When we shine a spotlight on a priority, gather evidence about our progress, and celebrate our successes, all stakeholders appreciate the focus that is placed upon a given initiative. We have done this with academic skills in a variety of ways. Some schools create data walls, both for public and staff-only utilization. These data walls typically identify students within different bands of achievement as measured by regular benchmark assessments of English-language arts and mathematics prioritized concepts and skills. In the best of these situations, these data walls are used to highlight students in need of support and, over time, display and celebrate growth by all students. All schools, in response to No Child Left Behind (if not sooner), have had their students’ achievement in English-language arts and mathematics publicly reported. Whether right or wrong, fair or unfair, this reporting has focused schools’ energies on improving students’ academic achievement. This focus, and particular areas in which more energy is required, are possible because we assess students’ mastery of academic skills.
We must shine an equally bright spotlight on student progress within behavioral domains as we have within academic domains. To meet this need, we must assess students’ behavioral achievement. We cannot determine the extent to which students respond to the Tier 1 instruction of behavioral priorities if we do not assess their success in meeting expectations, and our success in helping them to do so.
Formative assessment (and the subsequent feedback that we will discuss in the next section) informs educator practice and can motivate students to improve (Stiggins, 2006; Wiliam, 2016). Students and educators’ learning is informed when information gleaned from assessments is specific, helpful, clear, and affirming, and helps draft a roadmap to how a student can improve.
The ways in which we have historically “assessed” behavior at Tier 1 has been inadequate. The evidence that we have gathered on student mastery of behavioral skills (if we systematically gathered evidence at all) typically involved tracking student referrals to the office, detentions, or suspensions. These practices focused only on examples of difficulties in meeting behavioral expectations, and were quite delayed; evidence such as “student sent to the office” or “student went into time-out” does not provide staff or students with timely information in response to which proactive, specific, corrective feedback can be provided.
Feedback is critical. David Dockterman recognizes that, “Words and actions help establish the conditions in a school and classroom, but they are insufficient. We also need clear pathways to build behaviors and improve performance. We need feedback, both to show growth – that the effort is paying off – and to highlight what to work on. We don’t celebrate mistakes and failure, we embrace learning from our inevitable missteps.” Feedback is given and received for a purpose – to make changes and improve.
There are a variety of forms that assessing student progress toward meeting Tier 1 expectations can take. The functions are the same: To gather timely evidence of need so that feedback can be provided and proactive course corrections can be made.