition of What Kids Are Reading, the world’s largest annual study of K–12 student reading habits. And to see everything that today’s Accelerated Reader has to offer, click the button below.

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World’s Largest Annual Study of K–12 Reading Habits Finds Digital Reading Doubled from Fall 2019 to Fall 2020 https://www.renaissance.com/2021/03/02/news-worlds-largest-annual-study-reading-habits-digital-reading-doubled/ Tue, 02 Mar 2021 12:56:09 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=50567 This year’s edition of the What Kids Are Reading report includes in-depth data and analysis on how students’ reading habits changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic Bloomington, Minn. (Mar. 2, 2021) – Renaissance, a global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, […]

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This year’s edition of the What Kids Are Reading report includes in-depth data and analysis on how students’ reading habits changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic

Bloomington, Minn. (Mar. 2, 2021)Renaissance, a global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, today released its much anticipated What Kids Are Reading report for 2021. The new report, created for educators, administrators, and families, offers research and analysis focused on topics such as reading frequency, reading pattern trends, the impact from COVID-19, and recommendations for personalized instruction, linking insights from the report with Renaissance’s free Focus Skills.

As the largest study of its kind, What Kids Are Reading provides actionable insights and helpful tools to help educators guide their students toward “just-right” reading recommendations. The report features a foreword by Jewell Parker Rhodes, author of Black Brother, Black Brother, and an introduction by James S. Kim, Ed.D., from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. What Kids Are Reading breaks down the reading data from more than seven million K–12 students across the nation into the following categories:

  • Popular book maps for each grade band and state;
  • Popular book lists for each grade level, including popular topics, top print books, top digital books, popular Spanish titles, diversity and inclusion, social and emotional learning, and “New and Now” books;
  • A guide to ensure that educators have the tools to put the new report to use with their students.

“Ultimately, What Kids Are Reading is not just a tool for educators and families, but a celebration of reading,” said Dr. Gene Kerns, vice president and chief academic officer at Renaissance. “This year, one of the more impressive data points we’re celebrating is the sheer amount of reading students accomplished during the pandemic. Students with access to myON, Renaissance’s digital reading platform, more than doubled the amount of time they spent reading in the fall of 2020 compared to the fall of 2019.”

“Our students are reading in their free time in class, at home during hybrid/remote learning, and during library time,” noted Amanda Reese, a 6th-grade teacher at Walnut Grove School in New Market, Alabama. “I have noticed with the use of myON that students are reading so much more on their own than I have seen them read in the past.”

Featuring author essays by Pam Muñoz Ryan, author of Esperanza Rising; Rob Harrell, author of Wink; and Yuyi Morales, author of Dreamers, What Kids Are Reading offers tools for finding reading materials students will love, along with readability information such as ATOS levels, interest levels, and Lexile measures. Spanish and nonfiction indicators help educators quickly and easily identify the right books for their individual students.

The full report is available now at Renaissance.com/WKAR, along with additional tools, including a Custom Report Builder to create custom book lists according to state, grade level, reading level, fiction/nonfiction, English/Spanish, and more.

On March 16, Renaissance will host a webinar that delves into the findings from this year’s report—and provides additional insights on independent reading practice this school year.


About Renaissance

As a global leader in assessment, reading, and math solutions for pre-K–12 schools and districts, Renaissance is committed to providing educators with insights and resources to accelerate growth and help all students build a strong foundation for success. Renaissance solutions are used in over one-third of US schools and in more than 100 countries worldwide. The Renaissance portfolio includes Star Assessments, for reliable, accurate insights into K–12 student learning; myIGDIs, for accurate assessment of early learning; myON, to increase students’ access to high-quality reading materials; Accelerated Reader, to support independent reading practice; Freckle, for teacher-led differentiated instruction; and Schoolzilla, to give educators actionable insights into trends in student attendance and achievement. For more information, visit Renaissance.com.

Ken Stoflet
Communications Specialist
Renaissance
(715) 424-3636 ext. 2332
ken.stoflet@renaissance.com

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Renaissance and Nearpod, Coming Together to Empower Teachers and Accelerate Student Growth https://www.renaissance.com/2021/02/23/news-renaissance-nearpod-coming-together-empower-teachers-accelerate-student-growth/ Tue, 23 Feb 2021 14:18:42 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=50495 Together, Nearpod and Renaissance will become the instructional operating system of the classroom, combining live instruction and in-the-moment insights with personalized practice and assessment Bloomington, Minn. (Feb. 23, 2021) – Renaissance, a global leader in student-centered, pre-K–12 personalized practice and […]

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Together, Nearpod and Renaissance will become the instructional operating system of the classroom, combining live instruction and in-the-moment insights with personalized practice and assessment

Bloomington, Minn. (Feb. 23, 2021)Renaissance, a global leader in student-centered, pre-K–12 personalized practice and assessment, has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Nearpod, the leader in teacher-facilitated instructional delivery, to unlock an unparalleled level of student insights.

“In the past year, seismic shifts have changed education as we know it,” said Chris Bauleke, chief executive officer at Renaissance. “With the rise of COVID-19, this shift crossed a crucial threshold and created a demand for the edtech industry to provide solutions that don’t supplement or replace the teacher, but instead, pave the way for a new way to teach and learn. The combination of Renaissance and Nearpod will empower teachers to drive the full learner experience with a deep set of real-time data, content, and tools to accelerate learning and growth for all students.”

Nearpod offers an interactive instructional platform that merges real-time formative assessment and dynamic media for live and self-paced learning experiences, both inside and outside of the classroom, giving educators the ability to adjust in real-time, while easily seeing how their students are progressing. Teachers can choose from more than 15,000 interactive lessons, videos, and activities created in partnership with leading organizations like Common Sense Education and Smithsonian to quickly enhance their existing content.

Nearly a decade ago, Nearpod’s founders, Guido Kovalskys, Felipe Sommer, and Emiliano Abramzon, observed an influx of 1:1 devices entering the classroom. They recognized a need for a platform that could help teachers and students better connect with one another. Five years later, Nearpod raised financing from third-party investors and hired a team of industry experts, former educators, and engineers to create the platform that is now used by teachers in 75% of US school districts. In 2019, Nearpod acquired Flocabulary, a learning platform that engages students in academically rigorous K–12 concepts while promoting literacy through hip-hop videos. In 2020, teachers launched 19.5 million Nearpod lessons, collecting approximately 1.5 billion real-time insights into student learning.

“We’re thrilled to join Renaissance and to support the mission of accelerating learning for all,” said Pep Carrera, chief executive officer at Nearpod. “Connecting Renaissance’s deep insights of over 20 million students to the 1.2 million Nearpod teachers delivers on the full promise of personalizing learning across remote, hybrid, and in-person classrooms.”

Nearpod customers will continue to receive the support, service, and innovation they have come to expect and love from the company. Existing Renaissance customers can look forward to learning more about Nearpod in the months ahead.

UBS Investment Bank served as financial advisor to Nearpod in this transaction.


About Renaissance

As a global leader in assessment, reading, and math solutions for pre-K–12 schools and districts, Renaissance is committed to providing educators with insights and resources to accelerate growth and help all students build a strong foundation for success. Renaissance solutions are used in over one-third of US schools and in more than 100 countries worldwide. The Renaissance portfolio includes Star Assessments, for reliable, accurate insights into K–12 student learning; myIGDIs, for accurate assessment of early learning; myON, to increase students’ access to high-quality reading materials; Accelerated Reader, to support independent reading practice; Freckle, for teacher-led differentiated instruction; and Schoolzilla, to give educators actionable insights into trends in student attendance and achievement. For more information, visit www.renaissance.com.

About Nearpod

Nearpod offers an interactive instructional platform that merges real-time formative assessment and dynamic media for live and self-paced learning experiences inside and outside of the classroom. Nearpod works with any classroom technology, from tablets and smartphones to laptops and Chromebooks. The platform helps engage students with activities such as Virtual Reality, PhET simulations, and Desmos, and with more than 15,000 ready-to-run interactive lessons, videos, and activities created in partnership with leading organizations like Common Sense Education and Smithsonian. In 2019, Nearpod acquired Flocabulary, a learning platform that engages students in academically rigorous K–12 concepts while promoting literacy through hip-hop videos. Together, Nearpod and Flocabulary reach educators in 100 of the largest school districts in the US. In 2018, Nearpod was named EdTech Digest’s Company of the Year. To learn more, visit www.nearpod.com.

Ken Stoflet
Communications Specialist
Renaissance
(715) 424-3636 ext. 2332
ken.stoflet@renaissance.com

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Using CRRSA and CARES Act funds to support continuous learning https://www.renaissance.com/2021/02/19/blog-using-crrsa-cares-act-funds-support-continuous-learning/ Fri, 19 Feb 2021 14:21:40 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=50414 The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on education, from widespread building closures to concerns over the scale of learning loss caused by the disruptions. As of February 19, 2021, the federal government has passed two pieces of legislation—CRRSA […]

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The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on education, from widespread building closures to concerns over the scale of learning loss caused by the disruptions. As of February 19, 2021, the federal government has passed two pieces of legislation—CRRSA and the CARES Act—that include stimulus funds for K–12 schools and districts, with further assistance likely on the way.

Recently, we had the opportunity to talk about this funding with Darice Keating, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs; Rita Wright, Director, National Academic Advisors; and Roberta Bergman, Senior Funding Consultant. Here are the highlights of our conversation, along with notes about what they’ll be watching for in the weeks and months ahead.

