New York state’s Rochester City School District faces many of the same challenges as other large urban school districts nationwide–including high student mobility, large numbers of students from single-parent and non-English-speaking families, and pervasive poverty. The district has 34,000 preK-12 students and 15,000 adult students in continuing-education programs, with 3,600 teachers scattered across 39 elementary schools, 19 secondary schools, and several alternative education programs. At the same time, it is subject to increased requirements for accountability, despite its limited resources.

The district’s primary focus is on driving instruction through an informed process. To better establish the needs of children at a certain point in time and then use that information to guide the delivery of instruction, the district needed a real-time solution for assessment and evaluation.

School officials knew that meeting these diverse challenges would require a comprehensive, robust solution, one that optimizes resource allocation. To choose such a product, the district conducted a thorough evaluation of formative assessment solutions. RFPs were issued to providers of educational assessment services, and head-to-head comparisons were performed. Individual schools sent teachers and administrators to a demonstration and review of each product.

Acuity makes the grade

Rochester ultimately selected Acuity, CTB-McGraw-Hill’s flagship suite of classroom assessment tools. Acuity is an integrated set of predictive and diagnostic benchmark assessments, with reports that provide the data that classroom teachers need to make real improvements in student performance. Acuity was designed to be classroom-friendly, with both online and paper-and-pencil administration options. Acuity has five integrated components:

  • • Predictive benchmarks that model individual states’ NCLB test blueprints;
  • • Diagnostic assessments that align with each district’s pacing guide;
  • • Targeted reports, available immediately after testing;
  • • Online instructional exercises that provide extra practice; and
  • • A state-correlated test item bank, for giving teacher-created tests.

Multiple forms of the Acuity benchmarks are administered periodically to monitor student progress. Research is being conducted to place the Predictive Benchmark assessments on a common scale, so that student growth can be observed within and across the grades of a content area. This research also will support empirically-based predictions of expected performance on state NCLB tests.

Several of Acuity’s features were pivotal in Rochester’s final selection of the product. Among these were Acuity’s robust reporting features; its intuitive and teacher-friendly graphic user interface; and online access to data, from home as well as from the office.

An additional selection criterion was the ability to use scan forms and electronic testing formats. This was a key factor for Rochester, owing to the varied availability of student computer labs and the district’s desire to minimize the potential for scheduling and training conflicts.

Of primary importance was the means by which databases are reconciled. Database interoperability issues are not always clearly elaborated during product evaluations. Efficient interoperability entails coordinating the backside data elements that users and teachers never see, but that are crucial to a well-designed assessment program. With good database design, the teacher and student experience will be smooth and efficient–but if not, data management is flawed and cumbersome, with negative consequences at the school and classroom level.

Acuity provides sophisticated backside data management capabilities that ensure accurate data transfers throughout the school system and from year to year. The database design also employs an integration server, allowing automatic, system-wide updates to be performed with a single controlling integration server.

Acuity in the classroom

The Rochester City School District is currently using Acuity in 24 schools, including elementary and high schools. Predictive assessments are administered three times per year, using both electronic and paper-and-pencil formats.

Elementary schools are using Acuity in a variety of ways. Some schools are using the program in all grades 3-6, while other schools are using Acuity for select grade levels. A wide variety of data elements are used to drive instruction in a formative process, and CTB Math is one of those elements.

In the future, the district is planning to use Acuity to build an Interactive DataMart, based on a hierarchical tree structure of data, accessible through the district’s portal and users’ dashboards. The district is assembling a Data Stewardship Program in which a team of educational leaders will evaluate all summative and formative data, both electronic and paper-and-pencil, and will develop a system for all school teams to access the data. The goal is to drive specific elements of the Acuity assessment data to the appropriate individual users, based on their roles and responsibilities.

"Overall, the enthusiasm at the school level is very high," said Tim Cliby, coordinating director of instructional technology for the district. "Teachers and students are, for the first time, receiving actionable data, including detailed item analysis, as soon as the test is completed."

Glen Van Derwater, associate director for benchmark testing, added: "This is a huge benefit in terms of using test information to group students, identify needs, and deliver instruction at the student level."

Rochester City School District