In every classroom, there are varying degrees of literacy abilities and it’s a constant challenge for both teachers and schools to not only identify children who are struggling but to intervene and make sure their literacy skills develop.

But what are the best methods for assessment and intervention for literacy programs in Australian schools, and what does success at a whole-school level look like?

Since 2009, whole-school approaches to assessment and intervention have been a hot topic in educational facilities, schools and learning organisations around Australia, and the world.

But what does it mean? What does successful implementation of a whole-school approach to assessment and intervention look like?

We sat down with Australian educator Daniel Steele to find out.

Daniel was the teaching and learning leader at a school in the outer eastern suburbs of Melbourne. The school teaches children from grades Prep–6, and Daniel worked closely with Pearson to lead the school’s transition to a whole-school approach to assessment and intervention over a period of two years, after moving to a point-of-need learning model.

He took us through what successful implementation of a whole-school approach to literacy assessment and intervention looks like, what teaching and literacy skills and strategies should be employed, and the benefits of this model for overall literacy development in early childhood.

  • 2017

    • Planning and analysis of data

    • High-level planning of professional learning sequence conducted as a leadership team

    • Resourcing and exploration of resources during a professional learning day in Term 4, 2017

    • Definition of “well-sat assessment” and whole-school expectations for assessments in Term 2, 2017

  • 2018

    • Implementation of assessing and collating whole-school reading data in Term 1, 2018

    • Focus on every child completing “well-sat assessments” (every student had their instructional levels identified and every classroom was using explicit, targeted teaching through guided reading across the whole school)

    • Build up staff use and confidence in using the Literacy Continuum to create shared language and knowledge of the reading development (all staff increased confidence and awareness of reading progression)

Collating and analysing whole-school data

Daniel and the leadership team led an in-depth examination of student data from across the school to understand what was needed for each individual child.

“First, we analysed the reading levels of students across the school,” he says.

“For the junior school we looked at alpha assess, letter and sound recognition and phonemic awareness,” he says, “whilst for the middle and senior schools, we identified there were multiple levelled texts being used and not enough consistency to support and track students’ growth.”

Daniel says that he also reviewed other scores, compared them to year level norms, and created a whole-school database of reading levels that were coded to highlight students working at ‘expected level’, ‘above expected level’ and ‘below expected level’.

“We also conducted informal conversations with staff across grades 3–6 to find out what might assist them in better knowing their students,” he says.

Understanding what’s required to lift growth, through a whole-school approach to assessment

Daniel says that the first step in implementing the whole-school approach was to spend time administering comprehensive assessment. To do this, he used Pearson’s literacy assessment tools and resources.

“The key for an assessment is actually about the student. We're assessing our effectiveness to deliver things that they'll remember,” he says.

“Once an effective assessment has taken place, we are able to see where they are at in their learning journey. For reading, this meant knowing where they were in their development as a reader, be it working at a word level, sentence level, or at a deeper inferential and analytical level.”

Understanding what’s required to lift growth, through a whole-school approach to assessment

Once they had assessed the children, Daniel and his team used this information to sort and identify the range of levels, skills and gaps across year levels, and to create fluid groups of students for targeted teaching based on specific skills or reading comprehension strategy.

They also assessed and evaluated the resources they had, to see if they correlated and connected to the assessed reading levels for the middle and senior schools.

“We reviewed the required resources and levelled texts for our students and teachers to use in classrooms,” he says, “for example, we discovered our texts needed to be extended in the Year 5/6 level to push our students working at, or beyond Level X”

Daniels says that BAS assessments also took place formally in Term 2 and 4 for every student to track progress and growth. Teaching teams used co-teaching, team teaching and release to complete these, as well as extra release time provided for assessing students.

“Teachers could also use observations and evidence from guided reading to identify students who they believed were already growing in reading and wanted to complete a BAS assessment to check progress,” he says.

Leading with point-of-need learning

For a whole-school approach to be successful, Daniel believes that it needs to be about targeting a student’s point-of-need learning.

“With a focus on point of need learning, we also wanted to bring the concept of ‘our students’ to life more. If I have students in my grade 5/6 class working at similar levels and points as a teacher in 3/4, it can promote greater professional collaboration and learning from one another and open up discussions around students’ needs and growth, and the instructional strategies that could assist with that.”

“As a middle and senior school leader, I was also interested in seeing what the ‘big filter’ points were for our students, where did our students get to in their reading development and either stall, or not move ahead in. Having access to their reading levels and teachers’ analysis of their comprehension skills ‘Within’, ‘About’ or ‘Beyond’ the text allowed us to begin considering trends for future professional learning, discussions and team meetings.”

Structuring professional learning meetings

Daniel also says that knowing where each student was at, and listening to the questions staff raised, or discussed, was critical to seeing where they were in their learning journey as teachers.

Daniel says their leadership team focused on sequencing professional learning over 18 months, along a continuum of:

Raising awareness sessions: engaging staff in exploring the resources and discussing the approaches to guided reading, the reading continuum, reading texts and experimenting with Fountas & Pinnell assessment.

Describing sessions: outlining what was surprising, helpful and difficult about the assessments, teaching approaches and available reading texts, and giving staff opportunities to share their experiences.

Taking action sessions: making professional learning sessions more hands-on and relevant for staff by sharing information about a student and engaging in conversations about strategies used and how they could get to the next progression level.

Structuring professional learning meetings

Daniel says that, for them, they knew from a whole-school data perspective that they needed growth.

“We could see there was a contingent of students who were showing low growth,” he says.

“That first year...there were kids definitely that had huge growth but they also hadn't been properly assessed to begin with early on, so the levels of everything were actually incorrect.”

“That first year...there were kids definitely that had huge growth but they also hadn't been properly assessed to begin with early on, so the levels of everything were actually incorrect.”

“Understanding where every student was at was critical for us, particularly as we realised we needed greater consistency in how we assessed and what we viewed as a ‘well-sat assessment’ so we could allow every student to show growth. Instead of a student getting 95 per cent on something and not having the same opportunities for strong growth to be shown as other students,” he says.

Interested? Want to know more?

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