Q: What do educators need to know about CRRSA and the CARES Act? How much funding is available?

Darice Keating: In March 2020, the federal government passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which provides $13.2 billion for the Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund. These funds are distributed to districts based on the Title I funding formula from ESSA. States have one year to distribute the funds, and districts must spend the funds by September 30, 2022.

In December 2020, the federal government passed a second piece of legislation: the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriation Act of 2021 (CRRSA). This provides an additional $54.3 billion for ESSER—funds that are known as “ESSER II.” Again, these funds are distributed to districts based on the Title I funding formula from ESSA, and states have one year to distribute the funds. Districts must spend ESSER II funds by September 30, 2023.

The US Department of Education’s Office of Elementary & Secondary Education (OESE) maintains a variety of ESSER-related resources, including responses to frequently asked questions and a chart comparing ESSER and ESSER II. For specific information on when these funds will be distributed to districts, educators should consult their state department of education’s website.

Q: How can districts use the ESSER and ESSER II funds?

Darice Keating: Districts can use these funds for a variety of purposes, including cleaning and sanitizing facilities; purchasing technology—hardware, software, and connectivity—to support student learning; and planning and implementing activities for summer learning or supplemental afterschool programs, which can be delivered either face-to-face or online.

These funds can also be used for activities that address the unique needs of special populations: low-income students, children with disabilities, English Learners, racial and ethnic minorities, students experiencing homelessness, and foster-care youth.

Student learning loss is clearly an important topic this year, and districts can use the ESSER II funds in particular to address learning loss—and I’m quoting from the legislation here—by:

  • Administering and using high-quality assessments that are valid and reliable, to accurately assess students’ academic progress and assist educators in meeting students’ academic needs, including through differentiating instruction.
  • Implementing evidence-based activities to meet the comprehensive needs of students.
  • Providing information and assistance to parents and families on how they can effectively support students, including in a distance learning environment.
  • Tracking student attendance and improving student engagement in distance education.

Both ESSER and ESSER II funds can be used for expenses dating back to March 13, 2020, which is when the national emergency was declared due to COVID-19.

Again, I’d direct readers to the OESE website for the most detailed and up-to-date information.

Q: Do CRRSA and the CARES Act include other funding for education?

Darice Keating: Yes. The CARES Act set aside $3 billion for the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER), to be distributed to the states through formula grants. CRRSA included $1.3 billion in supplemental GEER awards (known as “GEER II”) that governors can use for K–12 and higher education, along with $2.75 billion in Emergency Assistance to Non-Public Schools (EANS) awards. The EANS funds are allocated based on each state’s share of low-income children enrolled in non-public schools, while GEER and GEER II funds are allocated based on a state’s population aged 5–24 and the proportion of children whose families fall below the poverty line.

Like the ESSER funds, GEER funds must be spent by September 30, 2022, while GEER II and EANS funds must be spent by September 30, 2023.

The OESE website includes detailed information on GEER, GEER II, and EANS. We should note that each state is developing its own application process for EANS funds, so educators in parochial and private schools should check their state department of education’s website for details.

Q: Do Renaissance products align with CRRSA and CARES Act funding?

Rita Wright: Absolutely. When school buildings closed last spring due to the pandemic, many educators had to scramble to adapt their familiar classroom routines to a distance-learning environment. Over the past year, the number of students using our myON digital reading platform has grown greatly, and a number of districts have opted to enable at-home quizzing in our Accelerated Reader program.

We’ve also seen a major increase in the number of students using our Freckle platform, which provides differentiated practice in math, ELA, science, and social studies. I think some educators were surprised when we released the How Kids Are Performing report last fall, which showed that the “COVID-19 Slide” was greater in math than in reading, and that middle school students were impacted the most. This makes it especially important to accelerate students’ math growth this year, and Freckle Math is playing an important role here.

COVID-19 Learning Loss

myON, Accelerated Reader, and Freckle can be used in any learning environment (in-person, remote, or hybrid), in afterschool programs, and over the summer. We’re also continuing to enhance these programs to meet students’ and educators’ needs. myON, for example, now has a low-bandwidth reading option for students without reliable access to high-speed internet, while Freckle Math offers a more student-friendly experience on mobile devices.

Q: What about assessments and reporting?

Rita Wright: As Darice mentioned, ESSER II funds can be used for valid and reliable assessments to assess student progress and identify instructional needs, and our Star Assessments are designed for exactly this purpose. The cancellation of state testing last spring makes it especially important for schools and districts to make full use of interim assessments this year, and we’ve created a variety of resources to support remote administration of Star. This includes the ability to flag remote administrations when reporting assessment results, which is a requirement in some states and is something that many administrators are watching closely.

Star’s computer-adaptive assessments are also available in Spanish, to support the needs of dual-language, bilingual, and immersion programs. Last fall, we also launched Star CBM, which provides curriculum-based measures in both reading (K–6) and math (K–3). Like the computer-adaptive Star assessments, the curriculum-based measures are designed for both screening and progress monitoring, and they can be administered either in-person or remotely.

Educational equity is also a very important issue this year, and districts are using our Schoolzilla platform to disaggregate data by student subgroup. Schoolzilla brings together data stored in the Student Information System with data from Star and other programs, providing a comprehensive view of attendance and performance district-wide, by school, and by subgroup, as shown in the sample below:

Focusing on Educational Equity

Q: What other funding sources should educators be looking at, in addition to the COVID relief funds?

Roberta Bergman: At this point in the school year, educators are often looking ahead to summer and thinking about funding for their summer reading and math programs. As Darice mentioned, ESSER and ESSER II funds can be used for afterschool programs and for summer learning, and there are a variety of other summer funding sources as well, which we’ve outlined in this document. These sources fall into three broad categories:

  1. Federal funding, which includes both formula funds (such as Title I, III, IV, and IDEA/CEIS) and discretionary funds, such as Comprehensive Literacy State Development Grants and Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Grants.
  2. District and school funding, including unspent dollars in school or district budgets, dollars from fundraising activities by teacher associations or parent groups, etc.
  3. Foundation and corporate grants and contributions for education—particularly those that focus on summer learning.

I’d invite readers to visit the Funding pages on our website for more information about both summer funding and the other funding sources we’ve mentioned in this discussion, including CARES and CRRSA. These pages also host a variety of resources, such as funding correlation documents for Renaissance products, a grant writing dictionary, and more.

Q: Is there additional stimulus funding on the horizon? What do you expect in the coming weeks and months?

Darice Keating: A proposed piece of legislation called the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA)* includes further funding for K–12 education, particularly to support the safe reopening of school buildings. Of course, we know that there is strong interest in understanding the impact of COVID-19 on learning, and on accelerating students’ learning during this unusual time, and I expect these issues to continue to receive a lot of focus.

Dr. Miguel Cardona, who’s the nominee for Secretary of Education, has said that closing the digital divide will be one of his top priorities, so I also expect a continued focus on expanding students’ access to both devices and Wi-Fi.

(*NOTE: On March 11, the federal government passed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which includes more than $122 billion for K–12 districts. This funding will be allocated according to the Title 1 formula, in the same way as CARES and CRRSA. The funds can be used for addressing needs related to COVID-19, similar to CARES and CRRSA.

Recognizing the impact to students during the pandemic, the legislation requires districts to reserve at least 20 percent of their new funding to address learning loss, and requires states to reserve 5 percent to address learning loss.)

Rita Wright: There’s no denying that distance learning has forever changed how we teach kids. Even when all buildings have reopened, some parents will decide to keep their children enrolled in distance learning, and there will still be times—due to hurricanes, floods, snowstorms, etc.—when schools have to quickly transition from in-person to remote instruction.

I think the investments that districts have made in technology over the past year have shown that learning can continue outside of the building and outside of the traditional school day. I expect that many districts will use this technology over the summer, whether in formal summer school programs or through informal reading and math activities designed to keep kids engaged and to prevent them from losing ground over the summer months.

When speaking with educators, I remind them that myON, Accelerated Reader, Freckle, and Star can all be used over the summer—and that providing students with access to engaging activities is key to ensuring that their learning continues.

Explore funding information and resources for Renaissance products by visiting our Funding pages. Also, please contact us with any questions, or to discuss purchasing or piloting our programs. We’re here to help.

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The history of What Kids Are Reading https://www.renaissance.com/2021/02/12/blog-the-history-of-what-kids-are-reading/ Fri, 12 Feb 2021 14:23:38 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=50382 Each year, Renaissance’s What Kids Are Reading report lists the most popular books at every grade level, and also provides new insights into K–12 students’ reading habits. With the 2021 report arriving on March 2, we wanted to look back […]

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Each year, Renaissance’s What Kids Are Reading report lists the most popular books at every grade level, and also provides new insights into K–12 students’ reading habits. With the 2021 report arriving on March 2, we wanted to look back at the report’s history—and preview what’s new this year. We recently discussed these topics with Eric Stickney, our Senior Director of Educational Research; Heather Nagrocki, Senior Research Writer/Editor; and Amanda Beckler, Senior Research Analyst. Here are the highlights from our conversation, along with links to literacy resources.

Q: Why did Renaissance create What Kids Are Reading? What was the first report’s goal?

