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Three Ways to Put Assessment Data to Work in the Classroom


The following post was contributed by Kathy Dyer, a Sr. Professional Development Content Specialist, Learning and Innovation for NWEA, designing and developing learning opportunities for district and school partners and internal staff. Follow her on Twitter at @kdyer13.  To see additional ways assessments can make a powerful difference, download the eBook – Assessments with Integrity: How Assessment Can Inform Powerful Instruction. NWEA is a sponsor partner of NCEA.

Data is a powerful teaching tool! Assessment data, when put into the hands of teachers and school leaders to inform instructional decisions, is what gives assessment its power. Timeliness is key, as is structuring opportunities for application of the data.

Assessments that deliver data that can actually be used in real time to make a difference in education provide real opportunities for teachers and school leaders. Here are some examples of what teachers can do with actionable assessment data:

  • Differentiate instruction by student readiness. Good interim assessment data lets teachers know exactly where each student is compared to their classmates and national-level peers. Such a proactive response allows a teacher to meet students within their zone of proximal development (ZPD), the optimal spot where instruction is most beneficial for each student—just beyond his or her current level of independent capability. The ZPD is not about a student’s ability to learn, but rather about what skills and understandings the student is ready to develop with targeted assistance or scaffolding. Actionable assessment data help teachers inform instructional decisions for flexible groupings; supporting differentiation based on student readiness.
  • Set academic goals. Assessment results can help teachers work with students and parents to understand where each child is in her or his academic development, and what challenging yet achievable academic goals he or she should aim for. Including students in setting their academic goals is important. Teachers can use growth projection data and learning targets to develop individual academic learning goals with students. Going beyond the individual student level, teachers and school leaders can identify strengths and areas for improvement in specific content foci areas for classrooms and entire schools. Creating a data-centric school culture, engaging students and parents in the goal-setting process, and celebrating student progress will help instill a culture of goal setting that has a lasting impact.
  • Evaluate programs and target professional development. Schools can use data to evaluate curricula and intervention programs, inform changes in instructional practice, and target professional development. Status and growth data can help identify what’s working and point to successful programs that can be scaled up. It helps answer questions like: Did the students in our new math program experience higher rates of growth than other students? Where do our teachers need to focus instructionally? What kind of professional development will assist our teachers in targeting areas of concern?

Assessments – and more importantly the data they provide – can be powerful tools for student learning. Using student growth data to inform instruction can be a valuable and efficient tool for driving students’ academic gains. When you make data actionable, you make assessment matter. To fully benefit from assessment, students and teachers need to use the data to invoke meaningful change. This keeps the focus on where it should be—on student learning.


7 Tips to Integrate English Language Learners into Mainstream Classrooms

The following guest post was provided by NCEA’s Corporate Partner, UTP High Schools.


We have all been there. You’re teaching your lesson, moving right along, and then you look over to see your English Language Learner (ELL) staring at you with pleading, questioning eyes. You know the student doesn’t understand, but you can’t slow down or lower your lexical level for fear of the other students losing interest in the class. This conundrum has been at the root of many pedagogical discussions over the years. However, there is no perfect solution.

We at UTP High Schools are aware of this challenge. We know that most teachers of mainstream classrooms have had minimal training when it comes to the inclusion of ELLs. Having inclusive classrooms can be stressful and challenging, but there are a few simple techniques that can enhance the comprehension of ELLs without detracting from the classroom experience of other students.

Here are seven tips to help you connect your ELL students to the target content. These ideas are easy to incorporate and will be a welcomed relief to your ELLs.

1. Let them use their eyes

When students are unable to understand the language spoken in the classroom, they use visual clues to determine what is expected of them. They watch the teacher and other students and guess what they should be doing. This is natural and the sign of a good student. To help them with this, try modeling the activity or using pictures whenever possible to explain vocabulary, themes, or content information instead of verbally explaining instructions.

2. Give them a head start

ELLs often need more time to decipher text than students who speak the dominant tongue. If there is any reading to be done, try giving it to the ELL before it is going to be used in class. For example, if you are going to be reading about George Washington in class on Friday, give the text to the ELL on Monday so that he or she can read through it at their own comfortable pace.

3. Allow ELLs to work with peers

ELLs learn a great deal of language from other students. Use small groups or pairs in class to allow the ELL to produce the language in a less threatening environment. Language production is key to acquisition and ELLs are often afraid to speak out in front of the whole class. Allowing them to work in pairs or groups can ease their fears and help them apply what they have learned.

