Examining student work during the Initial Implementation stage gives educators essential information about learning, instruction, and how well the new units and lessons address the standards. Evaluating student work against criteria provides evidence of the teacher's understanding of the curriculum, the quality of instruction, and the rigor of expectations. Student work also illustrates if and how well students have learned the knowledge and skills articulated in the standards and benchmarks. Without this examination of student work, the standards and benchmarks are merely goals without any evidence of student growth and mastery.
Several sets of tools assist in examining student work. They include content- and benchmark-specific rubrics that detail student learning targets and mastery; quality assessments that tightly align to standards; benchmarks that provide evidence of learning; work exemplars that illustrate a span of performance levels; and a teacher discussion protocol to examine and collect student data.
Rubrics assist teams in evaluating student work in a variety of ways. One way is to ensure that accessible instruction aligns to the standards within the units and lessons as intended. When instruction is not aligned, student work will reflect the instruction, not the intended outcomes or mastery of the learning required in the standards and benchmarks. Lessons and units must also be clearly articulated, provide sufficient scaffolding for learning, incorporate Universal Design for Learning and student needs, and require that students generate valid and reliable evidence of learning.
Rubrics used to evaluate student work should provide clear performance criteria for students and for multiple teachers evaluating the same standard in different content areas. These rubrics must be applied consistently by all teachers and should include definitions of what mastery and growth towards mastery look like.
Progress monitoring is another useful tool for making instructional decisions. Progress monitoring data is most useful when it is regularly collected with valid and reliable measures, and analyzed in a timely manner. In progress monitoring, teachers collect student-performance data frequently, usually every other week, but at least every month. Teachers graph individual student scores and draw trend lines. The trend line is the rate at which the student makes progress toward achieving competence in the grade-level curriculum, given the frequency of the data collected. Student trend lines help teachers make instructional decisions based on pre-determined decision rules.
Progress monitoring is most often used with students participating in supplemental interventions and receiving special education services. The purpose of progress monitoring for supplemental intervention is to determine whether a student’s learning in response to the evidence-based supplemental supports is adequate.
Students whose trend line increases towards grade-level expectations can often exit their special education or supplemental program when trend lines indicate their progress is self-sustaining with only core instruction. Students whose trend lines flatten out or decline, even when they receive high-quality, evidence-based instructional supports that usually work for most students, may need an alternate evidence-based practice in order to make adequate progress. When determining whether an intervention meets a child’s needs and accelerates the rate of learning sufficiently, pre-determined decision rules such as cut-points or growth rates must be consistently applied.