Eric Stickney: Bestseller lists and surveys of libraries can tell us which books are of interest to children and young people. But as Terry Paul, the co-founder and former CEO of Renaissance, liked to point out, our Accelerated Reader program shows us which books students are actually reading, not just buying or checking out. Because Accelerated Reader is used by millions of students across the US, we have a large national sample of which books kids are reading, along with data on their comprehension of those books and the characteristics of the books (word count, difficulty, etc.)

Terry realized that this data would be very useful to educators, librarians, parents—and even to the students themselves. His discussions with the Renaissance Research team led us to publish the first What Kids Are Reading report in 2008. It contained lists of the most commonly read books by grade and gender, along with statistics regarding how much reading students were doing at each grade level.

What Kids Are Reading (first edition)

The report received a very positive response from educators and parents, and the media was interested as well. A story even landed on the front page of the Washington Post. That, in turn, sparked discussions with researchers, educators, and parents about whether students were reading sufficiently challenging books, or were doing enough reading period. Those are good discussions to have, and the positive response led us to commit to releasing new editions of the report each year.

Q: How has the report changed over the years?

Heather Nagrocki: The biggest change is the number of students included: from three million in the first edition to more than seven million this year. We’ve also made enhancements to the grade-level book lists. For example, we now flag nonfiction titles and titles that have Spanish-language quizzes available in Accelerated Reader. We’ve also started to combine book series into a single entry to allow as many unique books as possible to make it onto the lists. Books from several series, such as the Biscuit series, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, and the Harry Potter series, were dominating the lists in some grades. Listing the series as a single entry shows how popular the books are with students, while opening up space for additional titles that might otherwise get overlooked.

Eric Stickney: Another major enhancement was the launch of a companion website several years ago. In addition to downloading the formal report, educators, librarians, parents, and students can use the website’s Custom Report Builder to look at the What Kids Are Reading data however they’d like. For example, they can filter the results by state, grade level, reading level, gender, fiction vs. nonfiction, English vs. Spanish, and more.

A persistent challenge noted by educators and parents is that—beginning around grade 5—boys generally don’t read as much as girls, don’t read as well, and are more likely to be labeled as reluctant or resistant readers. One of the common issues is that they can’t find books that interest them. Using the Custom Report Builder, a grade 5 teacher in, say, Ohio could find the most popular books among fifth grade boys in that state. She could then share this list with the boys in her class, showing them the books their friends are reading.

Custom Report Builder (Ohio example)

Q: How has the process of creating the report changed since 2008?

Heather Nagrocki: We’ve become a lot more efficient at pulling the data, and we definitely have a list of “lessons learned” over the years. For example, for the first edition of the report, we pulled each author’s first name and last name to create the grade-level booklists. This worked fine in most cases…until we ended up with listings like “The Great Gatsby, by F. Fitzgerald.” We had to scramble to fix these entries before the deadline!

Amanda Beckler: As Heather mentioned earlier, the amount of data has also increased significantly. Starting in 2015, we began to include research analyses in the report, drawing on data from both Accelerated Reader and our Star Assessments. Using both sources allows us to tie the amount of time students spend reading to their reading growth, and to show the correlation between setting reading goals and student growth. We’ve also looked closely at nonfiction reading. In 2008, only 18 percent of students’ reading was nonfiction. Now, it’s 25–26 percent, reflecting the emphasis on informational text in many states’ learning standards.

The addition of myON to the Renaissance family gave us new insight into students’ digital reading habits, and the report now includes grade-level lists of popular digital titles as well. Analyzing students’ reading on myON also showed us something interesting about nonfiction reading. There’s a common perception that students prefer fiction to nonfiction, and it’s true that fiction makes up the bulk of students’ reading overall.

But when students have instant access to digital books on myON, the picture changes. As we pointed out in last year’s report, students in grades 3–8 spend more than 50 percent of their time on myON reading nonfiction titles:

Nonfiction reading on myON

This is what makes the process of creating the report so interesting each year: we’re never quite sure what we’ll find when we dig into the data.

Q: What other research questions has the report investigated? Which findings surprised you the most?

Eric Stickney: The analyses have definitely shown us the power of daily reading practice. Take vocabulary as an example. Reading researchers will tell you that exposing students to vocabulary in authentic text is critical for developing their background knowledge, their general reading ability, and their ability to tackle new, more challenging, and unfamiliar types of text in the future. In the 2019 report, we examined the impact of reading for just a few extra minutes per day on students’ vocabulary growth. It’s both surprising and heartening to see how dedicating a bit more time to daily reading practice results in significantly greater vocabulary gains across a student’s K–12 education:

Reading time and vocabulary growth (K-12)

We’ve also explored the relationship between the difficulty of what students read and what adults read. Some observers despair that kids don’t do a lot of reading “at their grade level” after they leave middle school. Our data shows there’s good news and bad news. Most high school students are choosing or being assigned books at a difficulty of around grades 6–8. That may sound concerning, but it turns out that we adults mostly read books at about that same level, if you analyze what’s on the bestseller lists.

So, there doesn’t seem to be a gap in terms of fiction reading. The larger concern is the nonfiction material, including both articles and books. There is a gap between the difficulty of the nonfiction books and articles high school seniors read and the text complexity they are expected to handle in college and career. On average, it looks to be about a three-year gap, because 12th graders are reading nonfiction books and articles mostly at a grade 7–9 level. However, the occupational, military, and college texts they will need to handle are typically around grades 10–14 in terms of text difficulty. So, there’s clearly more work to be done here.

Q: Each year, the report includes short essays by noted authors. Which essays are the most memorable?

Heather Nagrocki: There are too many to choose from! The Outsiders was one of my favorite books when I was growing up, and I approached S.E. Hinton to write an essay for the first edition of the report. I was so excited when she agreed!

Other authors who’ve contributed essays include Lois Lowry, author of The Giver; Christopher Paul Curtis, author of Bud, Not Buddy; Judith Viorst, author of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day; Dav Pilkey, author of the Captain Underpants and Dogman series; Melba Pattillo Beals, a member of the Little Rock Nine, the first students to integrate all-white Central High School in Little Rock, AR, in 1957, and author of Warriors Don’t Cry; and Dr. Christine King Farris, author of March On!: The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World.

We’ve also had Donald Driver, the former Green Bay Packer and author of a series of children’s books about a boy named Quickie—a fun local tie-in for our Wisconsin-based company; Daniel Handler, author of the Lemony Snicket series; Jeannette Walls, author of the memoir The Glass Castle; and Ellen Hopkins, who’s written some memorable YA novels in verse.

For 2021, we’ll have essays by Jewell Parker Rhodes, author of Black Brother, Black Brother; Pam Muñoz Ryan, author of Esperanza Rising; Rob Harrell, author of Wink; and Yuyi Morales, author of Dreamers. Appropriately enough, each writer will reflect on how books and reading can help us all—kids and adults alike—to get through challenging times.

Q: What else can you tell us about the 2021 report? What will be new this year?

Heather Nagrocki: As always, the report will list the most popular books at each grade level—although this year, we’re providing side-by-side lists of the top 12 print titles and the top 12 digital titles. This reflects the major increase in myON usage we’ve seen over the last year, as educators and librarians have found new ways of getting books into kids’ hands.

For a few years, we’ve been highlighting titles that support social-emotional learning. For 2021, each grade level will feature a pair of books (one fiction, the other nonfiction) that address a SEL-related topic. We’re also highlighting five popular Spanish titles at each grade level, as well as books that promote diversity and inclusion. Finally, each grade will have a “New and Now” section, to highlight books published in 2019 or 2020 that students are just starting to discover.

Amanda Beckler: From a research perspective, we’ll be comparing students’ reading in fall 2020 to their reading in fall 2019. We’re obviously interested in whether students are reading more or less this school year. We’re also interested in the difficultly of the books they’re reading now, and how well they’re comprehending what they read.

2021 also marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of Accelerated Reader. In addition to the booklists and the research findings, we’ll profile several educators who are using AR to support distance and hybrid learning this year.

Eric Stickney: Beyond sharing data on student reading, the report’s goal has always been to celebrate books and to encourage students to read for pleasure, both in and out of school. We know from prior research that the characteristics of the reading that students do are strong predictors of how much they’ll grow achievement-wise, and the likelihood they’ll be able to understand more complex texts later in school, college, and career.

There is concern about how much students are reading, that video games and other distractions pull them away from books, and that the disruption caused by COVID-19 is having a negative impact on reading growth. So, while the 2021 report will offer new insights and information, its goal remains the same: to highlight popular and engaging books so that educators, librarians, and parents can help all students to find their next great read.

Download the new 2021 edition of What Kids Are Reading now. Also, explore the new report’s most surprising insights in a free on-demand webinar.

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Using Freckle Math to reverse the COVID-19 Slide https://www.renaissance.com/2021/01/29/blog-using-freckle-math-to-reverse-the-covid-slide/ Fri, 29 Jan 2021 14:21:32 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=50206 Last November, we released our How Kids Are Performing report, which uses data from five million student assessments to quantify the impact of COVID-related disruptions. While most students experienced modest declines in reading performance, math performance was impacted more significantly, […]

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Last November, we released our How Kids Are Performing report, which uses data from five million student assessments to quantify the impact of COVID-related disruptions. While most students experienced modest declines in reading performance, math performance was impacted more significantly, with students in grades 4–6 showing the greatest declines.

This raises several questions for K–12 educators. Why was math impacted more than reading? How can we accelerate math growth this year, with so many students learning remotely? How can we use technology to support teaching and learning in mathematics—both inside and outside the classroom?