4. Correct improper language use

We don’t want to embarrass the student in front of the class. Therefore, the use of delayed error correction techniques is recommended. It may mean a bit of extra work for the teacher, but the benefits will be noticeable. To implement this, try listening closely to the ELL in pair work, group work, or class discussion and make notes of linguistic errors. Then, make a brief worksheet with the errors listed and ask the student to correct them and hand it in for the next class.

5. Use concept checking questions

ELLs are like all other students in the school except that they have a different first language. If a student has difficulty understanding instructions in English, it does not mean the student is incapable of understanding instructions at all. You can try presenting the directions in a different way, such as modeling. When determining whether the ELL understands what is expected, be sure to use concept checking questions rather than the classic, “Do you understand?” An ELL will almost always respond yes even if he or she does not understand at all.

6. Take advantage of your resources

Not all schools have an ESL teacher as part of their faculty, but if you have one in your school, communication with that teacher will benefit you and your students. ESL teachers will be able to tell you the specific strengths and weaknesses of a student and give you ideas on how to approach any particular needs of a student.

7. Remember to breathe

Over the years, I have worked with many frustrated teachers and their feelings are completely understandable. For many teachers, ELLs appear in their class one day without warning. Teachers are not always prepared for this occurrence and can find the experience quite stressful. However, if you are stressed, your ELLs will be stressed. Just remember, keep it fun and you and your students can learn together.

About UTP High Schools
utpUTP High Schools is a diverse, full-service international education program for high schools. Our mission is to facilitate life-changing international experiences through exceptional programs that connect people to each other, their potential, and the world. As a part of the program, UTP offers an extensive curriculum for ELLs. UTP High Schools is a member of two respected associations, ALTO and CSIET.

About Peter Graves
pete-headshot-pngPeter is the Director of Academic Development at UTP High Schools. He has been in international education for over 10 years, teaching in India and Thailand before receiving his MATESOL from NYU in 2009. Beyond UTP High Schools, Peter’s academic research has been published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing and he currently sits as the Curriculum Specialist on the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training.

Starting the School Year: 5 Tips for Re-engineering Your Classroom with Formative Assessment

The following post was contributed by Kathy Dyer, a Sr. Professional Development Content Specialist for NWEA, designing and developing learning opportunities for district and school partners and internal staff. Follow her on Twitter at @kdyer13 and download the first article in her five-part formative assessment series. NWEA is a sponsor partner of NCEA.

Engineering your classroom environment to regularly solicit evidence of student understanding creates engaged students, while providing teachers the information they need to adjust instruction.

In research conducted by Jones and Krouse in 1988, twenty-one student teachers were randomly assigned to learn one of two instructional approaches. One group was introduced to a data-based problem-solving approach to instruction which encouraged them to evaluate the effectiveness of instruction according to changes in the achievement of the students in their classroom. They collected and analyzed data on student learning, made changes to instruction to address instructional obstacles, and reexamined student progress. The second group used more traditional methods of instruction such as instructional procedures and techniques for classroom management.

The result: the first group of teachers was more likely to use systematic and frequent observations of student performance when planning and evaluating instruction.*

The key to this method is eliciting evidence on a minute-to-minute, day-by-day basis and then using that data to make teaching adjustments. Here are five quick tips for integrating these formative assessment strategies into your daily classroom routine:

  1. Start small. Pick just 1-3 formative assessment strategies and practice them until they are routine – for both you and your students. Be persistent; things may not go as planned the first few times you try.
  2. Be transparent with the students about what you are doing and why. What happens if you start out by saying, “How do you think you did on this lesson today? Rate yourself from 1-10.”? Without prior knowledge, practice or criteria students can use to gauge how they did, this would be challenging.
  3. Teach the students about formative assessment so they can use it too. Students will be curious about why you are doing things differently. Teaching them strategies they can use to set goals, gather evidence of their learning, make adjustments to learn more will have benefits to you and your students.
  4. Integrate it daily. Pedagogy is practice. Formative assessment supports learning minute-to-minute and day-by-day. As we hone our practice, it becomes routinized and ideally will reach a point at which it is difficult to tell where teaching stops and assessment begins.
  5. Celebrate the shifts. As the culture in your classroom shifts, celebrate it. As students become resources for one another in ways you haven’t seen before, celebrate. As students begin to use academic vocabulary, articulate where they are in their learning and ask for what they need, celebrate. As students become learners, as learning becomes the habit, as mistakes and assessments are seen as additional opportunities to learn, celebrate.

