For this course, Standards-Based Assessment, I’ve been asked to provide a Portfolio that documents entries that will demonstrate the level of mastery on the Curriculum and Instruction Standard 5. Standard 5 Assessment expects that I as an educator assess students’ mastery of curriculum and modify instruction to maximize learning. I will attempt to do this by first sharing my approach and position about assessment then I will take you through 4 entries that document my use of formative assessments in my classroom.
In my first few years of teaching it was all about surviving and developing as a novice teacher; making sure my classroom management was set in place, teaching all content areas, maintaining student relationships, evolving parent communication, etc. Giving students tests and quizzes was part of what I was asked to do in order to make sure my students were learning what I was teaching, or so I thought. As I’ve progressed through this course I’ve learned that assessments are much more than that, as well as the meaning of assessment. A diagram that Rick Stiggins uses throughout his book Classroom Assessment for Student Learning: Doing It Right-Using It Well, shows a web with clusters labeled as: Why Assess? Assess What? Assess How? and Communicate How? He describes these as keys to quality assessment and is to be used in order to develop an assessment for learning, which I have begun to adopt as a successful and positive way to set up classroom assessments.
Building Context I’ve been working at my building for the past 6 years and have been at this school for my entire teaching career thus far. Our school is a Title 1 school with a population just over 700 students and about 61% are on free or reduced lunch. We have 9% of the population in Special Education and nearly 20% are identified as bilingual learners. Our school participates in PLCs and held a Reading First grant for 3 years to help improve literacy. We currently just adopted as a district Pearson’s EnVision math curriculum and have been working very hard to work out the trials and tribulations involved with using a new program. There are 35 classroom teachers that make up part of the wonderful staff and 71% hold masters degrees with an average of 12 years teaching experience.
Why Assess? The purpose of assessment is communication, I believe that assessments tell us which students are to “mastery” on certain standards and can even help us to pinpoint holes with those that aren’t to mastery quite yet. Stiggins writes, “These are assessments that we conduct throughout teaching and learning to diagnose student needs, plan our next steps in instruction, provide student with feedback they can use to improve the quality of their work, and help students see and feel in control of their journey to success” (pg. 31). Assessment for learning occurs during the process of learning and helps the teacher, student and parents. Assessments aid me to reflect on my teaching within a particular subject or topic that may be in my curriculum and standards; this then allows me to make adjustments or changes to better meet the needs of my students.
Assess What? Learning Targets, Learning Goals, Objectives, Standards, Grade level expectations, what we assess has many different names and labels but whatever they’re called it ultimately drives the instruction and assessment. Learning targets, what I use in my classroom to communicate with students what they’re expected to be able to do, is how I start the learning process and assess my students’ progress. Targets are in student-friendly terms and typically build off previously learned concepts to form a natural foundation of skills. These targets are also put together by using state standards that will be reflected in report cards. Therefore, the target is representative of what the state expects, informs students of expectations and decides what skills will be assessed. Stiggins communicates that, “If we don’t begin with clear statements of the intended learning, we won’t end with sound assessments” (pg. 54).
Assess How? During my time in the Bilingual Multicultural Education Department program (BMED) I was able to perceive education from a sociocultural and social justice standpoint. It was an empowering experience being one of the few Caucasian women in a program that served multiple cultures, ethnicities and backgrounds. I thoroughly appreciated everything I left with and still attempt to tie in material when I can. While taking courses I encountered many great multicultural authors such as: Sonia Nieto, Jeannie Oakes, Martin Lipton and many others. In Teaching to Change the World, Oakes and Lipton discuss a sociocultural vision of assessment as one of a Constructivist point of view. I found myself relating back to this literature because when I am deciding as a teacher how I’m going to assess my students, I have multiple types of assessments available. My attempt to utilize many different assessments parallels with my attempts to use multiple strategies when instructing my students. “Constructivist teachers take note of the knowledge and skills students display when they participate in class. They observe how students interact and how they solve problems. They follow closely the nature and appropriateness of students’ reasoning as well as the correctness of their answers” (Oakes & Lipton, pg. 247). It goes on to discuss how teachers with a Constructivist attitude about teaching and learning may give tests and assignments, however they’ll review students’ answers for holes and errors. Doing this then allows for teachers to design new strategies to fill those holes, correct those errors of understanding and push rational further. Ken O’Connor, author of How to Grade for Learning:K-12, also adds about Constructivist view towards assessment, “More varied approaches to assessment imply that teachers will not always have neat numbers that can be ‘crunched’ and converted into grades….teachers need to consider carefully how they will incorporate data from a broader array of assessments into the determination of their students’ grades”(O’Connor, pg. 4). I like to approach the use of a varietal of assessments like I approach the relationships, learning styles, personalities, outlooks, background and culture of my students, with an open mind, heart and an attitude that suggests I’m accepting to make mistakes, learn from them and improve upon them each and every day. I’ve already made it clear that there are many different methods to assess student learning and preceding my approach to assessment will be four entries that are various methods for assessing students at the grade level I teach, third grade.