To help answer these questions, we recently spoke with Dr. Jan Bryan, National Education Officer at Renaissance; Jillian McDermott, a grade 4–5 teacher at Summit School of the Poconos in Pennsylvania; and Ryan Guerrero-Moreno, Product Specialist at Renaissance. Following are highlights from our conversation, along with links to helpful math resources.

Q: How much do we know about the COVID Slide in math?

Jan Bryan: As soon as school buildings closed last spring, we began hearing dire predictions about the scale of learning loss that students would experience due to COVID-19. But we weren’t able to truly quantify this until we had fall 2020 screening data, so we could compare students’ actual performance with where we’d expect them to be in a normal, “non-COVID” school year.

The How Kids Are Performing report shares our findings—specifically, that math was impacted more than reading at every grade level and across every demographic group. The following graph provides a stark indication of this, in the sense that the “worst” grades in reading (grades 4–7) are at the same level as the “best” grades in math (grades 2–3):

Time-Based Approximation of Learning Loss

Q: Why was math affected more than reading? And why were middle-school students impacted the most?

Jan Bryan: There’s a common perception that everyone is willing to read with or read to children, but when it comes to solving math problems, it’s suddenly a case of “OK—see you later!”

On a more serious note, the writer Stephen Pinker describes math as “ruthlessly cumulative,” with each skill dependent on those that come before it. Because of the building closures last spring and the rush to implement distance learning, it’s not surprising that students missed instruction and practice on critical math skills, which then makes it difficult for them to progress.

Jillian McDermott: I wasn’t surprised to see that the middle grades have been impacted the most. In K–3, we’re teaching students the fundamentals of math—addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. In grades 4–5, we add another level of complexity, such as decimals and fractions. Even before COVID, it was clear to me that students who hadn’t truly learned the foundational skills would struggle when they needed to apply and build on them in grades 4–5.

Q: How do you support students who need more work on foundational math skills?

Jillian McDermott: I’m lucky to work at a school that emphasizes project-based learning, and differentiation has always been central to my teaching. For math, I divide students into four groups, and the groups rotate through four stations. Group 1 works with me; Group 2 works on activities in our workbook; Group 3 completes online practice in Freckle Math; and Group 4 does hands-on activities and math games.

The groups are at slightly different levels, so when students are working with me, I focus on what they’re ready to cover next and where they’re encountering difficulties. Sometimes, there’s a clear need to review or reteach skills from earlier grade levels before moving on, or to explore different ways of solving a problem.

I use Freckle Math for just this reason. The adaptive practice component adjusts to each student’s level, and there are built-in supports—such as hints and short help videos—that keep students engaged when they might otherwise give up. Students who need practice on foundational skills get exactly this, and I can see in real time how they’re progressing.

Freckle Supports and Scaffolds

Ryan Guerrero-Moreno: I’m always glad to hear about teachers who emphasize differentiation and who use Freckle to support this. By nature of a classroom, students are most often taught in groups, with limited 1:1 time. While this can be effective, we know that students are not homogenous and can really miss out on individualized skill-building in a classroom setting. Our focus on differentiation is related to why we are called “Freckle.” We often perceive freckles collectively, just as we perceive students collectively. The unique identity of an individual freckle can get lost or overlooked. The Freckle program constantly adapts to provide personalized practice, so the same phenomenon doesn’t occur with students.

Students receive a variety of question types (multiple choice, free response, drag-and-drop, etc.) when they’re working in Freckle. The program also provides students with regular reviews, particularly of concepts that proved challenging for them in the past, so they can develop the strong foundation Jillian mentioned earlier.

Q: How has COVID-19 impacted math teaching and learning?

Jillian McDermott: Every student in our school has a Chromebook, so technology was already embedded in our school day. When our building closed last spring, we only lost one day of instruction as we made the transition to remote learning. After that, we were back online, although most of the learning was asynchronous through the end of the school year.

This fall, we made the decision to remain fully remote, with live instruction four days per week. (Friday is for asynchronous learning activities.) I still have my four math stations, although these are now hosted in breakout rooms in our video conferencing system.

The teacher station has experienced the most change, because I’m no longer working with students face-to-face. I use Google Jamboard for this, which allows me to see students working on a problem, and allows them to collaborate with each other.

The Freckle station has probably changed the least, because my students were already familiar with using Freckle at home over the summer. The only “rule” I have is that they have to practice within the domain that we’re studying at the time. This was true in the classroom, and it still applies now that students are learning remotely.

Jan Bryan: There’s no shortage of research on effective strategies for helping students build positive math mindsets. Three that come to mind are frequent checks for understanding, deliberate practice to build expertise, and appropriate support and scaffolding. As Jillian and Ryan have pointed out, all three are built into the Freckle program, and students’ experience in Freckle is largely the same, whether they’re learning in the school building or at home.

Q: How has the COVID-19 Slide affected your students?

Jillian McDermott: The impact has been fairly minor in my classroom. As I mentioned earlier, my students use Freckle over the summer, and I’ve found that 10–15 minutes of daily practice can make a real difference. This was especially important last summer, and Freckle made it easy for me to see how much students were practicing, along with which skills they were practicing and how much progress they were making.

While my students have adapted to remote instruction, we’re moving through the curriculum more slowly than we would typically. We’ll likely cover all of the concepts by the year’s end, but I know I’ll have students using Freckle over the summer, to keep their skills sharp and to continue practicing new concepts.

Students obviously miss the hands-on activities we were able to do in the classroom. When we were working on fractions, for example, I’d give them a recipe for pancakes that served four people. I’d then ask them to quadruple this, to feed 16 people instead. Once they’d worked this out—and once I’d checked their calculations—they made the pancakes, right in the classroom. (Needless to say, I arranged for a few parents to come in and assist with this!)

Freckle’s Inquiry Based Lessons support a similar real-world application of math concepts. When I taught grade 3, one of the students’ favorites was “Passing a Bill into Law.” This brings together math and social studies content, with students calculating how many votes a bill will need in the US Congress in order to pass. The activity is spread over several days, with students watching short videos and then calculating the number of votes that are still needed. Along the way, they discover that there’s more than one way to arrive at the correct answer, and they’re naturally curious about how their classmates solved the problem.

Inquiry Based Lesson

An activity like this is certainly do-able in a virtual environment, although it will require some coordination on the teacher’s part.

Ryan Guerrero-Moreno: Educators have been vocal about the challenges they face this year, particularly the need to make up lost ground while also covering grade-level content in a limited amount of time. We wanted to make sure that we support this need by enhancing Freckle Math to include Renaissance Focus Skills. Focus Skills give educators the ability to assign targeted practice on the most critical math skills at each grade level—the skills that students must learn in order to progress. We believe that Focus Skills are central to closing COVID-related learning gaps this year, and for maximizing the value of instructional time.

Q: What advice do you have around math motivation—especially in a distance learning environment?

Jan Bryan: Research shows that one key difference between students who achieve in math and those who don’t is mindset. I suspect we’ve all encountered students who say “I’m just not a math person,” as if they were destined from birth to either understand math or not. This always makes me think of Hamlet and the famous line “To be or not to be…”

The opposite of this is what I call the Jason Bourne approach. If you’ve seen the movies, you know that Bourne (who’s suffering from amnesia) discovers his identity step by step, relying on skills that he built through years of practice. Whether you’re teaching in-person or remotely, this is still the best approach. Students need to understand that skills build on each other; they need daily practice at the just-right level; they need opportunities to talk about math; and they need to regularly review skills so they’re ready to build on them in the future.

Each of these gives students greater agency in their learning, and we know that student agency is key to motivation.

Jillian McDermott: I couldn’t agree more. Growing up, I had some really inspiring teachers. I also had some who were very set in their ways. Looking back, I see how much I would have benefitted from learning more than one way of solving a math problem, and that’s why differentiation is so important to me. For example, some students find the box method really helpful for doing long division, while others don’t. That’s OK. It’s important for students to have multiple tools in their toolbox, and to be empowered to use the tools that make the most sense to them.

This is why I brought Freckle Math into my classroom back in 2017, and why the program continues to play such an important role. Rather than forcing students to work on the same thing at the same time and in the same way, Freckle gives students the independence to work at their level, and to build skills in the way that matches how they learn best. This is important every school year, but I think it’s critical now, as we work to support every one of our students during this pandemic.

Explore these resources for more insights on using Freckle to promote math engagement and student growth this year:

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Ohio Department of Education Selects Star Reading and Star Math for Dropout Prevention and Recovery https://www.renaissance.com/2021/01/28/news-ohio-department-of-education-selects-star-reading-star-math-dropout-prevention-recovery/ Thu, 28 Jan 2021 14:19:02 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=50164 More than 25,000 students across the state of Ohio will benefit from Star Reading and Star Math Bloomington, Minn. (Jan. 28, 2021) – Renaissance, the global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, announced that the Ohio Department of Education selected Star […]

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More than 25,000 students across the state of Ohio will benefit from Star Reading and Star Math

Bloomington, Minn. (Jan. 28, 2021)Renaissance, the global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, announced that the Ohio Department of Education selected Star Reading and Star Math for the state’s assessment of reading and mathematics for dropout prevention and recovery community school students.

The state sought a nationally norm-referenced assessment that measures growth in reading and mathematics appropriate for high school students in dropout prevention and recovery community schools.