Starting the school year by engineering your classroom environment with formative assessment in mind will set teachers and students up for a successful year.

*1988, Jones and Krouse, The effectiveness of data-based instruction by student teachers in classrooms for pupils with mild learning handicaps. Teacher Education and Special Education, 1(1), 9–19.


Six Ways to Get Ready for Retirement

The following guest post is from NCEA’s Corporate Partner Mutual of America.

About Mutual of America

Mutual of America specializes in providing retirement products and services to organizations and their employees, as well as to individuals. At Mutual of America, we have been providing retirement plan services since our inception in 1945, when we were founded to provide quality employee benefit programs for employees of nonprofit organizations who were excluded from the Social Security Act.  Although we now serve for-profit as well as nonprofit organizations, individuals, and institutional investors, of the more than 19,000 group retirement plans for which we currently provide services, approximately 90% are plans of nonprofit organizations.

For more than 70 years, Mutual of America has remained committed to offering plan sponsors, plan participants and individuals carefully selected, quality products and services at a competitive price and the personal attention they need to help build and preserve assets for a financially secure future.

Mutual of America has been providing retirement products and related services to the NCEA and its members since 2009. For more information, visit mutualofamerica.com.

Senior African American couple paying bills

Thinking about retiring? The planning you do during the years leading up to when you stop working can be critical to how successfully you transition into and begin your retirement. Now may be an ideal time to consider the plans you’ve made for this exciting next phase of life and to carefully weigh your options. The following six tips can help you get started.


Although you may have been saving and planning all along for the day when you will no longer work, now is a good time to make a “wish” list. Write down specifically how you want to spend your time, and what you think your needs and preferences will be for housing, health care, travel, continued work, charitable involvement and giving, and special events and purchases.


Create a formal budget for retirement to help give you a better idea of your income and expenses. There are a host of online worksheets available, including an interactive budget worksheet from the National Council for Credit Counseling (nfcc.org). Once you’ve completed your budget, compare your projected retirement expenses to your expected sources of retirement income. If you discover a shortfall, consider increasing your retirement plan contributions and possibly adjusting your plans for retirement to accommodate your budget.


Make an appointment with your benefits department. Explore how the timing of your retirement may impact your pension and/or defined contribution benefits, as well as your health care coverage. You may also want to discuss your options for receiving your retirement savings. For example, you may be able to receive: 1) a guaranteed monthly benefit for life through one of a variety of annuity options1; 2) regular monthly payments as an alternative to using your entire account balance to purchase a guaranteed lifetime annuity (not available for all plans); or 3) a single sum payment upon retiring. Keep in mind, Mutual of America’s Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) service provides an easy way for retirees to receive their monthly payments electronically.


If you haven’t done so already, find out how much you can expect to receive from Social Security. You can get your current Social Security Statement online at ssa.gov/onlineservices/. The website includes a handy Retirement Estimator that provides an estimate based on real-time access to your earnings record.


It’s important to consider how you will pay for medical expenses in retirement, including possible long-term care needs. For detailed information about Medicare, visit medicare.gov. You should also review any health and life insurance policies you may currently have. If you have health and/or life insurance through your employer, speak to your human resources or benefits department to find out whether you can extend those policies beyond retirement.


Finally, consider contributing as much as you can to your retirement savings. If you participate in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, check with your human resources or benefits department to learn if your plan offers an employer match, and if it does, take full advantage of it. That’s like getting a raise as incentive for saving for retirement. Depending on the plan you participate in, during 2016 you may be able to contribute up to $18,000 annually, and up to $24,000 if you are age 50 or older.2

For more information or to speak to your Mutual of America representative, please call your local Regional Office, or 1-800-468-3785, today. 

1 This guarantee is subject to Mutual of America’s financial strength and claims-paying ability.
2 If you contribute to a TDA, 403(b) Thrift and/or 401(k), the total amount contributed to all plans may not exceed $18,000 ($24,000 to all plans, if age 50 or older).


Before investing in our variable annuity contracts, you should consider the investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses (a contract fee, Separate Account expenses and Underlying Funds expenses) carefully. This and other information is contained in the contract prospectus or brochure and Underlying Funds prospectuses. Please read the prospectuses and brochure carefully before investing. The prospectuses and brochure can be obtained by calling 1-800-468-3785 or visiting mutualofamerica.com.

