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EDU 6613 – Standards Based Assessment – Meta Reflection – Standard 11

EDU 6613 – Standards Based Assessment – Meta Reflection – Standard 11

Standard 11: Teacher leaders utilize formative and summative assessment in a standards based environment.

“…how deeply ingrained into our practice is the idea that assessment should allow us to sort, rank, and grade students, rather than inform the teacher what needs to be done next” (Wiliam, 2011, p.77)

Over the last 11 years as a teacher, my understanding of assessment and its value has evolved. To be completely truthful, when I started teaching, I gave quizzes and tests because it was expected. Quizzes and tests were supposed to be used to generate a large portion of a student’s grade, and it was important that I give them regularly. In all fairness, I have always written my own tests, first, before planning the lessons that will be taught to prepare for the test, but at the beginning I did not put much effort into using the assessment for any instructional decision-making. After the first few years of teaching, my district started working on collaborative teams and PLCs, and gave the math department all a common prep period to work on common assessments and data analysis, and that was when I started changing my opinion on what a test is for. It is also when I started to really be made aware of what an assessment should not be used for.

I have found that many teachers view an assessment as a “gotcha”, or a chance to present students with a very challenging problem set, loosely based on what was taught during the unit that “only the smart kids” will be able to be successful on. Because, after all, if students don’t do their homework then they shouldn’t be able to be successful on an assessment, right? The longer I have taught, and the more I have learned about assessment, the more this attitude frustrates me. The question in my mind as I entered this course then became, “How do I use assessment to truly drive my instruction, and as a tool for students rather than a punishment?” Thankfully, I was able to bring a lot of learning away from this course to help me answer my question.

The course began with a study into the question, “Why formative assessment?” This question becomes so much more valid when you have had the experiences I have had where I have worked with colleagues who would never consider assessment to be a learning tool for the students and the teacher. One of the best quotes I read in our study of this came from Wiliams (2011), and says, “The teacher’s job is not to transmit knowledge, nor facilitate learning. It is to engineer effective learning environments for the students” (p. 50). This quote really gets down to the heart of this question. If you do not formatively assess, if you do not know where all your students are on the range of understanding, then you cannot engineer a learning environment for ALL students. You might be able to get most of the students, but you certainly cannot address all learners, and that is not good teaching.

Then the course moved into consideration of shared learning intentions, or learning targets. This is an area I have had a lot of experience with as a teacher and felt I had a good grasp on before the course. A learning target, or learning objective, to me has never just been something to put on the board, but is instead something to teach students about intentionally, just as any other aspect of a lesson. A previous principal of mine that I respect a great day said that if he were to walk into any classroom and ask a student what they were learning and why, the student should be able to answer. He did not care if the target was posted or written (although I do require that the learning targets be written in my students’ notes each day), he simply cared if students understood what was being taught that day, and why it was important to learn it. Reflecting on my own learning experiences, there were plenty of times I sat through a class period, or entire day, or week of school and had no idea what I was supposed to gather from that learning experience. For this reason, I have always focused on intentional shared learning targets. A new area for me to reflect and grow is sharing success criteria with my students as well. I need to make sure I am intentional and explicit in making sure my students understand not just what we are learning and why, but what success looks like once they have mastered that particular concept.

Next the course moved into an examination of how to determine what students know and have learned. We focused on many different types of questioning, and a variety of instructional strategies and tools that can be beneficial when trying to determine what students know at a given point during instruction. One easy change for me to implement this year is to change my questioning to “why” questions. For instance, instead of asking students, “Is this equation a quadratic?” I can change my question to, “Why is this equation a quadratic?” This will allow the learners to describe their understanding of a topic better and allow me to understand the reasoning behind the response more completely. During this portion of the course, we created the formative assessment portion of our Learning Progression, which really allowed me to consider how to intentionally ask questions that will give me the most amount of insight into students’ understanding instead of just their ability to memorize what the right answer should be.

Feedback was the next topic of student, and what I chose to use as a topic for my Assessment Into Action research paper. Feedback is something that I struggle with in a secondary setting. I struggle with what all teachers say they struggle with in this area: 150+ students each day, 54 minutes with each group of students, huge amount of papers to look at and grade, etc. It becomes an issue of time. With the importance of feedback really made clear to me through this course, and a few others in the program previously, I have made it a goal of mine to continue to focus on this as an area of improvement. Some ideas I am going to try next year include: remembering that verbal feedback is as valuable as written feedback, creating and using more rubrics to allow for students to gather feedback, focusing on a certain group of students each day to provide feedback to, focusing on a particular topic or concept each time to provide feedback regarding, providing recorded audio feedback, and using more 1:1 conferencing where the student records the feedback during the conference.

Lastly, we looked at peer and self-assessment. This is an area where I also acknowledge that I have room to grow as an educator. The course gave me many suggestions for ways to implement this type of assessment and reflection that do not feel like they will take away from important instructional time without engaging students. I am looking forward to trying the “traffic lights” approach for my students to allow students to consider who needs additional instructional time, and for my students to work together to create the best possible answer to a question by discussing individual responses with the table group to assess which peer has the best answer for each portion of the question. I am also looking for opportunities to incorporate ways to allow my students to help me create rubrics for assignments or projects and then use them to evaluate their understanding.

Finally, I am going to try to use my summative assessments as formative learning tools for my students. I plan on giving my students a copy of the summative assessment at the beginning of each unit and a rubric that explains the scoring guide. I am going to teach my students how to use this to assess their own learning throughout the unit, and then when I give the summative assessment at the end of the unit, it will be very similar, just with different numbers, and perhaps a slightly different order. There is no reason for an assessment to be a punishment. I look forward to seeing how my students learn and grow next year with these changes in effect, and hopefully will be able to use their success to help my colleagues understand the validity of formative assessment as something to learn from rather than a punishment for not studying hard enough.


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