“We’re thrilled to partner with the Ohio Department of Education and educators in Ohio again,” said Laurie Borkon, Vice President of Government Affairs at Renaissance. “Now more than ever, it’s critical that we prevent students from slipping through the cracks as more and more schools switch between remote and in-person learning environments.”

Star Reading and Star Math—key components of the Star Assessments assessment suite—are award-winning assessments for reading and math, in both English and Spanish. Trusted by more than 29,000 schools across the United States and highly rated by the National Center on Intensive Intervention, Star Reading and Star Math enable educators to quickly gain accurate insights into student learning, growth, and achievement—so they can help all students reach their full potential.

To learn more about Star Reading or Star Math, visit www.renaissance.com.


About Renaissance

As a global leader in assessment, reading, and math solutions for pre-K–12 schools and districts, Renaissance is committed to providing educators with insights and resources to accelerate growth and help all students build a strong foundation for success. Renaissance solutions are used in over one-third of US schools and in more than 100 countries worldwide. The Renaissance portfolio includes Star Assessments, for reliable, accurate insights into K–12 student learning; myIGDIs, for accurate assessment of early learning; myON, to increase students’ access to high-quality reading materials; Accelerated Reader, to support independent reading practice; Freckle, for teacher-led differentiated instruction; and Schoolzilla, to give educators actionable insights into trends in student attendance and achievement. For more information, visit www.renaissance.com.

Ken Stoflet
Communications Specialist
Renaissance
(715) 424-3636 ext. 2332
ken.stoflet@renaissance.com

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Renaissance Offers Unlimited, Free Access to More Than 6,500 Digital Books and News Articles https://www.renaissance.com/2021/01/26/news-renaissance-offers-unlimited-free-access-digital-books-news-articles/ Tue, 26 Jan 2021 15:00:11 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=50170 The Life Is Better When We Read Together initiative celebrates the joy of reading and provides access for students across the nation to support daily reading Bloomington, Minn. (Jan. 26, 2021) – To highlight the importance of daily reading during […]

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The Life Is Better When We Read Together initiative celebrates the joy of reading and provides access for students across the nation to support daily reading

Bloomington, Minn. (Jan. 26, 2021) – To highlight the importance of daily reading during the COVID-19 pandemic, Renaissance, a global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, is offering unlimited free access to myON digital books and news articles from February 1–7, 2021. The importance of reading materials at home cannot be overstated. In fact, research shows that kids with access to at least 500 books at home are more likely to graduate high school, while kids with minimal access to books often don’t make it past grade 9.*

Students, educators, and parents will access myON through a simple log-in, and low-bandwidth and offline reading options will maximize the reach of the Life Is Better When We Read Together initiative. As part of the week-long celebration of reading, Renaissance will also publish live metrics throughout to see if participants can top last year’s engagement and crack the goal of half a million hours spent reading.

Teachers are encouraged to share what their students are reading on Instagram using the hashtag #BetterWhenWeReadTogether and tag the @renlearnus account. On February 22, one lucky teacher will be randomly selected and their school will receive a six month subscription to myON. If they are already a myON customer, they will be able to gift the subscription to an eligible school of their choice and choose a publisher package add-on for their own school.

“The events of this past year have highlighted just how important access to reading materials is to ensure equity in education for all students. We are excited to provide a resource for schools and families that gives access to a vast collection of digital books and news articles designed to foster a love of reading,” said Gene Kerns, Chief Academic Officer at Renaissance. “Students will find reading materials by a wide range of authors on diverse topics in both English and Spanish.”

To help teachers make the most of their free week of myON, Renaissance is making available its latest What Kids Are Reading report, featuring lists of popular titles on the myON platform. Teachers can also create their own custom reports sorted by state, grade, genre, and more to inform their instruction and keep students engaged with titles that thousands of their peers have read and loved before them.

“In our district, we’ve seen firsthand the power of a community reading initiative and how easily myON makes it to tap into that power,” said Bree Valla, Deputy Superintendent at Lompoc Unified School District in California. “We’re excited to be part of an even larger community celebrating reading across the nation this February.”

For more information, visit www.renaissance.com/literacy-engagement-center/.

*Evans, M., et al. (2010). Family scholarly culture and educational success: Books and schooling in 27 nations. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 28(2), 171–197.


About Renaissance

As a global leader in assessment, reading, and math solutions for pre-K–12 schools and districts, Renaissance is committed to providing educators with insights and resources to accelerate growth and help all students build a strong foundation for success. Renaissance solutions are used in over one-third of US schools and in more than 100 countries worldwide. The Renaissance portfolio includes Star Assessments, for reliable, accurate insights into K–12 student learning; myIGDIs, for accurate assessment of early learning; myON, to increase students’ access to high-quality reading materials; Accelerated Reader, to support independent reading practice; Freckle, for teacher-led differentiated instruction; and Schoolzilla, to give educators actionable insights into trends in student attendance and achievement. For more information, visit www.renaissance.com

Ken Stoflet
Communications Specialist
Renaissance
(715) 424-3636 ext. 2332
ken.stoflet@renaissance.com

The post Renaissance Offers Unlimited, Free Access to More Than 6,500 Digital Books and News Articles appeared first on Renaissance.

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What most people don’t realize about the COVID-19 Slide https://www.renaissance.com/2021/01/22/blog-what-most-people-dont-realize-about-the-covid-19-slide/ Fri, 22 Jan 2021 14:16:22 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=50157 By Dr. Gene Kerns, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer Over the last nine months, conversations about the scale of COVID-related learning loss have dominated K–12 education. These began last spring, when various predictions and projections about the “COVID-19 Slide” […]

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By Dr. Gene Kerns, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer

Over the last nine months, conversations about the scale of COVID-related learning loss have dominated K–12 education. These began last spring, when various predictions and projections about the “COVID-19 Slide” received widespread coverage, ranging from academic journals to the New York Times to CNN. Not surprisingly, the most dire statements received the most attention, with a tutoring center warning that “some children will never recover,” and one edtech vendor referring to today’s students as “the lost COVID generation.”

Now that we’ve analyzed students’ actual fall 2020 screening data, conversations about learning loss are far more interesting, timely, and relevant. As documented in the Fall Edition of our How Kids Are Performing report, things are not as dire as some had predicted. However, most students are unquestionably behind in mathematics, and we cannot afford any additional regression in reading over the course of the school year.

In instances like this, there is also a danger. We cannot afford to spend our time simply framing and admiring the problem. Without question, the months that students have spent away from school buildings has taken an academic toll. But what many people fail to understand is that even the most dire consequences of COVID-related learning loss are small when you consider the ranges and gaps in performance that already existed.

Understanding achievement gaps

I’m not the first commentator to make this point. Last June, Will Lorié of the National Center for Assessment noted that previously existing performance gaps “are greater than any differential ‘learning losses’ we will find between relatively advantaged and disadvantaged groups due to spring 2020 school disruptions.” This statement echoed a May 2020 EdWeek commentary by Heather Hill and Susanna Loeb, who stated that “even if the loss is on the larger side—say, the equivalent of three months—this change is small compared with typical existing learning differences among students as they enter a new grade.”

Dylan Wiliam (2020) used data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) to vividly illustrate this point. For example, the 2019 NAEP results for grade 4 mathematics show an average scale score of 242, with a standard deviation of 31 points. Wiliam applied these metrics “to estimate the number of students at each grade-equivalent level” within a nationally representative grade 4 classroom. This revealed that “there is at least an eight-year spread of achievement” in an average class of 4th graders—meaning “there were five students whose math achievement was no higher than the average 1st grader, and two students whose achievement would match that of the average 9th grader.” This range existed prior to COVID-19, and Wiliam estimates that the disruptions caused by the pandemic may, at most, have increased this eight-year range by another 0.5 years.

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In an earlier study that focused on reading, Firmender, Reis, and Sweeny (2013) “examined the range of reading fluency and comprehension scores of 1,149 students in five diverse elementary schools, including a gifted and talented magnet school.” They “found a range in reading comprehension across all schools of 9.2 grade levels in grade 3, 11.3 in grade 4, and 11.6 in grade 5.” Taken together, these two models suggests that the average grade 4 math class would have students working at 8 different grade levels, while the average grade 4 ELA class would have a span of 11 grade levels—and this was before the pandemic.

Putting COVID-19 in perspective

Understanding the larger perspective around achievement gaps helps us to make sense of two findings in the Fall Edition of How Kids Are Performing that may initially seem to contradict one another. In section 3 of the report, we document that some student subgroups have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. For example, we see that American Indian and Alaska Native students have experienced a 9-point drop in mean percentile rank scores in math, while white students have only dropped by 7 points.

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Immediately after this, we explore the question of whether existing achievement gaps were exacerbated, and we present findings that seem to contradict those above. The report explains that “to determine whether achievement gaps are now larger due to the pandemic, we examined differences between student groups as a function of both race/ethnicity and prior achievement.”

In the first analysis, looking at differences among ethnic groups, we found that “there was no consistent or clear trend.” There were instances where gaps widened slightly and others where these gaps shrank, “suggesting that the pandemic has not yet exacerbated existing achievement gaps by race/ethnicity.”

The second analysis involved looking at differences in performance in consideration of prior achievement. For this, “we categorized each student in our matched sample as performing at a Low (Percentile Rank 1–34), Typical (PR 35–65) or High (PR 66–99) level, based on their pre-pandemic normative performance.” We found that “the pandemic’s impact appears to be approximately equivalent across lower, typical, and higher achieving students.” This means that the pandemic “has not led students with relatively low pre-pandemic normative performance to fall further behind their relatively higher performing academic peers,” given that higher-performing students experienced similar relative drops in performance. Everyone dropped fairly equally, resulting in lowered overall performance, but not in wider achievement gaps.

