Focus on Lower School: Assessments

Teaching is a beautiful balance between art and science. At Carolina Day School, we strive to achieve that perfect balance. We know our scholars well and work hard to foster the relationships that allow them to grow, learn, and take risks. We must also be skilled in the science of teaching them. Providing equitable classrooms that understand and apply the enrichment and support systems that are necessary for all students to succeed are essential to our core values.   

In our Lower School, we have taken the first few weeks of school to build community, routine and procedures. We are also getting to know your learner by collecting academic data that will help drive our classroom instruction. 

It is an exciting time to be a part of the Carolina Day School community. We would like to give you a quick overview of some of the beginning-of-year data that we are collecting in the Lower School to help inform, personalize, and drive our instruction.

  • Reading, Grades K-5: Dibels (letter/sound knowledge, phonemic awareness (breaking words into sounds, word and passage reading fluency) and TRC (Text Reading Comprehension)

  • Math, Grades 1-5

  • Writing Sample, Grades K-5

  • Spelling Inventories, Grades 1-5

  • Cursive (both upper- and lower-case, Grades 2-5 

  • GATES, Grades 3-5: Standardized reading comprehension assessment

How can these assessments help to drive instruction?  Good question!  

In summary, assessments allow teachers to gain two views of learners. 

One view is the big picture, or the 30,000-foot lens. With this view we can ask “What are the trends and needs I’m noticing in my class as a whole?” Another view is the detail-oriented or ground-level view. This might sound like “What do I notice specifically about how this student applies his/her spelling of sight words correctly in journal writing?” 

Data-driven instruction also promotes informed and intentional lesson design and student groupings. As we analyze the student data that we have taken, we can craft lessons or units that offer opportunities to extend or re-teach specific skills. For example, after grading a writing sample, we might find that 25% of the class needs a mini-lesson on how to use commas in a series sentence, while 75% can move onto sentence expanders. This is an opportunity for small-group instruction during a literacy block where the skill can be re-taught and practiced for a period of time. We will then take notice if this skill is transferring to their work when they have their next writing assignment. 

In another example, giving a pre-test before teaching a new math chapter can easily show which students need the opportunity to move right into the enrichment activities that the chapter has to offer because the basic concept has already been solidified for them. The bottom line — data helps create our small learning groups and informs what skills we need to develop or to enrich in our daily teaching practice. 

Finally, data allows for more detailed parent communication and conferencing.

LESS:  “Your student is struggling in reading.”  

MORE: “After giving the mid-year fluency assessment, your student’s reading rate is slower than what is expected at this time of the year. Looking at the words that they missed, we see that it is largely due to not being able to decode unknown words with multiple syllables. They were especially challenged by the vowel team patterns. Here is our plan to do a mini-unit on vowel teams and how we would love to partner with you at home with a fun vowel team game that you can play together. Let’s measure how this plan is working in 3 weeks and re-evaluate.”

LESS: “Math is so easy for your student.”

MORE: “Based upon our classroom discussions, your child’s mid-year math assessment, the rubric of our integrated real-world math project, and overall participation, your student is excelling and above grade level in math.  I am going to provide above grade level math extensions in our classwork and would like to differentiate their at-home learning as well.  I wanted to let you know so that you know why your student’s homework might appear different than his/her peers. Let’s touch base in three weeks to make sure that the level of challenge feels accurate.”

Gathering data and responding to it is the centerpiece of responsive instruction.  Below is an example of a way to think about data as the central driving force in designing instruction.  It is ever moving, evolving, and responding to student needs.  Teachers design instruction accordingly.



Thank you for joining in the journey as we work hard to fulfill our mission and core beliefs. We see you as a partner and look forward to the year ahead of learning and discovery.