Sunday, September 29, 2013

How do we know our students are learning?

How do we know our students are learning?  

The answer to this question is one of the motives behind NCLB and it's a fair question every school and every teacher should be able to answer with confidence and evidence.

Alongside our first question you have to ask what's the best way to assess that learning in a way that is efficient, fair, and quantifiable.

So, here comes Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  And as the saying goes, "The best laid plans of mice and men..."

I recently sat with my colleague in Chula Vista to look at future assessments related to CCSS and  I left that meeting nauseous, depressed, unenlightened and dazed.  I fear that my trusty colleague who sees much good in CCSS will be proven right when he says, "I'm afraid we'll screw it up".

The horizon in terms of assessment appears more daunting and overwhelming than ever. While I appreciate and am a champion of high expectations and challenging standards for my students, I fear that common sense may not be a part of the CCSS assessment plan.

Since we have no control over the CCSS assessment plan, what should we do in the realm of formative, ongoing assessment (specifically for English Language Arts)?  We have to have an answer to that question so let's get started.   

1.   We need assessments that demonstrate what our students understand about content and their ability to express themselves.  
2.  We need assessments that allows students to demonstrate their ability to gather information from texts, synthesize that information with their background knowledge, and draw conclusions, make assertions, and state evidence-based opinions.
3.  We also need assessments that allow students to explore their curiosities.  Therefore, if students are curious about a certain subject, they should be able to prove  their ability to research that subject, to make judgments about that subject, and to synthesize their learning in a concise and clear manner.  
4.  What about discrete skills and what about content knowledge? Those things are important as well.  They need to be embedded within in the assessments we give. 
5. From a teacher's perspective these assessments also need to be efficient. You need to be able to gather information from a small amount of production in order to make that next instructional move

We must design formative assessments that will clearly help teachers discern the point at which students need more support.  Based on all of these criteria, it seems clear to me that students need to speak and write about what they are learning.  Formative assessment should spring from this logical progression of speaking to writing in ever more complex and sophisticated manners.   These speaking/writing assessments need to be short, frequent, and included in all content areas.

These are my thoughts.  What do you think?

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