Communicate How? Communicating Assessment can occur in multiple ways and who we as teachers communicate that learning to, is also very important. Communication tools for sharing assessment results and student learning encompass: portfolios, expanded report cards, report cards, progress reports, student-led conferences and exhibitions. The grading tools used for assessments should be taken into consideration when thinking about the audience it’ll be shared with as well as how it’ll be shared. O’Connor writes, “Grades should be effective communication vehicles, and the methods used to determine them need to provide optimum opportunities for student success and to encourage learning” (pg. 47). Currently I’m working on my report cards while also completing this assignment and my grade level team and I have been struggling with what assessments and other means of student work should be used to communicate their achievement in Math. We finalized our decision to having grades based on the district’s math benchmark assessment, our math curriculum’s topic tests and daily student work. We communicate this by using the Washington State math standards, which currently are not aligned with our math curriculum’s Common Core standards, as well as performance indicators based on the levels of: Advanced, Benchmark, Basic and Developing. It is very important to me to be able to have an open relationship with the parents of my students O’Connor states,” Schools and teachers have a responsibility to communicate effectively with parents and others who are interested in the achievement and progress of students” (O’Connor, pg. 234). After completing this portfolio assignment, I find myself very intrigued and interested in the concept of using portfolios and student-led conferences as a means of communicating assessment. Both require the student to be actively involved in the process of understanding the Why, How and What of assessment and learning, as well as being involved in the metacognition process, thinking about their thinking and learning. Benson and Barnett (2005) state that there are many great benefits to student-led conferences with showcase portfolios, it “involves more parents, increases student motivation, helps meet state standards, improves student and teacher accountability, celebrates learning and makes teaching more satisfying”(p. 3). Another positive is the process that students, parents and teachers go through during the portfolio building and sharing procedure. During the course of time students can achieve high-order thinking and depth of knowledge skills due to the fact that they need to organize, make choices, explain and justify those decisions on the content of their learning. (Barnett and Benson, 2005).
It’s been my goal to share with you in this Assessment Approach my feelings and beliefs about the importance of assessment. Assessment goes beyond just testing and being the teacher’s responsibility. Assessment involves planning, standards, goals, multiple methods, communicating, teachers, the students, parents and most importantly sharing student learning. I find the use of assessments to be very important and effective at planning for instruction and sharing student achievement.
Assessment in Practice
Each of the assessments shared in this portion of my Assessment Portfolio were developed by using Stiggins’ ideas and different methods of assessment.
Entry one: Selected Response
According to Stiggins selected response can be used for both assessment of learning and assessment for learning. They can be in multiple formats such as: multiple choice, true/false, matching and short answer fill in. They’re also a great way to measure reasoning and knowledge and cover a lot of content in short period of time (2006).
I chose to use this assessment with my 3rd graders to test their ability to add and subtract 3 digit numbers using the regrouping algorithm. Students will need to either need to use mental math or solve by working out each problem for their best answer choice. With selected response I’ve taught my students to use the CCC method to help them finding the best choice. The CCC method stands for “Cover, Calculate and Check”. Students are to use their “bubble bookmarks” that I designed with my grade level team to give students a successful test taking tool for keeping track of the questions and marking the correct answer number. Students use the bookmark to Cover the multiple choices they have first, so to not be tempted to just choose what “looks about right”. Then students Calculate the problem being asked to come up with their own personal answer, finally they Check to see if their answer is a choice available. If they don’t see their answer then it’s possible they calculated incorrectly and will then have to go back and try again, come back to the problem later or if they’re absolutely stuck then look for an answer choice that is close to their answer. I found that using this strategy with selected response type assessments, students take their time reading the question and actually solving for the answer and in the end have a better score.
