Standardize This

Bubble Test?

Education reform continues to make headlines as US student achievement is compared to the achievement of other countries.  An overall increasing focus on standardized assessments has been at the forefront of many of these reform discussions.  Teachers and school districts often get caught in the middle of these types of discussions   From what I’ve observed, what seems to agitate some educators is the notion that one high-stakes standardized assessment can validate/invalidate the success of a school year.  Even though educators have been critical of this notion, federal, state, and local school boards continue to look at standardized assessments as the go-to for quality control/accountability purposes.  I truly feel as though these boards have good intentions, but I would like to encourage them to look at alternative ways to measure school achievement.

I don’t know a teacher that doesn’t believe in accountability.  Teachers inherently feel a sense of accountability for their students.  The way that accountability is being measured and the consequences that occur if growth isn’t met is what’s causing concern.  Critics emphasis that only focusing on standardized test scores encourage teaching to the test, massive amounts of test prep and unfortunately cheating.  I’m not downgrading the value of standardized assessments as I believe a limited amount are beneficial in providing valuable feedback that can inform instructional decisions.  Appropriately utilizing student assessment results may prove beneficial for a teacher or school, but using that data outside of its context to manipulate accusations can cause problems.

Proactive Steps …

By now most educators have realized that student achievement data is starting to make up an increasing portion (20% + ) of one’s evaluation.  In some cases one VAM assessment could be used to measure student growth and impact employment decisions.  Instead of using one standardized assessment to determining teacher effectiveness, administrators should enable teachers to show student learning through a variety of means. This is a difficult task to tackle as administrators are also being assessed on standardized assessment results.  While one assessment shows a singular brush stroke of learning, the picture becomes much clearer when multiple data points are used.  Even NWEA, the makers of the MAP assessment encourage school leaders to use multiple data points (not just MAP) to measure student growth.  Regardless, some districts are already using singular assessments for evaluation/employment purposes.  I’m advocating that principal’s take a closer look at multiple student achievement data points instead of relying on one growth indicator.

How …

Formative assessments, student projects, presentations, and pbl activities can show learning at varying levels.  This collection of student data can not only help inform instructional decisions, but show evidence of student learning.  Digital portfolios are making a splash in education and I’m hoping that more districts start using them in conjunction with standardized assessments to provide evidence of student learning.  Showcasing student learning through a variety of formative assessment tools gives more meaning to the learning that’s happening. If communicated appropriately, state and local schoolboards will take notice and become more interested in multiple data points to determine effectivenessss, rather than a singular one.

photo credit: CliffMuller via photopin cc

How Do You Measure School Achievement?

School Achievement


Student achievement is often at the forefront of the minds of school leaders. Achievement, in the form of student data, inundates schools, teachers, and school improvement plans.   Moreover, school improvement plans seem to hiccup when state assessment results are released.  This data is generally looked at in the form of numerical values related to student achievement on state standardized assessments.  If utilized correctly, analyzing student data may be beneficial for a school/district.  Reviewing strengths and concerns may help allocate resources to areas of need.  Regardless of the benefits, some school leaders and teachers often focus on the need to raise test scores in order to receive a positive rating from the state or district.  That pressure can lead to anxiety and fear as student data is now being tied to teacher/principal evaluations.

I believe school achievement can be viewed through a variety of lenses.  Even though the nation doesn’t necessarily measure the traits below,  I feel that they are still valued.

Character

How well does your school emphasize character?  Some schools use programs, such as Character Counts, while others have deployed their own character curriculum. Discussing anti-bullying strategies and positive ways to cope with problems can be contained within this category.  Emphasizing positive character traits can contribute to becoming more responsible in and outside of the classroom.

Reflective Thinking

Are students allowed time to reflect on their own learning?  Students that are given opportunities to review their achievement/behavior/study skills may set appropriate goals to better themselves.  This skill will be used throughout their life. Is goal-setting important in your school?  Can students analyze their own achievement and create appropriate goals?  Setting and achieving goals often brings confidence and focus.   Goal-setting can be emphasized at any grade level.

Creativity

Does your school allow time for students to be creative?  Does your school offer opportunities for students to be curious?  Are student assignments geared to offer one solution or multiple solutions?  I’ve found that curiosity often leads to creative thinking. Creative thinking is difficult to measure, but the value is immense.

Requesting Feedback

Allowing feedback gives opportunities for stakeholders to offer input regarding changes that may benefit the organization.  How the feedback is utilized may possibly advance a classroom/school/district’s vision.  Using the feedback to better an organization shows value.  Data in the form of feedback can be just as valuable as standardized assessment data.

Collaboration

Does your school encourage collaboration?  Collaboration between staff, or collaboration between students?  I would think it might be both.  Is the classroom environment conducive to collaboration?  Working together also encourages students to practice positive character traits.


I understand that not all of the skills above are measurable   Understanding that school achievement goes beyond standardized assessment results is a step in the right direction.

photo credit: sabeth718 via photopin cc

Student Data and Balance

Data and Balance
Data and Balance

Teachers in K-12 often use student data on a regular basis.  Student achievement data can be used to qualify students for reading, gifted, remedial, enrichment, acceleration, differentiation, and a variety of other services.  Recently, standardized testing data has been the forefront of educational trends and in the news.  Implementing a  balanced approach when looking at student data can keep stakeholders (educators and administrators) grounded in an understanding that the numbers behind the tests may give light to areas of strengths/needs.

Data isn’t evil

Assessing a student’s understanding of a specific concept isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  In fact, over the past few years I’ve grown to appreciate and utilize student achievement data more and more.  Whether the data is from a standardized test or not, the data can be helpful if used correctly. Moving data beyond just a number can benefit teachers and students.  Data can help teachers ask better questions and provide opportunities to reflect on how students learn best. Involving students in analyzing their own data can encourage student goal setting and ownership.

