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Continuous Skill Practice? Let’s Start This Summer!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014 -- Stephanie Abbott

For many of us, testing season and spring break are over. Back at school, end-of-the-year activities are ramping up with thoughts of summer vacation not far away. I suspect we all feel that the next school year seems like a long way off. But here’s a thought. Is it too soon to start planning for 2014–2015?

Have you had a similar experience? Every September, I would spend several weeks reviewing math concepts taught during the previous year—fundamental skills needed for success with new content. I was frequently torn, as this time could have or should have been spent teaching new material. 

Most students experience learning losses on some level when they do not keep active academically during their summer break. Every student seems to benefit in some way from summer assignments, from filling knowledge gaps to increasing current skills. With continuous skill practice, all students would have a better start in the new school year. Now, with the complete transition to more rigorous content, which will see initial assessment in the near future, any learning loss is a concern for all students.

Sandy Shacklady-White, supervisor of special education in the West Chester Area School District of Pennsylvania, recognizes that the summer of 2014 can be an opportunity to address the challenges ahead. She knows that the typical summer learning loss is even more detrimental to her student population. Because they are already below grade level, the added expectations of more demanding content could set them back even further. Sandy is strongly considering a personalized summer practice assignment for each student. She reports, “We are excited to learn more about how Study Island can help our students in special education meet the demands being placed upon them with the PA Core Standards. The ability to differentiate for each student is crucial to filling in the gaps in order to make them academically successful in school.”

Real-time reports will help the teachers identify those skills that need attention. Because the data is available for classes as well as individual students, the summer practice assignments can be as unique as the needs of each student. Progress can be monitored easily over the summer. More importantly, at the end of the summer, teachers will have a clear picture of each student’s current skill level. This is possible due to automated scoring and continuous item analysis provided in the Study Island program.

Another important component of the summer practice assignment is building a partnership with parents. With the automatic delivery of information by email, parents will know when their child is successful or might be in need of some help. As Sandy says, “Strengthening connections with the parents will be an added plus in assisting their children.”

To make the summer practice assignment a reality, analyzing data, creating practice assignments, and setting up parent notifications will have to be added to teachers’ busy end-of-year to-do lists. However, effort now should have a strong return on investment for teachers and students at the beginning of the particularly challenging upcoming school year.