By Josh Ruland, Indian Prairie School District 204
The purpose of assessments is to provide information to both students and teachers. From a teacher’s perspective assessment data should provide critical information about the following questions:
- Did my students learn what I taught them?
- Where are they on the continuum of learning?
- What should I do next?
And lets face it, an assessment that provides information that no one uses is a waste of time. After over a year of focused work creating district wide curriculum, the next step in our work was clear: to create assessments that provided meaningful information about student learning-district wide, and to build a process which ensured teachers used the data to inform instruction. The big question then became how?
This question guided our work during our recent revision of K-8 English Language Arts curriculum, as we took a deep dive into assessment with our curriculum developers. As part of this process we took the time to discuss in-depth the purposes of assessments, we then looked closely at different methods of assessment, and then matched assessment methods with learning targets. Once that work was done, our team then began to create common performance tasks to better assess student’s extended thinking at the end of a unit. We quickly came to the consensus that these assessments would be formative in nature and would help teachers reflect and plan student instruction throughout the year to better help students meet the end of year outcomes.
Once the performance tasks had been created and identified as formative–no grade would be entered into the gradebook–we needed a way to collect information about student performance and present that back to teachers as useful information to discuss the impact of instruction through their PLC team meetings.
Capturing Teacher Reflections
The strength of a large district is the wealth of information we can compile about effective instruction and learning activities towards common student goals. The drawback of a large district, however, is the inability to communicate with colleagues across the district about intimate details of teaching. As a district we now had common curriculum and common performance task, but we needed a method to compile the assessment information and teacher reflections to support the dialogue teachers would have about the teaching of the unit.
Our simple solution was to create a Google Form to ask teachers from our 21 elementary and 7 middle schools to reflect on their student’s performance after each of these common tasks. It required a simple design that began with identifying the building, grade level, and unit of the assessment. The main question asked teachers to identify the proficiency level of the majority of their students. The remaining questions were then designed to provide the groundwork for PLC conversations:
- What trends of students’ strengths are observable from this performance task?
- What trends of students’ weaknesses are observable from this performance task?
- Which instructional practices proved to be most effective?
- What patterns can we identify from the results?
- What improvements might be considered by the ELA Review Team for this assessment?
- How will we support students who didn’t master the outcomes?
- How will we extend learning for students who have mastered the outcomes?
The Power of Discussion
The focus of this process was to use the formative assessment as a tool to gather information, the Google form to compile that information, and the PLC teams to act on that information by reflecting on the previous unit, but also informing the instruction for the upcoming unit. The power was not in the collection of information. The power came from the discussions teacher were having with the information. Teachers received access to the results. They could see their responses and their fellow teachers not only in the same team and building, but also in the entire district. They could sort by building, grade level, course, and unit. Teachers were having discussions about the teaching of that unit and about the teaching of the upcoming unit. Curriculum developers were able to reflect on the design of the unit and suggest changes to the progressions, outcomes, and instruction.
From this process we realized that formative assessments have the potential to greatly impact teaching and learning if the information gained from it is used to drive instruction— in our work we chose to take that seriously and created a way to get that information into the hands of those who can use it to do the most good–teachers.