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Southampton County PS Prepares Students for End-of-year Exams

February 03, 2017

Southampton County Public Schools in Virginia prepares students for end-of-year exams using PowerSchool Assessment

Southampton County Public School District uses PowerSchool Assessment in the following strategic ways: pre and post assessments to measure student growth, four-and-a-half-week benchmark assessments to provide feedback on student progress and to help students gain valuable practice in a testing environment that mirrors the state assessment.

“We are only one of 53 fully accredited divisions in the state. That’s out of 132. We’re very proud that even though we’re geographically small we’re very, very big in success. And we put children first. We had a lot of puzzle pieces that we were able to put together to become fully accredited, and PowerSchool Assessment was one of them.”
–Kelli Gillette, Director of Special Programs & Instructional Services
Southampton County Public Schools


Southampton County Public Schools serves 2,863 students in rural Southeastern Virginia. The district implemented PowerSchool Assessment in 2009 with the immediate goal to have all of its schools fully accredited. Formative assessment was one of the main initiatives to achieve that goal. District staff and teachers would come to rely on formative data to improve the quality of assessments, the communication among teachers and school leaders around student progress, and to use data to inform lessons designed to close learning gaps.

How do they use PowerSchool Assessment?

Southampton uses PowerSchool Assessment to give weekly assessments along with four-and-a-half-week benchmark assessments to measure progress. They also give all students grade-level assessments in the four core subjects in the beginning and end of the year to measure growth. The benchmarks, as well as the pre and post assessments, are administered online in a testing environment that includes all the test-taking tools and item types that students will see on the state summative exam. This practice decreases students’ anxiety when taking standardized assessments.
Southampton has chosen to lock their benchmark assessments, meaning teachers cannot use those items for other classroom quizzes and tests. “This ensures that the students have never seen the questions when they take the benchmark, but also I can ensure the rigor is aligned,” says Gillette.

Easy for teachers to create tests

Gillette added that a big advantage of using PowerSchool Assessment is how easy it is for teachers to create rigorous tests that are aligned to the state standards. “It’s so easy to use. When you’re building a test, all you have to do is drag the pre-written questions—categorized by standard and level of vigor—over to create a test that’s ready for students to take,” says Gillette. Southampton teachers have had the necessary training and experience and are now creating their own questions and tests, too.

In 2009, Southampton recognized that the level of cognitive complexity—often referred to as rigor—was lacking on teacher-made assessments. As part of its PowerSchool Assessment adoption, the district took a hard look at the alignment of items they were using on their benchmark assessments with the items on the state summative assessment. They used the product feature that assigns a level of rigor—Bloom’s Taxonomy or Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK)—to each item, and matched it to the level of rigor specified in each standard. “For example, if you’re a third grade math teacher and you’re working on Standard of Learning 3.6, there’s a bank of questions you can access that are specific to the objective you’re working on. Using Bloom’s Taxonomy or DOK levels, teachers know how rigorous each of their assessment items are,” explains Chris Tsitsera, Title I Coordinator of Southampton County Public Schools.

The Virginia Department of Education blueprints map out the most heavily tested standards on a state assessment. Teachers can use the standard-performance-by-question report provided by Pearson to determine the level of Webb’s or Bloom’s for each standard.

Sharing tests across grades and schools

According to Gillette, because Southampton County is a large geographic division with a small student population, the budget just doesn’t allow for the hiring of district-level instructional staff. The ability for teachers to go into PowerSchool Assessment to share common formative assessments and collaborate virtually has been “very helpful,” she says. Southampton middle school teachers have embraced common formative assessments, working collaboratively to create quizzes and tests. This collaboration has improved the quality and consistency of the use of assessment in that school. “Our teachers help each other become better at assessing students and communicating with each other about teaching and learning,” says Gillette.

Harnessing formative data to improve shared understanding of student learning and communication

PowerSchool Assessment reporting has increased vertical communication from the teachers up to the principals and district-level administrators. The process used across the district following a common formative assessment involves teaching teams—either by grade level or subject area—who are meeting to discuss the data. The teams then meet individually with the principal to discuss student results and plans for instruction. Lastly, appropriate central office staff is able to discuss the results with the principal.

Southampton has been committed to getting all of the teachers in their one high school, one middle school, and four elementary schools to consistently use PowerSchool Assessment.

Helping students prepare for SOLs and improve scores

PowerSchool Assessment helps make everyday jobs easier and more productive for Southampton school staff and teachers as it serves its 2,863 students. Because it simulates the testing environment used for state summative assessments, students were able to get comfortable using the tool, which led to increased performance.

“We use PowerSchool Assessment in second grade even though it’s not an SOL tested grade. When they go into third grade, they’re familiar with how the test is going to look as an SOL. They’re used to using the tools and using the computer to take the test,” explains Gillette. “Because of this, we’ve seen improvements. We have noticed that second grade is improving. It was a huge help to use PowerSchool Assessment to prepare second graders for their year ahead because third grade is such a big jump,” says Gillette.

Connecting Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment

Southampton district and school-level leaders meet to analyze student performance results to look for strengths and weaknesses in the curriculum, instruction, and assessment cycle.
“If there is an 80 percent pass rate, we look at the 20 percent of students who failed, to see if we can identify a root cause. We examine lesson plans and observe instruction. We are specifically interested in understanding the intervention process for students who did not pass the assessment and tracking their progress,” Gillette adds.


PowerSchool Assessment has contributed to Southampton’s growing success in recent years. The chart below summarizes Southampton’s steady increase in ranking in the state of Virginia. Currently the district is outperforming 83.3% of Virginia school districts. They now rank 21 out of 132 districts in Virginia. “We are one of the 53 fully accredited divisions in the state. That’s out of 132,” says Gillette. “We’re very proud that even though we’re small we’re very, very big in success. And we put children first. We had a lot of puzzle pieces that we were able to put together to become fully accredited, and PowerSchool Assessment was one of them.”

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