AIMSweb Assessment Issues

AIMSweb Assessment Issues in an Urban / Suburban School District in Northeastern Kansas.

Any time you begin a new assessment system, there will be "growing pains". In the district where I teach we had our share, but by the end of the second AIMSweb assessment session (Winter, 2012), we felt like we had a pretty good handle on it for the next session (Spring, 2012). Following, I will discuss some of the issues we had and the solutions - or attempted solutions - we implemented.

First of all let me describe our situation. We had a district-wide testing team. This was the first time our district had done this. Of course this was also the first time our district had really implemented an assessment system. We had not used a universal screener district-wide before. Previously, each building tested its own students, usually using a formative or diagnostic test. Our team consisted of our building-level interventionists. Our instructional coaches played a role, but for the most part didn't administer any assessments. They helped with organizing materials, served as "runners" to get kids to and from the testing area, helped make the schedule, etc. It should be noted that by "helped" I mean they basically did it all by themselves.

Our testing team received training in how to administer and score the AIMSweb measures. The training was over the course of two to three sessions. We basically followed the AIMSweb Training Workbook, used the video examples to practice scoring, received information from presenters in person and via webcam. We didn't get training from certified AIMSweb trainers. And, I think this made a difference. In my opinion it would have been helpful to get training from someone who had actually administered the assessment measures. We had some pretty specific questions that couldn't be answered.

Our first session (Fall, 2011), went pretty well considering we knew next to nothing going in. Our main issue was in scoring. We didn't agree on what to do about the whole "does the answer have to be written in the blank or not" on the MCAP (Math Concepts & Application) and MComp (Math Computation) measures. The instructions are pretty explicit. According to AIMSweb, if the answer isn't in the blank, it is marked incorrect. However, there is a grey area. In the standardized instructions for the students on the MCAP it specifically says to write the answer in the blank. In the standardized instructions for the students on the MComp is doesn't say to write the answer in the blank. Unfortunately, what this meant for us was that some scorers counted it wrong and some didn't. So, we didn't have consistent scoring the first time around.

The lesson we learned (I hope) is that you need to have those types of issues decided before you even administer the test. We talked about what it meant if the student didn't write the answer in the blank. We decided it meant they couldn't follow instructions, not that they could or couldn't compute the problem correctly. We asked ourselves, "What are we trying to determine with the test?" We decided we were not trying to determine whether or not a student can follow directions. We decided that it didn't matter if they put it in the blank or not, we just needed to all be scoring the same way. So, we eventually decided not to count it wrong as long as the answer was in the box somewhere and correct.

Another issue we had was that there was no "team leader" for our testing team. We had someone we could call, but not anyone on site. In hindsight it would have been helpful to have a "go to" person assigned or appointed to the group. This could be one of the interventionists, or someone who doesn't do any testing. This would have saved us quite a bit of time when we had to try and figure out how we were going to score the math. That person could have made an executive decision or called someone to find out. Then there would have been no disagreement about what to do in a particular situation.

Another major issue we still have is what to do about the data in terms of getting it out to the teachers and explaining what it means. We did eventually print out parent report letters and talk about the results at conferences. We found what we really need is for the teachers to receive some AIMSweb training. We need to know how to read the data, interpret or analyze the data, and learn how to talk to parents about the data. Some people aren't familiar with percentile rank, norms, standardization, etc.

Progress monitoring is another area that hasn't been perfectly implemented. Some schools progress monitor once per week, some once every two weeks, some barely once a month. There is a lot of information to consider when progress monitoring. Some of the more important pieces of information are: How often do you progress monitor? Should you progress monitor or strategically monitor a particular student? When progress monitoring is it really necessary to "drill down" or "test backwards" until you find the level at which to monitor the student? (That, by the way, takes a long time.) How do you set the goals for the student? What formula do you use? What do you do if the student reaches his/her goal? Are they automatically dismissed from intervention? What if they aren't on a trajectory that shows they will meet their goal? Do they automatically go to tier 3 interventions? How many data points are necessary to make a decision about a student?

Hopefully you will be able to have some of these questions answered before you begin your district-wide assessment system. It will save you so much time and effort and you will be able to focus on what matters: what to do with the students who are at-risk according to the screener.


Mark Davoren is a reading and math interventionist in a northeastern Kansas urban / suburban school district. He has a Bachelor's Degree in Elementary Education, a Master's Degree in Curriculum & Instruction, and is a Reading Specialist. Mark has taught for over 15 years and has a wide range of educational experience. His primary areas of expertise are: reading intervention, teaching, training, data-based decision-making, testing and assessment.

Helping Children Develop a Love of Science

Children who are entering into an early childhood education program or who are in kindergarten are not too young to start learning about science and math. Giving children toys and tools that will spark interest in the world can help to establish a pattern of inquisitiveness that will make the child a better student and a more curious individual. Even if a young student does not show an immediate fondness towards science and math, it can still be good to have toys and tools around that can be used if interest does develop.

