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Student takes universal screener on chromebookThe following story is the first in a series about how the East Greenbush Central School District is utilizing COVID-19 relief funds from the federal government to support students affected by the pandemic. The story below will focus on Renaissance Star Assessments, which are new computer-adaptive tests for students that measure reading, math and early literacy skills.

On a recent September morning, kindergarten students at Bell Top Elementary School took out Chrome tablets, put on headphones, and with the assistance of teachers and support staff, they began taking a computer-based test. Each student listened to questions and then answered from multiple choices by clicking the trackpad. For example, they heard “Find the letter ‘B’” and then selected from three options of letters displayed on their devices.

Once they answered, they listened to another question through the headphones and a new list of answers appeared on the screen.

The Kindergarten Teacher, Teaching Assistants, Reading Teachers and a K-3 Intervention Specialist all moved around the room, hunched down next to students and helped them when needed.

The universal screener is called Renaissance Star Assessments, a program the East Greenbush Central School District purchased with COVID relief funds as part of its Response to Intervention (RTI) plan. 

The screener is the foundation for each student’s growth, which is especially important for young learners coming off two academic years impacted by COVID-19.

The assessments, which take approximately 20-30 minutes, are taken using a Chromebook or Chrome tablet in the classroom under the supervision of teachers and support staff.

“We decided to approach this new assessment with an all hands on deck process with our very own trained AIS Teachers and K-3 Intervention Specialists as Renaissance Star Champions alongside the classroom teachers administering the tests in classes,” said RTI Coordinator Lisa Mahar. “District implementation of this new universal screener was smoother than expected. The students are more comfortable with the technology than we realize.”

To start the year, elementary students have taken the following assessments:

  • Kindergarten – Star Early Literacy
  • Grades 1-2 – Star Early Literacy and Star Math
  • Grades 3-5 – Star Reading and Star Math

Those assessments were completed this week, and because the screener is computer-based, the results are in.

Approximately 68% of students are at or above grade level in Math, 69% of students in grades 3-5 are at or above grade level in Reading and 51% of students in grades K-2 need intervention or targeted support. (Letters will be sent home to parents later this week if their child is in need of academic intervention services at school. Those services will be provided by an AIS Reading or Math Teacher or a K-3 Intervention Specialist.)

“Here it is, September 24th, and we know which students need targeted support. We know who they are and what they need,” Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction James McHugh said on Friday. “And that need drives our staffing and how we allocate resources.”

Teachers, along with the district’s Star Champions (Mrs. Mahar, Administrators, Reading and Math Teachers, K-3 Intervention Specialists and School Psychologists) will use the data from Star Assessments to determine each child’s learning needs and to improve academic outcomes for all the students in the class.

Star results are also used to:

  • Measure each student’s general achievement in reading, math or early literacy and identify growth over the course of the year
  • Identify what skills he or she is ready to learn
  • Provide tiered interventions for students in need
  • Help plan instructional support activities
  • Track progress toward academic targets
  • Estimate mastery of standards
Student takes universal screener on chromebook

A student at Genet Elementary School completing the new universal screener.

“These assessments will not only provide our AIS Teachers and K-3 Intervention Specialists with targeted focus skills to work on with individual students, but it also provides valuable information to the classroom teachers as they prepare lessons for Tier 1, in class instruction,” said Mrs. Mahar. “We can use this resource to inform our daily planning and measure growth throughout the year.”

Each testing experience is unique because Star Assessments continually adjust based on each response, narrowing in on a student’s current level of achievement and growth. The screeners adapt to the right difficulty level throughout the test to provide a highly accurate prediction of each child’s ability in early literacy, reading and math.

The universal screeners are not pass/fail and students do not receive a grade.

The screener is one part of a continual learning cycle to measure a student’s achievement and see what they are ready to learn next.

“The newly acquired Renaissance Star assessment tool provides me with a quick indicator of how my students are performing in both reading and math,” said Green Meadow 1st Grade Teacher Denise Romer. “I plan to use the information it provides, along with other formative and summative evaluations, to differentiate instruction for both reading and math to best meet student academic needs in my classroom.”

The East Greenbush Central School District was allocated $3,945,709 from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA) and $3,092,281 from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) to support students and families affected by the pandemic. District administrators created plans for these funds which include investment in academic services, after school programs, mental health services, facility enhancements and technology purchases.