By Haley Radcliffe, Secondary English Education Major / Brentwood Middle School Intern
One of the major questions I had after I finished organizing the eighth-graders’ Reading MAP® assessment data a few weeks ago was how teachers go about transforming several spreadsheets’ worth of individual student data into lessons that are meaningful for entire classrooms filled with students of different ability levels and different learning needs. In other words, how do middle school teachers plan an English Language Arts (ELA) lesson that will appropriately challenge classes that contain some of the highest- and lowest-performing students in the eighth-grade cohort? My host teacher shared with me that grappling with these kinds of questions is one of the most significant challenges teachers face when presented with student data from interim/benchmark assessments like the Reading MAP®, especially when they teach heterogeneously-grouped classes (i.e. classes that are not arranged based on students’ achievement/ability level). In fact, she explained, one issue that often arises is that while the highest-performing students usually exhibit high achievement on the MAP® assessments, they often demonstrate substantially less growth over time than their lower-performing peers since they are ready for instruction at a level that is above most of their peers.
To address this challenge, I am working with my host teacher to propose a potential accelerated ELA course for a group of the eighth-grade cohort’s highest performers, a designation that is granted based on both the students’ class performance and Reading MAP® assessment performance. This course would be held one-day-a-week during the second and third marking periods of the school year and would provide additional ELA instruction that supplements the standard ELA instruction delivered during the students’ regular class period. The overarching goal for this course would be to provide eligible students with an opportunity to engage in higher-level instruction than that which can be offered in the regular ELA classroom in a way that might positively affect their growth in the content area over time. The possibility of running this accelerated course is still to be determined, but I feel lucky to have been able to spearhead its planning by compiling information on eligible students and writing letters to their parents/families to gauge interest levels—I think most, if not all of the eligible students, will be interested in participating. Although I am not yet sure if running an accelerated course like the one we’ve begun developing completely resolves the issue of planning appropriately challenging lessons for heterogeneously-grouped classes, I think it recognizes that the challenge exists and provides an effective option for addressing it, and I’m excited to see how the course unfolds and whether its implementation will positively impact the highest-performing students’ levels of growth in ELA this year!