Science Toys 
There are many items in a teachers and parents store that can be used to draw a child's interests towards science. There are a number of very useful pre-assembled science kits that include a variety of instruments that a young student can use. Something as simple as a magnifying glass can give a child the opportunity to explore the world from a different perspective. Nature kits often include small collection jars so that common insects can be gathered from the outdoors and studied. These types of kits give children the tools they need to explore the physical world and to make very scientific observations about materials and events.

Advanced Concepts 
Students who are entering into early elementary school grades might be ready for more complex scientific concepts. A fascinating and educational item for this age range can be a magnet. Magnets are readily available from a teachers and parents store in a wide range of shapes and sizes. Magnets show students that there are invisible forces in the world that are able to affect physical objects. Collectinns of small magnets can be used to show lines of force. Larger magnets can be used to show how powerful magnetism actually is. This can trigger interest in the more complex areas of science that could translate into curiosity about other fields of study.

Tools and Kits 
Children who maintain an interest in science through elementary school can be rewarded with increasingly sophisticated scientific tools. These can include items like colored growing crystals or a microscope. Students in eighth grade or higher might even be ready for kits that allow electrical circuits to be constructed. The range of scientific tools and toys that are available through a teachers and parents store cover nearly any interest and any age. Inspiring children to explore the world and to learn science can lead to skills that can be very useful for the future regardless of what profession is eventually chosen.

Author writes about a variety of topics. If you would like more information about the teachers and parents store, visit

Student Journal Activities for All Subjects

Could you have the next Rick Riordan in your class or possibly another Dr. Seuss? Is there a hidden talent in the class just waiting to be discovered or has writing taken a back seat to all other subject areas?

Why is it so hard to engage students in writing? We all have students who will write to fulfill an assignment and get the grade, but how do we ignite the love of writing? How do we recreate the excitement and joy of putting pen to paper to create a story or poem where the action and drama stem from personal imagination?

Writing in the classroom is valuable tool that provides benefits such as the following:

* Writing allows for handwriting practice, transition from print to cursive 
* Strengthens fine motor skills especially for lower grades as they transition from the "big" pencil to the "skinny" pencil 
* Develops critical thinking and organization of personal thought 
* Provides a method of personal expression 
* Improves communication skills 
* Serves as a review of material recently taught/learned 
* Encourages creativity and imagination 
* Tool for practicing punctuation, capitalization, sentence structure, and forms of writing 
* Serves as an assessment tool for teacher

So how do we engage our students in the writing process and bring out those hidden writers?

One method to engage students is using student journals across the curriculum. Student journals are personalized notebook that is sure to start the creativity flowing and cure the writing blues.

To introduce journal writing, allow students to decorate the journal, personalizing with stickers, glitter, and pictures. Students are eager to participate in activities they have been allowed to create.

The Scientist's Journal 
Transform an every day composition notebook into a scientific method journal where students can keep science notes, lab activities, reflective thoughts on special activities, and answer those challenging "what if" questions.

The journal can also serve as a data tracker for those experiments where you monitor progress over a period of time, such as watching a seed grow, or keeping track of meals/calories for a health lesson.

Geography Journal 
Learning about the world we live in comes to life in a journal where facts, pictures, maps, and adventures are kept. Turning the journal into personal passport is a fun way learn facts about locations around the globe. Students can add pictures, write diary entries of places to visit, and draw and label maps.

Current Events Journal 
Posing the question, "What do you think about this?" on the cover, students can be given a current event for the week and write responses to the article. This is a great way for students to express opinion and learn how to back up the opinion with supportive facts from the article. How would they respond? What should be done? Concepts such as planning and organizing steps are taught and practiced in this journal.

Spelling Journal 
Keeping a spelling journal or having students create a personal dictionary will help students learn new words and practice them daily. For younger students, you can have pages that reflect word families, blends, or rhyming words. Older students can be have pages with challenging words or words to know.

Math Journal 
A math journal is great tool for defining math terms, listing steps to solving specific problems, writing out word problems and how to solve the problems (again organizing thoughts and listing steps is practiced). Illustrations and charts are added to help the problem solving process.

Reading Journal 
To write about a reading assignment, students have to pay more attention to it. They have to read more carefully. Before, during, and after reading a story or poem, this journal allows for reflection, definition of challenging words, character profiles, setting descriptions, plot time lines, and so much more.

Keeping a reading journal after every chapter recalling chapter events and relating the text to self or to another text helps those students who have difficulty with comprehension or writing the book report at the end of a reading.

Personal Journal 
Whether the topic is chosen by teacher or student, this journal allows for self expression, time to think about your thoughts and write them out in a clear organized manner, and encourages a creative flow that can help students use their imaginations, explore possibilities, problem solve, and storytelling. This creative writing, allows students to explore vocabulary and writing styles they wouldn't normally use in other graded assignments.

There are so many uses for journals in the classroom and not all of them should be assessed for correct punctuation, capitalization, and sentence structure. Some may be assessed for understanding of the topic and creativity. The idea is to get students to write and enjoy the process. As they practice writing on a daily basis, the tools needed to become a successful writer will continue to develop. As they develop, students will become more confident in their writing and you may find they are writing a great deal more. You may just notice a few great writers in the midst!

Myree Conway is an educator and writer for

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