Can I give a benchmark test to my 9th-12th (high school) students?

Benchmark scores are just screeners to indicate if a student is performing on-grade or not, for students in grades K-8. All benchmark tests can only be given on-grade. Benchmark tests are just screeners to see if students are performing on-grade and at the 50th percentile or better. They do not indicate what grade a student is performing at. Since you already know your students are performing below their actual grade in school, you need to concentrate on the progress monitoring measures instead.

The easyCBM system includes assessments aligned to content and performance standards in grades K-8. Some high schools also use the tests for their at-risk students, but it’s important to remember that schools administering the easyCBM assessments to students in grades 9 or above should use the progress monitoring rather than Benchmark assessments. The Deluxe version has not only more numbers of measures but also more types of measures.

Although we don’t have a single test you can have a student take to determine the grade-level performance, there is a process you can use to help determine their skill and the most appropriate grade level assessments to use to monitor their progress.

The easyCBM assessments are built on a scale of progressive difficulty, with each grade level becoming more challenging, and each measure type within a grade level also ‘stair-stepping’ up in difficulty. For example, with a sixth-grade student, the teacher has the following tests to select from: Proficient Reading (which provides information about that student’s skill in literal, inferential, and evaluative comprehension), Basic Reading (which provides information about that students’ skill in literal comprehension of both informational and literary text), Vocabulary (which provides information about the student’s ability to make sense of words and phrases used in context), and Passage Reading Fluency (which provides information about the student’s ability to read aloud narrative text with accuracy).

The teacher might begin by administering the on-grade-level measures of Passage Reading Fluency and Proficient Reading to a student. Once the scores are in the system, the teacher should look at the student’s graph—if the score falls above the 50th percentile line, then one can say that ‘this particular skill area is not the issue’. If the student’s score falls between the 20th and 50th percentile, then one can say ‘this particular skill is an area of weakness’ and that measure type can be selected for progress monitoring.

If the student’s score falls below the 20th percentile, then the teacher knows: (a) there may be reason to suspect an even earlier skill deficit (in this case, maybe the student has never mastered phonics, so the Letter Sounds measure would be the most appropriate to use for monitoring progress while at the same time ensuring that the student is being instructed in phonics; (b) if the subsequent test of Letter Sounds (available on the K and Grade 1 “Measure” tab on easyCBM) indicates that the student is at or above the 50th percentile in that skill area, then the issue is probably not one of basic phonics, but is, instead, indicative of a need for additional fluency-building work, but at an earlier grade level (to firmly establish sight words).

If the student scored well below the 20th percentile on the 6th grade fluency measure, the teacher would likely drop 2 grades (to 4th grade)—it is likely that the student would obtain a score that falls between the 20th and 50th percentile lines—this is the range at which the measures on easyCBM are most sensitive to growth/most appropriate to use. If the student’s score is right at or just below the 20th percentile on the 6th grade measure, teachers can bump the student down to the 5th grade form of that measure instead.

The goal is twofold: to determine what underlying skill deficit might be leading to the student’s “not proficient” score and to identify the appropriate measure to use to monitor the student’s improving skill as he/she receives targeted intervention/instruction aimed at addressing those skill deficits.

In all cases, the teacher needs to assist the student in moving up to the most challenging grade-level tests they can, as quickly as they can, but each student’s trajectory is likely to be slightly different (it will depend on their level of initial skill/underlying skill deficits; the intensity of intervention provided to him/her; his/her ability to benefit from that particular intervention [as well as motivation to improve]; attendance [a student must be present to benefit from instruction], etc.).

For a 6th grader who requires intensive instruction in phonics (Letter Sounds), it is unlikely teachers will be able to make up all the ground they need to get her to on-grade level comprehension by the end of the year, but teachers can certainly make good progress toward that goal, with the intention to continue to make progress in subsequent grades.

Letter Sounds/basic phonics is a skill area in which the teacher should be able to see dramatic improvement in a matter of weeks for older students. This assumes that intensive and appropriate instructional intervention is being provided to ensure the student acquires the skills they missed. Ideally, older students (grade 2 and above) should move from the 10th to the 50th percentile on the Letter Sounds measure in a month’s time or less.

Building fluency takes longer, but average growth is about four to six words correct per minute per week for students who are far behind their peers AND who are receiving instructional interventions specifically targeting fluency building (repeated readings, choral readings, reading aloud to younger children/parents/mentors, etc.). The teacher should see student rate of growth exceed six words correct per minute per week; otherwise, the student is not ‘catching up’ but merely maintaining the existing gap.

For low performing students, the teacher should select an out-of-grade-level fluency measure but move the student up to the next grade level up as soon as he/she performs at the 50th percentile mark. For example, if the teacher starts a 6th grade student on the Grade 2 Passage Reading Fluency measures, the student should be ready to move to the Grade 3 Passage Reading Fluency measures after four to six weeks of intensive fluency building work (designed to reinforce phonics for unfamiliar words and to move additional words into her sight vocabulary through repeated exposure).

Once a student is reading fluently at grade level (50th percentile mark on grade-level Passage Reading Fluency measures), they probably have sufficient fluency skill to be able to start focusing more on comprehension. Until they are at that threshold, it’s likely that the student’s working memory capacity is allocated to decoding unfamiliar words rather than attending to the “bigger picture” of actual comprehension, except at the most literal level. Once a student is able to read more fluently, he/she is able to focus on making meaning from the words in the text and can begin to focus on inferential and evaluative, as well as literal comprehension.

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