In some sense, these two findings raise questions. How can some demographic groups show larger drops than others—and yet gaps not be exacerbated? This is primarily a matter of scale. Experiencing a drop of 1–2 additional percentile ranks isn’t definitively significant when we acknowledge the much larger scale of the gaps that already existed. In essence, the COVID-19 Slide is, so far, a comparatively small addition to a much larger problem. To overly focus on the short-term loss related to COVID-19 is a perfect example of “not seeing the forest for the trees.” Many commentators have, in fact, been focusing on the COVID-19 “tree” without perceiving the performance gap “forest” that is the real challenge before us.

Just to be clear: I am not contending that COVID-related learning loss is irrelevant. To be sure, the disruption to schooling last spring has made a bad situation worse. I am, however, contending that our focus needs to be on the larger picture of gaps in student achievement, lest we fail to understand the landscape we are negotiating.

Sadly, many students are not only lost in the achievement gap forest, they are becoming more and more lost as time goes on. More than 15 years ago, Françoys Gagné (2005) analyzed data from the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and found the shocking reality that “the achievement gap widens by about 250% between grades 1 and 9.” Even before COVID-19, our educational system was not only failing to close gaps, but was actually making them worse. In a medical setting, this would be similar to a patient receiving continuous treatment and getting consistently worse. We must think deeply about what this means and what reforms we need to make in order to serve our students more equitably, both now and in the years ahead.

“Education reform is learning recovery”

Calls for reforming K–12 education are clearly not new. As Lorié (2020) notes, “Since the 1960s, schools have been called to close inter-group gaps in academic achievement measures.” He adds that while “learning loss” is a relatively new term, everything about “education reform is learning recovery.” So, what types of educational reform will educators need to undertake in 2021 and beyond?

The COVID-19 disruptions provide a critical opportunity to re-think our previous assumptions and practices. As Lorié notes, “If we are to do the work of learning recovery, let us take advantage of this moment to recover not only from the losses of one season but also from those that have been with us for decades.”

At Renaissance, we can provide you with tools and insights to support this important work. Our Focus Skills help you target the building blocks of learning at every grade level—the skills that students must master in order to progress in reading and mathematics. Star Assessments provide actionable formative and interim data so you can better understand each student’s achievement, growth, and instructional needs. And Schoolzilla greatly expands your reporting capabilities, so you can easily disaggregate data by student subgroup to identify equity issues and direct resources where they’re needed the most.

Change is never easy, and I don’t want to minimize the challenge that lies before us. But, in my experience, K–12 educators never lack for new ideas, and are willing to do whatever it takes to help students succeed.

Watch our recent webinar for more insights on the COVID-19 Slide, learning recovery, and educational equity this school year. To access the webinar, click the button below.

References

Firmender, J., Reis, S., & Sweeny, S. (2013). Reading comprehension and fluency levels ranges across diverse classrooms: The need for differentiated reading instruction and content. Gifted Child Quarterly, 57(1), 3–14.
Gagné, F. (2005). From noncompetence to exceptional talent: Exploring the range of academic achievement within and between grade levels. Gifted Child Quarterly, 49(2), 139–153.
Hill, H., and Loeb, S. (2020). How to contend with pandemic learning loss. Retrieved from: https://www.edweek.org/leadership/opinion-how-to-contend-with-pandemic-learning-loss/2020/05
Lorié, W. (2020). Contextualizing COVID-19 learning loss and learning recovery. Retrieved from: https://www.nciea.org/blog/school-disruption/contextualizing-covid-19-learning-loss-and-learning-recovery
Wiliam, D. (2020). COVID-19 learning loss: What we know and how to move forward. Retrieved from: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/rick_hess_straight_up/2020/08/covid-19_learning_loss_what_we_know_and_how_to_move_forward.html

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Creating an effective data culture in K–12 schools https://www.renaissance.com/2021/01/15/blog-creating-an-effective-data-culture-in-k12-schools/ Fri, 15 Jan 2021 15:40:38 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=50106 COVID-19 has impacted every aspect of K–12 education, from familiar classroom routines to when and how we assess our students. With thousands of buildings closed and millions of students learning remotely, educational data is playing a more important role than […]

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COVID-19 has impacted every aspect of K–12 education, from familiar classroom routines to when and how we assess our students. With thousands of buildings closed and millions of students learning remotely, educational data is playing a more important role than ever this year—which makes it all the more critical for every school and district to have an effective culture of data use.

This raises an obvious question for district and building administrators: What does a successful data culture look like in the era of COVID-19? What proven strategies can you use to engage stakeholders and ensure that every student receives the just-right level of support, no matter the learning environment?

In our latest webinar, we discuss these questions with Abigail Cohen, Associate Director for Policy & Research at the Data Quality Campaign, a nonprofit organization that’s the nation’s leading voice on education data use and policy. Following are four key takeaways from our conversation, along with links to helpful resources. We invite you to watch the webinar for an in-depth discussion of these points—and for best practices for leveraging your data this school year.

1. Focus on the fundamentals

As we noted in a recent blog, people often respond to uncertainty in one of two ways. Some seek a truly novel solution, something that’s never been done before. Others take the opposite approach, going back to the basics and doubling-down on the fundamentals. This is often the better choice.

Given the COVID-19 disruptions, focusing on the fundamentals—what the Data Quality Campaign calls the Guiding Principles of Effective Data Use—is key. So, what does this involve? Educators obviously collect a lot of data about their students: attendance, behavior, assessment scores, course grades, classroom observations, and more. But our goal as educators isn’t to amass data but rather to help students succeed. Students must be central to everything we do. If we’re collecting data that doesn’t contribute to this goal, or if we’re not actively using our data to form a more complete picture of students’ strengths and needs, then we need to reexamine what we’re doing.

Going along with this is the idea that data systems are not enough. As Cohen explains in the webinar, at its founding, the Data Quality Campaign focused on systems-building, helping states develop their longitudinal data systems. Too often, however, these systems didn’t live up to their potential—not because they were necessarily flawed, but because the data wasn’t readily available to those who needed it. Even when data was available, end-users often didn’t have the time or resources to draw actionable insights from it. This led to a shift in the Campaign’s work, from a focus on effective data systems to a focus on effective data culture.

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This brings us to the third principle—that data must be tailored to each user’s specific needs. Not only do different stakeholders (administrators, teachers, parents, students, community members) need different types of data, but it’s important to recognize that not every piece of data will be actionable to every stakeholder. To give but one example: both superintendents and teachers need to understand the impact of the “COVID Slide” on student learning. Clearly, superintendents need a broad, district-wide view, so they can make decisions about service delivery and resource allocation. Teachers, however, need a very granular view—down to discrete skills—of what their students have mastered, what they’re ready to learn next, and where critical gaps exist.

While both superintendents and teachers get this data from the same source (e.g., students’ performance on interim assessments), their needs are very different in terms of the grain size, the questions they need to answer, and the next steps they will take.

2. “Data is not a hammer”

For some educators, the term “data” is synonymous with “accountability”—as if data is only useful for finding gaps and problems. It’s true that data plays an important role in helping to identify unmet student needs and inequitable allocation of resources. There are also times when administrators need to have tough conversations, based on what they’re seeing. But, as the Campaign’s fourth principle emphasizes, data is used for different purposes: not just for accountability, but also to highlight what’s working, to increase transparency, and to support continuous improvement within and across schools.

Critical to this is the final principle, that stakeholder engagement is vital. As Cohen notes, this is often the biggest barrier to an effective data culture. So, what can administrators do? One of our Renaissance colleagues—a former district administrator—likes to use the phrase “inspect what you expect”, which is very relevant here. In short, administers first need to ensure that teachers and support staff:

  • Have the time and expertise to review student data, and to plan instructional next steps based on what the data shows;
  • Have a voice in the process of data collection and use, and are empowered to ask questions and provide feedback about these processes;
  • Understand that data—in Cohen’s words—is not a hammer, used solely for accountability, but a flashlight, showing what’s working and where to focus our efforts for improvement;
  • Understand that data use is an ongoing process throughout the school day, not something that only happens during data-team meetings.

Once administrators have made clear what they expect—and have ensured that teachers and staff have professional development around effective data use—they then need to inspect. This includes regularly visiting school buildings (when possible), sitting in on data-team and PLC meetings, and gathering ongoing feedback about successes and challenges. Actively participating in the process goes a long way toward engaging stakeholders—and supports the shift from a culture that only views data through the lens of accountability to a culture that proactively uses data to improve teaching and learning.

3. Data is an ongoing, collaborative process

One of the Data Quality Campaign’s most popular resources is an infographic called Mr. Maya’s Data-Rich Year. This graphic shows a principal’s journey over the course of the year, as he interacts with teachers, staff, students, and parents; develops a strategic plan and goals; tracks progress and growth; and works to continually improve the delivery of services to his students.

