Knowing Students Deeply

Why We’ve Started Working on Present Levels of Performance

We know every student is a unique and complex individual; how effective are we at understanding them beneath our immediate and superficial observations?
When we know our students deeply, we are able to consider and determine individual readiness with greater accuracy — and then pitch instruction more precisely to a student’s optimal zone for learning.
— How to Teach Now by William Powell and Ochan Kusuma-Powell

Goalbook Toolkit has always been about helping educators design impactful specialized instruction that helps ALL students succeed. Toolkit’s focus has been on supporting instructional action: setting learning targets, implementing UDL-aligned strategies, and most recently, designing short term objectives, assessments, and instructional scaffolds with Anchor Pages.

Our beta preview of the Present Levels Wizard marks the beginning of a significant evolution in the way we support instructional action by focusing on instructional understanding. We hope this new work will support teachers, specialists, administrators, and family members with the development of a research-based and data-informed approach to understanding a student’s strengths and areas of need for the purpose of taking effective instructional action that will enable student success.

A brief tour of the new Present Levels Wizard

We refer to this release as a beta preview to explicitly acknowledge that the work is at a beginning stage. We eagerly desire feedback on how we can improve our work with Present Levels in the future.

3 Instructional Challenges that Make Determining Present Levels a Complex Task

As we’ve talked to educators and administrators about their experience with present levels of performance, we’ve encountered three instructional challenges that make understanding and assessing a student’s present levels a complex and time-consuming task.

1. The breadth of academic and extra-academic domains that impact student learning

Present levels typically go beyond reading, writing, and math. Important strengths and needs that deserve consideration can extend to behavior/SEL, life skills, language, communication, fine/gross motor control, executive function, sensory/attention, … While each of these areas could enrich and inform our understanding of a student, it is simply not possible for any individual educator to be an expert diagnostician in all of them.

2. There are multiple (and conflicting) pedagogical frameworks and scales to measure levels of performance

Stages of reading development as defined by Words their Way and Chall’s Stages of Reading Development. Which one is the correct one?

It can be pretty clear to any educator (or non-educator) that a student is struggling with reading. However, things get much more complex when we try to get a more detailed understanding of a student’s reading ability.

There are multiple schools of thought and well-researched frameworks that define and organize reading development. Different research studies break down the levels of reading performance in different ways. They also match ages/grade level bands to levels of reading development differently. Sorting through and synthesizing all this information and bringing that to bear on a specific student is an impractical task and probably requires a research degree do it with any validity.

Fluency Norms Chart developed by Reading A-Z shows different research studies giving different fluency ranges by grade level. There is no single authoritative standard on the normative fluency rate by age or grade.

3. The variety of assessments and the contexts for administering and analyzing them

Reading alone has a multitude of assessments and scoring systems such as running records, ORF, CBM, MAZE, Lexile, Guided Reading Level, DRA, Dolch lists, Fry lists, Core Vocabulary, sight words, prosody rubrics, diagnostics, inventories, interest surveys, …

Becoming familiar with the different types of assessment, and what each assessment can and cannot tell you about a student’s reading ability often requires specialized training and experience.

3 Key Features that Support Determining a Student’s Present Levels

We prioritized the aforementioned challenges when we were designing the Present Levels Wizard. Here are some of the most important features of the wizard and how it works …

1. The wizard breaks down reading into the most important components which are a part of all reading frameworks and assessments

We help educators break down Reading into its component skills such as “Phonics & Decoding” and “Comprehension”

2. The wizard provides customizable statements of performance with key skills that have consensus across different reading frameworks and research studies.

Each skill area has model statements that describe critical skills typically demonstrated at .can be customized by educators. Adjusting the

3. Downloadable assessments aligned to each specific component and level of performance.

Hovering over an assessment name brings up a description of the assessment as well as a downloadable version of the assessment that an educator can use to get more detailed student data.

What’s Next?

Our product team will continue to build out the Present Levels Wizard in the area of Reading and they are currently developing the areas of Math and Behavior/SEL. We are also working on integrating the Present Level Wizard with the Toolkit Library so that educators can save and revisit their drafted statements.

Sign in to the Goalbook Toolkit to check it out (or sign up for a trial).


Did you know that we’ve also released Anchor Pages and a new Favorite Button in Goalbook Toolkit?

Follow Innovating Instruction (our blog) and @goalbookapp for our latest updates and learnings.