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What is Benchmarking? And Why Should We Do It?

Written by
November 5th, 2015

By: Yvette Aranas

One important part of Multi-Tiered Systems of Support is benchmarking. This involves screening all students as early as possible to find unrecognized problems and identify students who are not meeting performance expectations.

A common screening practice that most of us are familiar with is hearing and vision screening. Such a practice could inform educators about why their students are struggling in class. Is a child unable to listen to directions because she cannot hear her teacher clearly? Is a student struggling to understand lessons because he has trouble seeing what is on the board? Results from hearing and vision screening tests could help us find ways to help students, such as using amplification equipment in class, or encouraging students to use glasses.

At FastBridge Learning, we believe it is important for educators to think of academic screening the same way as hearing and vision screening. All students should be assessed for difficulties in reading, math, and behavior. Results from screening can help us identify students who score below the expected level of performance (i.e, a benchmark), and thus, who may need targeted interventions and additional support to help them improve their performance.

A benchmark acts as the minimum threshold of performance (Salvia. Ysseldyke, & Bolt, 2013). For example, the benchmark for CBMreading is 105 words correct per minute for second graders in the spring. Thus, we expect most of them to read at least 105 words correct in a minute. If a student reads 99 words correct in a minute, she performs below benchmark; in contrast, the student’s score is considered to be above benchmark if she read 120 words. Scores that fall below benchmark may warrant more testing and extra support. In the case of reading, a student identified as being at high risk on CBMreading might benefit from small-group fluency interventions.

To “catch” students who are struggling early, screening should be done at the beginning of each school year. Early screening helps to prevent or minimize the negative consequences of academic difficulties (Albers & Kettler, 2015). Many teachers do not know their students well enough in September, so benchmarking in the fall can help teachers identify which students struggle most in reading, math, and/or behavior; however, we don’t believe that benchmarking should only be done at the beginning of the year. We suggest screening three times a year–once in the fall, another time in the winter, and once more in the spring. Over time, students develop and acquire more knowledge. Thus, administering benchmark assessments act as regular “check-ups” to identify students who are still struggling and see how much their performance grows (or doesn’t grow) across a period of time.

When using FastBridge Learning assessments for benchmarking, we suggest referring to our latest Norms and Benchmarks to determine what the expected benchmark for each measure, grade level, and benchmark period. This document can tell you whether a student is performing at the expected level, or is at risk for struggling.

Of course, not all screening assessments were created equally. If you are still deciding on whether a particular screening assessment would be appropriate to use, please refer to our previous blog post, Evaluating the Quality of Standardized Assessments.

Yvette Arañas is a doctoral student at the University of Minnesota. She was a part of FastBridge Learning’s research team for four years and contributed to developing the FAST™ reading assessments. Yvette is currently completing an internship in school psychology at a rural district in Minnesota.

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