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This journey will look somewhat different in the era of COVID-19, with Zoom calls replacing in-person meetings, and with data from interim assessments helping to fill the gap left by the cancellation of state testing last spring. But, as Cohen explains in the webinar, the key points remain the same:

  • Data isn’t just one person’s or one team’s responsibility. Instead, everyone is involved in using data to make decisions and monitor students’ progress—whether this is progress in a particular academic course or progress toward important long-term goals (graduation, etc.)
  • Data use should be embedded in day-to-day activities. Data use can’t be limited to weekly team meetings. Instead, data should inform teachers’ daily decisions about what to teach next and how to group students, and administrators’ decisions about what to invest in and where to direct resources.
  • Data use is collaborative—and teachers need support to do it. Administrators should model effective data use, have authentic conversations with teachers and staff about data, and provide tools and resources to support data literacy.

The Campaign has also created a companion infographic, showing the data journey from the teacher’s point of view. Again, the key steps in this process—reviewing formative and interim data, setting goals, collaborating with colleagues, and tracking student progress—remain the same this year, even if most of the interaction occurs virtually.

4. Look beyond the COVID-19 disruptions

There’s no denying that COVID-19 creates challenges for data collection and use. For example, observing students in the classroom is difficult when students are not physically present in the classroom. As Cohen points out, the pandemic also requires us to rethink familiar definitions. For example, what does “chronically absent” mean in an era when many students are learning asynchronously, accessing different platforms and apps from home?

Educators have made major efforts to ensure that learning continues despite the disruptions. With so much focus on meeting students’ immediate needs, it can be difficult to look toward the future. But Cohen suggests that administrators consider the data they can collect now that will be useful in the future, as they seek to fully understand the impact of COVID-19 on their students’ performance and growth.

The pandemic has also shown the need to collect new demographics. In the past, tracking students’ level of at-home connectivity and device access wasn’t necessarily “mission critical” in most districts. Now, this information is indispensable for ensuring that students have access to online learning opportunities, and for understanding how access (and lack of access) is affecting performance. The following example shows data visualizations in Renaissance’s Schoolzilla platform, allowing administrators to disaggregate data from the Star Reading assessment using these two metrics.

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How Renaissance supports effective data use

Understanding the features of an effective data culture is one thing; creating and maintaining such a culture is something else. At Renaissance, we offer a variety of remote and on-site professional services that focus on effective data use—including new offerings on remote testing, on using Focus Skills to address learning loss, and more. Please don’t hesitate to contact us to discuss professional learning options, or with questions about using Renaissance products to help ensure that learning continues, regardless of how you’re providing services to your students.

Ready for more insights on creating a positive culture of data use this year? Watch the webinar for more insights and best practices from the Data Quality Campaign and Renaissance.

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Accelerated Reader Wins Best Feature Set and Best Customer Support Awards from TrustRadius https://www.renaissance.com/2021/01/12/news-accelerated-reader-wins-best-feature-set-best-customer-support-awards-trustradius/ Tue, 12 Jan 2021 14:21:13 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=50095 Accelerated Reader won two awards from TrustRadius last week Bloomington, Minn. (Jan. 12, 2021) – Renaissance, the global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, is thrilled to announce that TrustRadius named Accelerated Reader Best Feature Set Winner and Best Customer Support […]

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Accelerated Reader won two awards from TrustRadius last week

Bloomington, Minn. (Jan. 12, 2021)Renaissance, the global leader in pre-K–12 education technology, is thrilled to announce that TrustRadius named Accelerated Reader Best Feature Set Winner and Best Customer Support Winner in their annual Best of Awards.

Both categories recognize products with outstanding features and companies that have gone above and beyond to provide their customers with outstanding customer service in 2020.

To be recognized, each product had to receive 10 TrustRadius reviews in 2020 that featured a specific mention of their product’s feature set. Winners also had to rank in the top three positions of their category in terms of what percentage of positive responses they earned this year. Additional vetting via textual review analysis was also performed by the TrustRadius research team.

Accelerated Reader is an independent reading practice program that helps K–12 students to become confident, lifelong readers. Supporting more than 200,000 fiction and nonfiction books and articles at a wide range of levels, Accelerated Reader gives students extensive choice in what they read—and keeps them engaged in independent reading practice as they work toward personalized goals. An article collection provides additional opportunities for daily nonfiction reading, while in-depth reporting supports regular teacher-student conversations about reading time, reading comprehension, and reading growth.

“I’m thrilled to see Accelerated Reader recognized,” said Cherie Glascock, Vice President of Customer Enablement at Renaissance. “From allowing at-home quizzing for Accelerated Reader to working with some of our larger customers to meet them where they’re at, our customer support team played an incredibly important role in ensuring educators and their students were set up for success.”

To learn more about Accelerated Reader, visit www.renaissance.com.


About Renaissance

As a global leader in assessment, reading, and math solutions for pre-K–12 schools and districts, Renaissance is committed to providing educators with insights and resources to accelerate growth and help all students build a strong foundation for success. Renaissance solutions are used in over one-third of US schools and in more than 100 countries worldwide. The Renaissance portfolio includes Star Assessments, for reliable, accurate insights into K–12 student learning; myIGDIs, for accurate assessment of early learning; myON, to increase students’ access to high-quality reading materials; Accelerated Reader, to support independent reading practice; Freckle, for teacher-led differentiated instruction; and Schoolzilla, to give educators actionable insights into trends in student attendance and achievement. For more information, visit www.renaissance.com.

About TrustRadius

TrustRadius helps technology buyers make better decisions and helps vendors tell their unique story, improve conversion, engage high-intent buyers, and gain customer insights. Each month over 1 million B2B technology buyers, over 50% from large enterprises, use verified reviews and ratings on TrustRadius.com to make informed purchasing decisions. Headquartered in Austin, TX, TrustRadius was founded by successful entrepreneurs and is backed by Mayfield Fund, LiveOak Venture Partners, and Next Coast Ventures.

Contact for Media Inquiries Only:

Ken Stoflet
Communications Specialist
Renaissance
(715) 424-3636 ext. 2332
ken.stoflet@renaissance.com

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In response to: Cancelling interim testing this year https://www.renaissance.com/2021/01/08/blog-in-response-to-cancelling-interim-testing-this-year/ Fri, 08 Jan 2021 14:41:37 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=50009 By Dr. Gene Kerns, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer Like nearly all children in the 1970s and 80s, I fully embraced the early video games of that era. For many, the only access to these was at video arcades. […]

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By Dr. Gene Kerns, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer

Like nearly all children in the 1970s and 80s, I fully embraced the early video games of that era. For many, the only access to these was at video arcades. But if you were really fortunate, you had one of the early home computers—think Commodore 64, Atari, Tandy, or the Apple IIe.

My brother-in-law was a techy person, and we were Atari people. My favorite game for our Atari 800 was called Star Raiders. You piloted your space fighter from quadrant to quadrant encountering the enemy and returning to base when needed for refueling or repairs. The moment the game started, you did two things: you pressed CTRL-S for shields and CTRL-C for computer.

As the names imply, the shields provided protection while the computer provided navigational information. If it became damaged in battle, navigating was a far less reliable and a far more manual process. If you ran low on fuel and could not make it back to base quickly enough because of your diminished navigational capacity, it was game over.

So, what does this have to do with the 2020–2021 school year? In an earlier blog, I suggested that we’re currently living in a footnote of history, given the disruptions caused by COVID-19. This means that in the future, when people look back at student data from this time, there will always be a footnote or an asterisk to remind them that the information must be considered through the lens of the pandemic’s disruptions. As we drift through this footnote, I’m now asking whether we have our computers “turned on” to get the navigational information we need.

Confronting the data void

In a profession where the release of high-stakes summative data has been a regular occurrence for nearly two decades, we’re just finding out what it’s like to perform our roles without the flow of information from state tests. There will never be any summative data for the 2019–2020 school year. While I’m not usually a betting man, I’d say that the odds are split on whether we’ll have state summative testing this spring. If state testing does occur, the results won’t be back until the school year is over.

If data from these summative tests were the only source of guidance—our only navigational computer— then schools would be totally adrift this year. But they’re not. We have interim assessments that can easily produce normed scores on relative performance, such as percentile ranks (PRs), and on growth, such as Student Growth Percentiles (SGPs). Interim assessments are critical because they provide information that other tools cannot.

Some commentators, who are not fully acknowledging the critical role of interim assessments this year, have focused primarily on formative assessment instead. They are correct to advance this type of assessment as a critical element, because the relationship between student growth and quality formative assessment strategies is well-documented. However, in the same way that a variety of tools allows a master craftsman to produce quality results, a variety of assessment tools is necessary for teachers to achieve optimal student growth.

Answering essential questions

Formative tools do an excellent job of providing feedback at the instructional level on individual skills or a small set of skills. They can definitively tell you whether a student has mastered a given skill, while normative data provides different yet equally important insights. For example, formative tools can tell you that across six weeks of instruction, a student mastered 23 skills. However, the normed growth metric of an interim tool can tell you whether, while doing so, the student was progressing at a rate equal to, above, or below her grade-level peers. In other words, was the student maintaining her current overall level of performance, moving ahead, or falling behind during this time period?

And it’s not just about growth metrics. There are many questions currently being posed by stakeholders—parents, community members, teachers, school boards—that relate to overall school and district performance and require normative information to answer (e.g., What has been the true impact of the “COVID-19 Slide”? How are our students really performing this year?) Normed scores uniquely allow us to understand each student’s performance and growth relative to that of others.

A definitive case can be made for the use of interim assessments to answer essential questions about performance. The question is whether, amidst all of the disruptions and pressures they’re facing, school leaders are making the use of interim assessments a priority. I’m pleased to report that many are.

