District introduces i-Ready to help teachers, students

10/4/2016 | TACOMA, Washington

​This fall Tacoma Public Schools debuts i-Ready Diagnostic, a tool to help teachers see where students stand in their math and reading skills and provide tailored instruction based on the results.

Students in kindergarten through tenth grade will take the i-Ready assessment this year. The first window of i-Ready testing began Sept. 19 and runs through Oct. 7. Students will next see the assessment between Jan. 3 -20 and May 30 – June 15.

What is i-Ready? It's a user-friendly assessment that gives teachers immediate feedback on the important skills and concepts students need to learn at each grade level.  It identifies students' strengths as well as areas that need continued focus and instruction.

"The greatest benefit is that teachers will have reliable, valid information about the students they serve that they can put to use immediately," said Marie Verhaar, Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning.

Why i-Ready?

Beginning in June 2015, Tacoma Public Schools' Department of Teaching and Learning conducted an assessment audit. Through surveys and focus groups with Tacoma educators, Verhaar and her team identified what worked for teachers and principals with current assessments and what needed improving.

Overwhelmingly, educators gave feedback that some assessments were not user-friendly for teachers or students and the content tested didn't always match the new Washington State Learning Standards – adopted between 2008-2016 depending on content area – which emphasize college and career preparedness though analytic thinking and problem solving skills rather than memorization.

In response to the audit, the district assembled a 57-person District Assessment Committee made up of teachers, principals and district administrators to review assessment options and make recommendations regarding which ones should be kept and which should be replaced with more meaningful assessment tools.

The committee unanimously agreed to adopt i-Ready and halt use of some older assessments such as STAR and SRI. The committee picked i-Ready because of its easy-to-use features, including a friendly interface for students who get to "gamify" their testing experience by picking characters to follow throughout the assessment and pausing the test for "brain break" activities.

The computer-adaptive assessment responds to each student individually, providing harder or easier questions based on the student's answer to each question.

i-Ready also gives teachers immediate results. Teachers can instantly see how their entire class performed, how individual students fared on each section and receive reports that suggest how to group students in class lessons so students receive instruction tailored precisely for their learning level. That's an improvement from other assessments, where results didn't always arrive until weeks after an assessment was given and data didn't display in an accessible, easy way for teachers to use.

To make sure i-Ready was the right fit for Tacoma, the District Assessment Committee set up field testing last year. More than 1,000 students from 28 K-12 schools field-tested i-Ready and teachers provided feedback to the district.

"The best feature is being able to differentiate instruction," said Jennai Choi, a fifth-grade English Language Arts teacher at Franklin Elementary School who piloted i-Ready. "It gives me enough information where I can create small groups and make sure I'm teaching each individual child at their level.

"Not every student needs the same amount of instruction or the same content" Choi said. "This provides me the opportunity to bring my lower students to grade level and enrich my students who are already at grade level so every student gets what they need."

Students provided feedback about i-Ready to the District Assessment Committee, too. Some said they liked that "what we were reading wasn't completely boring," and that the assessment has "buddies that are really cute. I picked the light blue alligator."

How does i-Ready relate to Smarter Balanced?

The variety of assessments students complete can sometimes seem like an alphabet soup of names, such as i-Ready, Smarter Balanced and Measurements of Student Progress. Yet each assessment plays a role in helping students learn and teachers teach.

A cuisine metaphor might help explain the differences between assessments:

Picture a chef at a restaurant making a delicious stew. As the chef cooks, he tastes the stew. Based on her taste test, the chef adds different ingredients and spices. The chef performs the taste test repeatedly until the moment comes to serve the stew to customers. At that point, there's nothing more the chef can do to make adjustments and her clients evaluate.

In this example, the chef's taste tests and adjustments are like a teacher using the i-Ready assessment to inform instruction. i-Ready shows teachers where students stand and lets the teacher make adjustments to their instruction. The final serving of the chef's stew to her customers is like the final, end-of-year Smarter Balanced assessments where student take a final exam evaluating their learning over the course of the entire year.

Teachers use two key terms to describe these different types of assessments:

  • Formative assessments – occur during instruction and are intended to help inform teaching
  • Summative assessments – occur after instruction to assess what has been learned

Smarter Balanced counts as a summative assessment. Tacoma students may also take other summative assessments, such as the national Advanced Placement tests to earn college credits or the high school End of Course (EOC) biology test.

i-Ready counts as an formative assessment. Other examples of formative assessments in the district include the Developmental Reading Assessment for elementary school students and SpringBoard for middle school students.

Over the next three years, Tacoma's District Assessment Committee will solicit feedback from teachers and administrators about all assessments and continue to make decisions about which assessments work best, while still adhering to state and federal law requiring assessments to ensure that all students receive a premier education.

How does my student prepare for i-Ready?

Since i-Ready measures what a student already knows or doesn't know about a subject area, no preparation is necessary. i-Ready shows teachers where a student currently stands in their grasp of content. Teachers use i-Ready results to modify how they teach students to either bring their knowledge up to state standards or to enrich their learning to higher-level standards.

Have more questions?

The district provides many avenues for learning more about i-Ready and other assessments. Visit the Assessment, Research and Evaluation Department website to find helpful resources.