Evaluating the pros and cons of the i-Ready English diagnostic
“This test will not be counted toward your grade.” It isn’t often students hear teachers utter this phrase except in the case of district-wide assessments, such as the i-Ready English diagnostic. Administered three times throughout the school year to FUSD students from first to twelfth grade, the i-Ready English diagnostic was adopted at the beginning of the 2021 school year in lieu of the Illuminate Online benchmark. This shift to a new testing program elicited mixed responses from staff and students.
A major frustration for teachers is the amount of instructional time eaten up by the i-Ready diagnostic. With tight schedules and a set curriculum, having students take the i-Ready diagnostic multiple times per school year interferes with teacher’s lesson plans, especially since teachers are still familiarizing themselves with the i-Ready testing program.
Ms. Christensen, an English 9H and English 10 teacher, elaborates on how the time allocated for taking the i-Ready diagnostic causes unexpected lesson plan derailment. “I think as English teachers, we are very sick of them taking over our instructional time. We’ve got things to teach. I’m a person that plans extremely ahead of time because I want to feel comfortable with what I’m doing. When they threw this out, I didn’t plan correctly, so I had to move a lot of things around. There are a lot of fun things that I couldn’t get to or we didn’t get to go over because it takes up instructional time,” she explains.
Frustrations with instructional time deviations result in overwhelmed teachers. Teachers are struggling to teach current material while covering learning gaps from distance learning concurrently.
“Having kids come back from distance learning, as teachers, we feel like we’re making up for that last year quite a lot. And to put it on us when we’re already doing so much, I know me and many other teachers felt overwhelmed by this. We already had plans, we already had so much to teach and so much to learn on our own selves and distance learning did not make things easier. I know there are things in my class that I wish I got to instead,” Ms. Christensen adds.
In response to the concern of i-Ready testing taking away teaching time, Ms. Christensen suggests setting aside FLEX time for students to take the i-Ready diagnostic.
“I would personally like to see a closed FLEX or something like that because it just takes up so much of our time, on top of everything else we’ve already been asked to do.”
While teachers would like more control over their class periods, would students feel that their loss of FLEX time impacts their time to address their educational needs? Ishika Mallikarjun (10) feels like taking the i-Ready diagnostic during FLEX time would not be a good idea.
“During FLEX time, you don’t really have a lot of time. From what I noticed, when we took it during class, a lot of people didn’t finish with the amount of time we had, and we had quite a lot of time. So, it would just take up a bunch of FLEX time that maybe other students might want to use to study for their test, do other homework, or utilize that time for something better,” Mallikarjun expresses.
Adding on to Mallikarjun’s viewpoint, English 9 and English 10H teacher, Mr. Kim, agrees saying, “During FLEX, some students have other commitments for other teachers that they need to make up tests or exams. Class time is where you have your roster. In FLEX, you don’t know where students are. They might be in different classes. Having it administered in English and Math classes ensures that everyone has an opportunity to take it. If they were absent or didn’t finish, then FLEX is another opportunity for them to make it up.”
Another inconvenient aspect of the i-Ready Diagnostic is the amount of time it takes to administer and complete the assessment. Mr. Musto, the director of the FUSD Assessment and Accountability Department, describes the time difference between previous benchmarks and the i-Ready diagnostic.
“The previous benchmark could be done usually within one class period, or at least a block period, whereas this one requires, probably the first time you do it, an hour and a half to two hours to complete, depending on the grade level. That is a burden on teachers and definitely my least favorite thing,” he points out.
While the i-Ready diagnostic takes a toll on instructional time, it still has benefits as teachers can gauge student reading levels and identify student strengths and weaknesses in ELA. Based on the results, teachers can modify lesson plans to address areas that may need more attention.
Mr. Kim describes his experience in using i-Ready diagnostic results to target instruction toward reading comprehension. “With the scores, now I know that one skill to focus in on is close reading, like reading articles and to practice annotations because that can help in comprehension questions and start really dissecting and analyzing key passages, so that I can see if students understand informational texts,” he elaborates.
The assessment of student reading level proficiency based on state standards also helps Ms. Smith, the English Department Chair, tailor her lessons and activities to best fit the needs of her students.
“If I know that I have students who are reading at or above grade level, and all of the students in a class are reading at or above grade level, that can inform and impact how I’m designing lessons,” she explains.
In addition to improving teacher instruction, the i-Ready Diagnostic scores can motivate students and help them see points of growth. Ms. Christensen explains how the scores have been a vote of confidence. “I have a lot of my ninth graders see that they’re in a 12th grade level. It’s a boost of encouragement that they really are doing well. Even my 10th graders, some of them were reading far above grade level. That was a boost to their ego.”
Assistant Principal Pelayo adds on, “I think that as a student, it helps you see what areas you need to improve in what types of questions are challenging for you. It also helps them prepare for testing because we’re back in person now. So it’s good practice.”
Because i-Ready Diagnostic results are not released to students, it is difficult for students to understand their performance and skill levels. Ishika Mallikarjun (10) emphasizes her preference for score release as it would help students reflect on their learning.
“It can tell you, as a student, what [reading] level you’re at. Maybe you might want to start working on some parts of English, so you can actually get better and improve. And that’s something that you can do by yourself, too; it doesn’t have to be through other assignments. It could just be reading more or doing more activities. I personally feel like it’s good to see if I have the reading level of a third grader, or if I have the reading level of my age group,” Mallikarjun explains.
Andrea Lee (10) agrees with the idea of student access to scores saying, “If you can see your scores, you’ll know where you’re having trouble, so you can actually do something to improve instead of just taking the test and being done with it.”
Following student requests for scores, Ms. Smith shares a method for teachers to communicate diagnostic scores with their students. “We’ve been told that the way we can share that information with students is to make an assignment in Infinite Campus that doesn’t have points attached to it, so that we can share with students what grade level they earned.”
Additionally, Ms. Pelayo advises students who are curious about their scores to ask their English teachers. “When I was a teacher, I shared the scores with my students. So that would be a question to ask your English teacher because it’s not a secret or anything.”
Because students do not have direct access to their scores, there is a lack of transparency on where and how results are being implemented in student learning. Mallikarjun communicates how the lack of visible change downplays the effectiveness of the diagnostic.
“If there were changes, and students can’t really notice them, then I would say that there weren’t any changes. If there were changes, they should be noticeable, and it should impact you and help you. And if that’s not seen, or that’s not very obvious, then I don’t think there was a major change.”
Lee suggests utilizing i-Ready diagnostic scores to provide materials for areas students need extra support in. “They should focus on more materials that will help the area that you’re struggling with. If you’re struggling with reading, they could give you more reading materials that will help you improve,” she recommends.
Regarding concerns over lack of action in using diagnostic scores, Ms. Pelayo reminds students, “I think a lot of times teachers do things behind the scenes that students don’t always see; it’s not in front of them in the classroom. Also, that’s a teacher’s choice of how they want to use that information and when they use it. No one’s going up to every teacher and saying, ‘What are you doing with your data?’”
The i-Ready English diagnostic provides school and district staff with more accurate and detailed results. However, there is no way to ensure the data is being used to improve teaching and learning. Students are told the data is useful, but there is a huge difference between what’s being said and what’s being done.