Comprehensive summative assessment. End of year testing. High stakes testing. Annual state testing. ITBS. ISAT. ACT. SAT. PSAE. PARCC. The combination of alphabet soup names and education policy jargon all point to the same thing: it is that time of year when I put several things on hold so that my students can sit through hours of assessments meant to show, theoretically, how well I am teaching and how well they are learning.
Of course, the reality is that one test could not possibly demonstrate that. One test is not enough to tell anyone anything meaningful about a single individual or even a single class. However, that one test can give a picture of trends over time when looking at large data pools, such as every 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade student in over a dozen states.
All that being said, I actually find annual assessment of students valuable for what it does, but I definitely agree with many researchers that there are better ways to do it. This post, however, is not about the value or merits of annual high-stakes testing. At present, it is a part of my job as a fourth grade teacher and it is something I will do my best to help my students do their best by teaching them all I can to help them be successful.
Once we get in the testing environment, though, I am not allowed to do much more than say, “Just do your best!” That doesn’t mean that they don’t try getting help. Which is why the following scenarios have taken place over the past couple of days:
Teacher (in classroom): Remember, you will have 60 minutes to complete the unit, so take your time, check your work, and do your best! Once we go into the computer lab, I’ll have a script to read and then you will get started.
*class goes into computer lab*
Teacher (before test starts): You will have 60 minutes. I will tell you when you have 10 minutes remaining. You may begin.
*ten minutes later*
Student: I don’t know how to do this.
Teacher: I can’t help you; just do your best!
Student: But I need help!
Teacher: I can’t help you; just do your best!
Student: But I really don’t know what to do!
Teacher: I can’t help you; just do your best!
*five seconds later*
Student: I need help!
Teacher: Do not hit “Exit Test” until I tell you to do so.
*three seconds later*
Student: It won’t let me write my answer here!
Teacher: Read the directions again.
Student: Oh. I didn’t do that.
What adventures await us tomorrow? Only time will tell!
Wow. I know I have decreased my blogging frequency this year, but I just realised that it has been over two weeks since I last updated and that is pretty bad, even for me.
It has been a really busy two weeks. In addition to everything we have had going on in my classroom, I am in the final weeks of my master’s degree program (graduation is on May 14!) and I have been spending a lot of time after school working on collecting artifacts from my internship, writing reflections, and doing a massive online training module that is required for my principal’s endorsement. (Speaking of which, I am 99% certain I’ve mentioned this at least once in the past two years, but my master’s degree is going to be in educational administration and I will be receiving my principal’s endorsement so that I can one day move from the self-contained classroom to the principal’s office. I am not sure when that is actually going to happen, though.)
So, what has been keeping us so busy over the past two weeks? Here are a few highlights: (more…)
As the instructional technology specialist in my building, I have taken it upon myself to try out a lot of different online learning tools over the past few years. One of the tools that I have used most frequently has been Front Row. (And no, I have not told them I am writing this post nor have I asked them for any kind of compensation for it.) I have written about Front Row a handful of times in the past, discussing some of the different features that are available.
One feature that was not available on the free teacher edition has been the assessment tool. This allows teachers to select specific standards or all of the standards and administer an online test of student knowledge. Due to a special promotion, I was able to gain access to this special feature between now and the end of the school year, so I decided to try it out. Because we are approaching the end of the third quarter, I wanted to get a wide-angle view of where my students are at in their progress toward our end of the year math goals, so I created an assessment that covered every single math standard.
I knew that the assessment was designed so that the students would be given one problem per standard, which meant that a lot of them would be scored on a pass/fail. I also knew that there were many standards I have not explicitly taught in my classroom yet, but I wanted to see what my students have picked up since they have been working on all five of the foundational domains in math all year long.
What I found was that many of them did not perform very well. In fact, the class average was 46%.
But this was also just one test. Just one assessment. Just one quick snapshot of what they were doing at that time. One test does not tell the whole story. It never has and it never will.
When I looked at the results, some of them were incorrect because the students did not mark every correct answer on problems that had more one. Sometimes it was a simple computational error. (I took the assessment myself and scored a 95% because I misread a few of the problems and had at least one computational error). Do such poor results mean that my students have not been learning? Do the results indicate that I have been failing to do my job as a teacher? Do they mean that my school is underperforming? To all three of these questions, I respond with a resounding no, of course not!
What it means is that this was just one test taken the day after an unexpected day off that came as the result of a severe snowstorm that itself had come on the heels of a weekend in February during which the temperature reached close to 70° F! It also means that I now have a better sense of where I need to focus my energies over the next several weeks.
I use a lot of different tools to assess my students’ knowledge of our fourth grade math standards. I appreciate being able to try out this tool that Front Row has available and am looking forward to using it in different ways in the coming weeks and months. (For example, I am going to be creating new math groups soon and I will be able to have differentiated assessments for each group to monitor their progress.) I just hope that my students remember that, when it comes to testing, it is just one test. One test never tells the whole story.
What online assessment tools have you found to be useful?
Teachers do a lot of assessing. Some will argue that we do too much assessing, while others still argue that we don’t do enough. I find myself, as usual, somewhere in the middle. I think that we do too much assessing on criteria that aren’t particularly useful and not enough that will meaningfully impact our instructional decisions. I have been trying to change this in my own classroom and work my schedule in such a way that I can quickly grab snapshots of what my students can do (assessing them) without it taking away from instructional time. This kind of formative assessment is useful when done well and just a waste of time when done poorly.
I’d like to think that I conduct formative assessments well more times than not.
One of the types of formative assessment I have been trying to use more consistently is the oral reading record, also known as the running record or the reading record. The process is fairly straightforward: students are given a reading passage that is at their current instructional level and they are directed to read it aloud. As they read, the teacher makes notes of errors, self-corrections, and repetitions while also timing how long it takes to read. The goal in fourth grade is for students to read 120 or more words per minute with 98% or better accuracy. After the student is done reading, the teacher may ask a few comprehension questions to determine how well the student understood the text. This information is then recorded and tracked over time. The goal is to see students increasing their oral reading fluency, accuracy, and comprehension while also reading more complex texts.
The challenge is that all of this takes time. Teachers can’t assess multiple students at once, so that they have to be able to set aside the time to let each student read individually. Students who are not reading with the teacher need to be engaged in tasks that are meaningful (positively impact their learning) and worthwhile (valuable to them as learners).
I tried something new today that I felt worked pretty well. All week, students have been reading a short text in their guided reading groups. After discussing plot elements such as characters, setting, genre, and the key events of the story. Today I had each student read a brief passage from the text to me. I meet with each of my five reading groups for 15 minutes a day. Each group has between four and seven students. Because the passages were only about 100 words in length, I was able to have all of my students read aloud to me when they came to me during their group’s assigned times. When not reading aloud, the students worked on a vocabulary sheet that connected to the text. After everyone in the group had read, we were able to go over the worksheet together. The students then took the worksheets with them and added the vocabulary words to their working document they are making with Google Slides that helps them keep track of new vocabulary words.
The key to these assessments, however, and what will make them formative, or, as my superintendent and my district director of curriculum, instruction, and assessment like to call them, informative, is that I will be sharing the results with my students on Monday when I meet with their groups again and introduce new texts. Students need to know how they did, what the goals are, and what they need to do better. Otherwise, we are just assessing to assess, and that is neither worthwhile nor meaningful.
How have you made the assessment process, whether formal or informal, more meaningful for you and those you assess, whether they are students, employees, employers, or other?