Supporting learning for all students

Year-over-year usage data for Renaissance Star Assessments reveals that the vast majority of educators are continuing to use Star as much as they did before COVID-19. For most students, this means a regular cadence of fall, winter, and spring screening to confirm adequate performance and growth. There is, however, a small portion of schools that have consciously chosen not to give any interim assessments this school year. There’s another group that may not have made a conscious decision, but have simply neglected to use their interim tools. All of these schools have their navigational computers turned off. They are currently adrift in the void.

I’m amazed at how long some educators are willing to drift without normative information—and curious about their rationale for this. Some view interim assessments’ normative scores as simply a local extension of summative assessments. They’ve asserted that there’s no need to administer interim tests because “there’s nothing to predict”—as if the only role of an interim test is to predict summative outcomes. But the best interim assessments, when used well, do so much more. They support our RTI/MTSS implementations, help us screen students for characteristics of dyslexia, support equitable goal-setting, and provide critical information to quantify the impact of the COVID-19 Slide.

I remember when I first encountered Star Assessments more than two decades ago, years before No Child Left Behind went online and anyone really knew what “high stakes accountability” was all about. Summative tests existed, but they were administered far less often. Their results were excessively delayed and barely available to me as a teacher. Reporting was provided on paper, and even the basic analytical tools and disaggregation capabilities of today were non-existent. Most teachers now have immediate access to a wealth of data on their students, while not so long ago accessing any normative information on a student was an arduous task that involved getting access to the records room and manually going through paper reports in a student’s permanent file. Then came Star.

As a teacher, getting access to Star was the first time that I ever had any control over a normed assessment, and that was powerful. I could administer the test when I wanted to confirm or alleviate concerns I had about student performance. Star provided information on newly enrolled students on whom we had little other information, and it provided powerful reports for parent conferences. Star produced information I could use immediately, and it marked the beginning—for me and for many other teachers of that time period—of a new era of using assessment information for instructional planning.

Star Instructional Planning Reports

But, as I write this, there are districts that are coasting along without having administered any interim assessments since last winter, and that have no plans to give any such tests for the remainder of the school year. This is an extremely long time to go without navigational data. It’s like flying a plane for hours without confirming your altitude or direction—simply drifting along without confirming that you’re truly getting closer to your destination.

Now for the good news: the computer can be switched back on at any time. Many scores (e.g., percentile ranks) are immediately generated and, while schools that have not tested yet will always have a gap in their data, a new test brings much new information. The longer that schools go without testing, however, the more prolonged the gaps in their longitudinal data become.

Also, because more specialized scores, like Student Growth Percentiles (SGPs), require testing within specific windows of time, going back online with them is a bit more complex. Calculating SGPs requires a student testing history. Many schools that had regularly been using Star for fall, winter, and spring screening did not administer the assessment last spring, due to COVID-19 building closures. Once they administered a Star test this fall, however, SGPs (Fall 2019 to Fall 2020) were generated, because the calculations can still be accomplished even with one testing window missing.

Schools that skipped testing last spring and consciously chose not to—or merely neglected to—administer Star this fall have temporarily lost access to SGPs, because the score’s calculation cannot be accomplished with two skipped testing windows (Spring 2020 and Fall 2020). They are adrift without an important growth metric for the first half of this school year. They do, however, still have the opportunity to “turn their navigational computers back on” for the second part of the year.

SGP Testing Timeframes

While the fall window for SGP scores, having run from August 1 through November 30, is now closed, the winter window is currently open. Any Star test taken from December 1 through March 31 is a step taken toward bringing the SGP “navigational system” back online for the second half of the year. With a test in both the winter window and the spring window (December 1 through July 31), a Winter 2021 to Spring 2021 SGP will be calculated, providing a key metric on students’ growth during the remainder of the school year.

To schools that have opted to cancel interim testing this year, I say: it’s time to bring your navigational systems back online.

Did you know that Star Assessments can be administered either in-person or remotely? Check out these resources for helpful tips:

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Product Highlights: Analyzing data to accelerate growth https://www.renaissance.com/2020/12/11/blog-product-highlights-analyzing-data-accelerate-growth/ Fri, 11 Dec 2020 14:31:30 +0000 https://www.renaissance.com/?p=49813 With learning models shifting—in some cases, multiple times—this school year, educators have shown us just how resilient (in fact, superheroic) they really are. But these shifts haven’t been without challenges, especially when it comes to gathering student data to inform […]

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With learning models shifting—in some cases, multiple times—this school year, educators have shown us just how resilient (in fact, superheroic) they really are. But these shifts haven’t been without challenges, especially when it comes to gathering student data to inform daily instruction.

In the classroom, you can often engage in informal assessment through direct observation: you can generally tell whether students are “getting it” or require additional instruction. Teaching remotely or in a hybrid model adds a layer of complexity here: How can you know when students are ready to move on and what they’re ready to learn next?

We understand how critical it is to have a complete picture of student performance to support teaching and learning. Many of you are leaning more on formative and benchmarking tools like Star Assessments this year to guide instruction and practice and to address the “COVID Slide.” Our latest product enhancements will help you make sense of the various data points you’re collecting so you can take action to accelerate growth—regardless of how you’re engaging with your students.

You’ll find a summary of the recent enhancements below. For full details, please visit our new Product Updates Blog.

Using Growth Proficiency to plan instruction

To assist you in planning the best instructional path forward for each student, we’ve added a new Growth Proficiency Category column to the Star Growth Report for assessments administered in English and Spanish. This newly added information provides a quick indicator of a student’s level of growth, based on their Student Growth Percentile (SGP) score, and the student’s proficiency, based on their Percentile Rank (PR) score related to a particular benchmark.

This allows you to quickly determine which of four categories a student belongs to: High Growth, High Proficiency; High Growth, Low Proficiency; Low Growth, High Proficiency; or Low Growth, Low Proficiency. With this additional insight into how students are progressing over time, you’ll get a more well-rounded picture of each student’s performance.

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Learn more: Read the post on the Product Updates Blog. Watch the webinar for insights on using the Growth Proficiency metric to plan daily instruction.

Moving students toward Spanish proficiency

For our Texas educators, we recently completed a statistical linking study to help you predict whether individual students are on track for success on the STAAR Spanish assessment. With summative testing canceled last spring due to COVID-19 building closures, this information is especially useful now, as you look for ways to meaningfully assess where students are so you can reallocate resources where they’re needed the most.

Learn more: Access the new linking study between Star Reading and Star Math in Spanish and STAAR Spanish. Read the post on the Product Updates Blog for three steps for making use of this new feature.

Identifying Focus Skills in Spanish

We know that teachers are often tasked with covering more skills than is realistically possible, and that essential skills are generally co-mingled with non-essential skills. Renaissance Focus Skills show you what is essential at each grade level, involving concepts that students must master in order to advance to the next step in reading and mathematics.

Just like the English versions of Star, the Spanish versions include learning progressions that are empirically validated, aligned to state standards, and pinpoint the skills students are ready to work on next. The Spanish learning progressions now identify Focus Skills (Destrezas Esenciales) as well. For K–12 students taking Star Assessments in Spanish, educators will not only see the skills students are ready to work on based on their Star scaled score, but they will also be able to quickly identify Focus Skills, included on the Star Instructional Planning Reports, to move every student to greater mastery.

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Learn more: Read the post on the Product Updates Blog. Explore our new learning progression for Spanish reading. Watch the webinar for insights on assessing students in Spanish and English with Star.

Measuring elementary students’ development in a new way

We recently released Star CBM assessments for K–6 students in reading and K–3 students in math, to complement our Star adaptive assessments. Being able to screen and progress monitor students through one-on-one measures empowers you to better target instruction and intervention to the specific needs of your younger learners. The new Star CBM software supports both in-person and remote assessments. Star CBM Reading also includes Rapid Automatic Naming (RAN) measures that can assist in screening for characteristics of dyslexia, as required by many states.

Learn more: Read the post on the Product Updates Blog. Watch the “Meet Star CBM” overview video. See how Star CBM supports students in distance-learning environments.

Getting deeper insights into your Star data

After completing fall screening, how do you quickly review and make sense of all your Star data? Hopefully, you’ve taken advantage of the new district-level dashboards powered by Schoolzilla to gain insights on how students performed in Star Reading, Star Math, and Star Early Literacy (including those assessments taken in Spanish). In addition, we recently enhanced our dashboard capabilities so you can now look at mastery of specific standards by particular student groups to answer questions like: Are there differences in mastery of a particular standard for students of different races/ethnicities?

Learn more: Read the post on the Product Updates Blog. Get an expert’s tips for setting equitable goals this school year.

Bringing it all together

You’ve analyzed the data—so what’s next? The power of these insights can drive important decisions for accelerating your students’ growth. Renaissance is committed to ensuring continuous learning, and we are behind you every step of the way—from assessment to daily practice to data visualizations. Take a look at how a school in Pennsylvania is using data-informed instruction to connect the dots and drive more growth for students.

Understanding how kids are performing

As part of our mission to accelerate learning for all, we undertook a research analysis of the true impact of the “COVID Slide”. Based on more than 5.3 million Star tests administered this fall, the new How Kids Are Performing report shows you the extent of student learning loss in both reading and math. It also translates these losses into instructional terms—so you can see which subject areas and grade levels have been impacted the most.

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Learn more: Get strategies for using the new report to guide reading and math instruction in your school. Explore the true—and critical—role of educational data this school year.