"Have you heard of STEP?" I was asked that about a year ago. Kate and I were designing the new MATCH Community Day Charter School. I'd sought out smart people, and Brett Peiser steered me to Max Koltuv. Max was a former elementary teacher and leader who is now with Achievement First network of charter schools.

I hadn't.

Max explained that STEP is a literacy assessment for little kids (younger than all the MATCH kids we'd taught to date). I was familiar with more traditional literacy assessments, like DIBELS. But STEP is a fairly new tool.

My first reaction? Honestly, skepticism. Teachers are often awash in data. The issue is often less the quality of the data than the fact that teachers are so overwhelmed. That is, a better assessment in the hands of an overwhelmed teacher doesn't really help much. So buying better assessments than other reasonable assessments wasn't high on my list.

As founding principal, Kate owned the decision on whether MCD should get STEP. She needed to weigh the costs and benefits (we already had access to certain literacy assessments, and STEP is fairly expensive). Her budget is fairly tight. But when she did her homework, she was really excited about this product.

She chose: yes.

I think she chose well. My sense is that our teachers perceive STEP as a pretty incredible piece of intellectual property. It was developed by UEI at the University of Chicago. STEP doesn't just tell you where a kid's literacy level is, it also tells you what to do about it. That second part is key.

We had our first training a couple weeks ago, from a great staff member at U of Chicago.

Our partner school, Community Day, also attended the training. I wondered how they'd react. They're an established, successful charter elementary school. They have their own list of literacy assessments.

But they loved it! Their Chief Operating Officer (Kennedy) and their principals talked, and they are now leaning towards adopting it, too. Kennedy shared with me his email to Sheila, the CEO. He wrote:

Some of the benefits of STEP are the following:

1. It provides a snap shot of where every student is in a class. 2. If you compile historical data (multiple years), it will allow you to see how a particular class advances in reading steps through the year (with 3-4 snap shots each year). 3. Provides consistency and reliability in assessments across classes. 4. Provides one clear system that integrates all of the components (DIBELS,DRA,GMADE, GRADE) 5. Divides K-3 into 12 steps (3 steps per grade). Every step is connected to a reading level that the student need to master to become proficient in reading. 6. Very good system that allows new teachers and leaders to implement assessment system quickly and reliably. 7. Allows you to see outliers/students who are struggling, who may be in need of SPED or outside resources. It brings all the parties on the same page much quicker (Parents,student,teacher,admin,district SPED rep, others). I am thinking of cases like (Student X) and (Student Y). 8. STEP will allow us to see the ‘Big Picture’ more clearly. We can see on a page every student’s reading level, allowing us to create groups to customize instruction and also create PD to build the skills of the teacher in areas of high needs as identified on the ‘class snap shot.’

I look forward to seeing our teachers (and tutors) in action with this tool.

But for now, big props to U of Chicago's Tim Knowles (former Boston Public School guy, actually) and his team for developing this. I rarely hear about a tool developed at an Ed School that creates so much excitement among teachers and school leaders.