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Assessment training of staff and placement testing of students in the Direct Instruction (DI) programs are important first steps in implementing any model of DI. The individual assessment results allow students to be placed and grouped in specific DI programs. Placing and grouping students in late spring allows DI instruction to start on the first day of school. This initial assessment also provides a basis for ordering specific levels of the DI programs in reading and language, and the results from the initial assessment are used to determine which levels of the programs teachers need to be trained to teach. Since the instructional skills used to teach different DI levels and programs are highly different, it is vital that teachers be trained in the specific program levels that they are going to teach.
Based on the size of the school, assessment training and student testing is usually scheduled for three to five days in the late spring. A group of six to 10 staff members are trained to administer and record the placement test results. This testing staff needs to be excused from school duties to have time to test students during the school day. After the initial training, the NIFDI trainer monitors individual testing to ensure that results are reliable and to answer questions about unique student responses. School staff members continue to administer the tests until all students have been tested—even if the trainer from the National Institute for Direct Instruction (NIFDI) has departed.
The placement tests appear in the Teacher’s Guides that are available through SRA/McGraw-Hill. Most tests take approximately five minutes to administer although there’s a great deal of variation based on student skill level. Tests are administered to individuals and/or groups depending on the program and level being tested. For example, the Level 1 Reading Mastery test is administered to individuals only while the Level 3 Reading Mastery Test has both an individual and a group component.
NIFDI supplies materials for the trainer (overheads and handouts) and a master set of placement tests for all levels of the DI programs to be used at the school. The school makes the appropriate copies from the master set for each student continuing at the school. Completed placement tests are shipped to NIFDI, which analyzes the protocols and forms student lists for the initial, homogeneous instructional groupings.
IMPORTANT: Lack of an accurate initial assessment can prevent a Direct Instruction implementation from getting off to a strong start. If students are initially mis-placed in a program, teachers may not get trained in the appropriate levels of the program, and the school may not start the school year with the materials it needs for all students. Starting students in a lesson that is too difficult can be discouraging for students and may result in less-than-optimal progress and acting out or other disruptive behaviors. Starting students in a lesson that is too easy can be boring for students and may result in less-than-optimal progress and withdrawl or other negative behaviors. Placing students at their current skill level is an important step to ensure that students feel good about themselves, their abilities and their school while they progress through the Direct Instruction sequence!