Mutual of America’s group and individual retirement products are variable annuity contracts and are suitable for long-term investing, particularly for retirement savings. The value of a variable annuity contract will fluctuate depending on the performance of the Separate Account investment funds you choose. Upon redemption, you could receive more or less than the principal amount invested. A variable annuity contract provides no additional tax-deferred treatment of benefits beyond the treatment provided to any qualified retirement plan or IRA by applicable tax law. You should carefully consider a variable annuity contract’s other features before making a decision.





Is It Time to Reverse the College-Selection Process?

This is a guest post from NCEA’s corporate partner, Higher Admission, written by Lyle D. Albaugh, Founder.

The current college-selection process makes it too difficult for students to find the best fit for the best price. In The Chronicle of Higher Education, Jon Boeckenstedt recently wrote:

The college-selection process has always seemed backward: Colleges encourage students to apply without regard to costs, and delay revealing the final net price (that is, expenses minus grant aid) until March of the senior year, or sometimes later. The process has resulted in confusion, broken hearts, and many college searches that end with unpleasant surprises.

Nearly 50 percent of students fail to graduate within six years. Research shows that poor fit receives much of the blame for this phenomenon. There are seemingly endless possibilities when it comes to college selection, and high school seniors are expected to pick and apply to only a few. Given insufficient knowledge about most schools and an overload of information about others, many students are left confused, searching for information anywhere they can find it. Some even report basing their application decisions on colleges’ Instagram pictures.

The current process benefits only top-tier schools, encouraging colleges to vie for rankings at the expense of students and other schools. This article suggests a forward-facing system that would improve both price transparency and fit. The proposed solution helps both students and a majority of colleges.

A forward-facing selection process would begin with students obtaining individualized lists of schools that have screened them for admission and estimated the final net price. The creation of such a list will necessitate the combination of information technology with a long-standing business practice called term-sheet commitment. At the core of a term-sheet commitment are two sheets of paper, each of which states one party’s essential terms. Final closing, in this case enrollment, depends on verification of each side’s term sheet information.

Because the vast majority of colleges make admissions and merit-aid decisions based on GPA and SAT/ACT scores, students’ term sheets would include their self-reported GPAs, test scores, demographics, expected family contributions (EFCs), and personal statements. Colleges would search a database of students whom they would like to enroll. The colleges’ term sheets would be invitations for students to apply, including information about what makes the college special, offers of merit aid, and links for determining the net cost of attendance. As the consumers of education, students would therefore start their search with offers from competing colleges.

A few examples illustrate how a term sheet approach could flip the selection process.

  1. The director of admissions for a small regional Catholic college knows that many Catholic students live within 150 miles of the college and fit its academic profile. However, most do not apply because they have not heard of the college or assume that it is too expensive. Potential applicants do not realize that merit aid is routinely awarded to such an extent that the private college’s final net price is not much different from those of the public colleges in the region. The admissions director would like better local exposure to high school seniors.
  2. A large state college in South Carolina ranks around 50th among U.S. colleges. It wants to improve its ranking by increasing its average SAT/ACT scores and to bring in more out-of-state tuition. The admissions office knows that out-of-state students can sometimes be convinced to enroll if the college can offer them economic incentives.
  3. A selective New England college wants to improve its geographic, ethnic, and economic diversity while maintaining its rankings and academic standards. The director of admissions knows that there are low-income, high-achieving members of underrepresented groups in the Midwestern and Southwestern United States who are unlikely to enroll at her college. Because she knows that competition for high-achieving and underrepresented minority students can be fierce, she would like a way to encourage them to enroll.

Using the proposed method of admissions, each of the above would analyze data about students nationwide in the following categories: location, GPA, SAT/ACT scores, religion, race, gender, EFC, and parents’ level of education. The searches would provide colleges with a list of students whom they would electronically invite to apply and to whom they would offer merit aid commensurate with academic achievement.

Both students and colleges would benefit from this arrangement. Students would start their college searches with lists of those colleges that had screened them and were prepared to offer merit aid. Colleges would have the opportunity to compete for students who fit their profiles, students who may not otherwise have known about or considered the colleges in question. Furthermore, as colleges and students connect with and select each other, they would take advantage of the massive pool of merit aid available in the United States. Without a college’s term sheet, a student has no way of knowing that the posted price of a private school will be discounted. He or she cannot know that, on average, private-college tuition is discounted by 46 percent, or that public schools are increasingly offering discounts as well.

In short, a technology-driven, business-savvy college-selection process would both improve fit and drive down the costs of post-secondary education. Currently, both colleges and students are missing out on valuable opportunities. It is time to reverse the current selection process.