Entry two: Extended Response
Extended Response is a good way to test reasoning since students are required to “construct a written answer, at least several sentences in length, in response to a question or task” states Stiggins (pg. 167). Also, Stiggins writes in Chapter 6, “extended written response works well for assessing chunks for knowledge that interrelate, rather than individual pieces of knowledge assessed separately” (pg. 170).
I maintained using the same learning target of having my third graders using the regrouping algorithm to subtract with three digit numbers. Students were to read the problem and show their work in the box provided, then they were to explain their thinking. I created this assessment to be sure that students could reason in their own words what steps they took in order to get their answer. I reviewed with them the rubric that is attached with the document on the second page before giving them the assessment. That way, students knew what their performance expectations were prior to solving the problem. When students understand the features of performance then it’s a true example of an extended response. (Stiggins, 2006).
Entry three: Performance Task
Performance assessments are “based on observation and judgment. Students engage in an activity that requires them to apply a performance skill or create a product and we judge its quality” (Stiggins, pg. 191). Performance assessments have been used for thousands of years. Something to be taken into consideration when developing this type of assessment is the age of the students as well as the reading and writing ability of the child.
This math task requires third graders to use their reasoning and communicating skills with the concept of multiplication. My students prior to doing this independently have opportunities to participate in solving a problem in this format. My students get the “I do, We do, You do” method for modeling on how to complete this performance task. I will work on and model my thinking on a task in a similar format, then students as a whole group will solve a different problem in the same fashion with me and finally they’ll complete a performance task on their own. This is done over the span of a few days. This method of instruction helps to ensure that students understand all components as well as the criteria that are involved with this type of assessment.
Entry four: Personal Communication as Assessment
There are multiple contexts and conditions to use the form of personal communication as assessment as defined by Stiggins (2006), they include: teacher and students share common language and vocabulary, it’s executed in a safe learning environment and students understand they’re to provide an honest and personal answer. Personal communication can occur in multiple formats as well, Stiggins comments, such as, “questioning, conferences and interviews, class discussions, oral examinations, journals and logs” (pg. 256).
I used my Math focus wall as this type of assessment; it’s something I do it daily with my students in a whole group setting. Calendar Math was something my district expected for about 10-15 minutes every day using the curriculum box provided. I wasn’t very successful with following the prescribed skills and concepts that went with every month and most months I improvised and added my own pieces. This year our Calendar Math has changed to being Math Focus Wall and we aren’t expected to use every aspect of the old curriculum, which I much prefer. I use Math Focus Wall as a way to reteach concepts that my students, as a class, averaged a low score on an assessment of learning. For example, my students on our district math assessment didn’t score very well on the standard that tested equal expressions, therefore in December’s packet I added a piece where we practice equal expressions every day. I also use the Focus Wall as a way to preview concepts to come and review current concepts and skills. After the first few days my students are able to complete most of the parts independently and it’s a consistent and dependable routine in their school day.
Reflection and Summary
Due to my ELL background from my Teacher Credential program I find myself doing a lot of modeling, scaffolding and direct, explicit instruction. I can identify the students who may need accommodations in order to be successful on the grade level assessments and I make sure to understand the needs of each and every child in my classroom from needing special seating arrangements to having a piece of gum to help stay focused. My students know that they’re in a safe environment that fosters to their individual needs and that their teacher is proud of the work they produce. I expect my students to complete every task to their personal best and will grade based on the criteria and rubrics we agree upon as a classroom of learners. I will assess and grade my students on the standards and grade level expectations provided to me by the state and district I work for and will collaborate with my team to ensure we have a common understanding. I will communicate efficiently to my students, their parents and my colleagues the effectiveness of my instruction and the outcomes that are my students’ achievement. My goal with assessment is to do as Stiggins so nicely states in the beginning of chapter one, “motivate the unmotivated, restore the desire to learn, and encourage students to keep learning, and it can actually create increased achievement” (pg. 3).
Barnett, S., Benson, B. (2005). Student-led conferencing using showcase portfolios. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Lipton, M., Oakes, J. (2003). Teaching to change the world. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Companies
O’Connor, K. (2009). How to grade for learning, k-12. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Stiggins, R., Arter, J., Chappuis, J., & Chappuis, S. (2006). Classroom assessment for student learning, doing it right–using it well. Princeton, NJ: Prentice Hall.