Having conversations with students about their data is powerful.

Have the conversation

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I’m definitely not an advocate for having additional standardized tests, although some seem more useful than others.  I find that assessments that give detailed feedback (e.g. areas that need strengthening, %ile compared to the norm, strength areas, next instructional steps, etc.) are more frequently used by teachers, compared to assessments the give little feedback.  Obviously, there isn’t a perfect test available for school purchase.  The assessments that a school uses should give detailed feedback that can be immediately used.

Do you hear a lot of negative talk in regard to standardized assessments?  Having a conversation about an assessment’s effectiveness in informing instruction may be needed. Instead of trash talking the assessments in general, educators and administrators should find assessments that work for them.  PLC teams should emphasize the importance of using formative assessments regularly.  I’ve found that teacher created formative assessments are some of the best ways to find areas that need strengthening and to identify differentiation opportunities.  The purpose of giving the assessments should be communicated to all stakeholders.  When teachers understand why the tests are given, (not just for VAM reasons), they may start to value the benefits of assessing students using a variety of tools (such as Common Core performance assessments).

Balance is needed

With teaching and in life, balance is needed.  Teaching is a profession that can be stressfull.  It has many teachers thinking right now, how many days till Spring Break??   Balancing assessments with instruction takes skill and patience.  Standardized tests are often at the forefront of school administrator’s minds.  One test shouldn’t be used to determine if success, or enough growth has been made to call that school year/class/school successful. Take a breath and look at assessments from a macro lens. A combination of formative, informal, formal, review checkpoints, activators, performance  (insert your assessment here), and even standardized assessments have their place in a school and can be beneficial to a certain extent.  The value of the data often depends on how it’s utilized.

Picture Credit: DigitalArt


“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” Isaac Asimov

Web-Based Formative Math Assessments

I’ll admit it, I’m becoming more of a formative assessment advocate this year. I believe that formative assessments have a place in the elementary math classroom. As a technology enthusiast, I’m always searching for ways to improve my instruction through the use of technology.  For the past year I’ve had the opportunity to use Socrative and Scootpad apps (both free) with my math class.  Both of these apps are web-based and offer the ability to provide immediate feedback to the student. I’ve added a few snippets of information about these apps below.

Socrative

Socrative is a web-based program that is similar to a wireless clicker system, but with a keyboard.  Teachers can create multiple choice, true/false, and short answer quizes with this app.  The quizes are quick and easy to create – I actually created a 10 multiple choice question quiz on an iPad.  Teacher have the option for students to complete the quizes at their own pace or at an assigned pace as a class.  Similar to Google Docs, student information is updated and you can actually show the data on an LCD screen live.  Once short answers are submitted students also have the option to vote for the answer they feel is best.  This option definitely promotes student engagement.  Reports on student progress can be sent to you via email and they are in Excel format for easy sorting.


Scootpad

Scootpad offers teachers a way to assess students on Common Core Math Standards (Grades 1-5).  Teachers are able to individualize assessments based on the needs of their students.  Mastery (as a %) can be determined by the teacher and students have opportunities to earn badges and other awards.   The interface takes a while to get used to, but overall this app allows teachers a quick opportunity to assess students’ understanding. Student data is aggregated and can be sorted easily. Scootpad will be expanding to middle school math Common Core Standards in the near future.


What formative assessments do you use?

Overemphasizing Standardized Test Data and Possible Solutions

Standardized Tests and Formative Assessments
Assessment Data

Assessment Data …. If you’re within listening distance of a classroom you’ve probably heard the words.  The words can hold positive as well as negative connotations. Two different types of data are often used in the classroom – summative and formative.  I think this picture helps show the difference between the two.  If used appropriately, formative assessment data (exit card, common assessment, observation, journal, data binder, etc.) can be used to improve student learning.  Many teachers that I’ve met through Twitter utilize formative or local assessments to maximize student learning. I believe that it’s possible to use student achievement data to identify specific strengths/concerns as well as assist teachers in developing interventions (remediation/enrichment) for students.

At times the word is also associated with standardized test scores and accountability. Those words combined might make a few teachers cringe and organizers protest. A school district’s standardized test scores may make news headlines and influence school improvement plans.  The emphasis on standardized testing has caused teachers to allocate more time for test prep.  Some districts begin the test prep process in January, or before, when the test actually occurs in March. That test prep time takes away time from many non-test related subject areas.

I’ve been told that the Common Core will change the standardized testing landscape. I can’t predict the future, but I believe standardized test scores will continue to dominate local and national headlines. It’s been well documented that there’s an overemphasis on standardized test scores in public schools in America.  The emphasis on test scores impacts teacher instruction and will soon influence teacher evaluations.  Is this a good thing?

I’m not advocating for or against standardized assessments, but I believe formative assessments should drive academic differentiation decisions in the classroom. Even though the overemphasis on standardized test scores seems to be the norm, I’m optimistic. Why?  Many influential education leaders are starting to notice the impact of standardized testing on students, teachers, communities, and administrators.  The leaders below are speaking out on the impacts of standardized testing.  Feel free to follow the courageous people below.

  • Joshua Star @mcpssuper is the superintendent of MCPS, a large, diverse, and high performing district in Maryland. He has concerns over the validity of standardized tests and has asked for a moratorium on standardized testing.
  • Diane Ravitch @dianeravitch, is Research Professor of Education at New York University, wrote a blog post about the inequalities of standardized testing here.
  • Larry Ferlazzo @larryferlazzo, an ESL teacher in California, wrote a blog post comparing the difference between being data-informed and data-driven.

Student Data – Beyond the Scores

Image by:  Adamr


At times, I think that the term “data” produces negative feelings from some educators.  Why?  Well … sometimes  the term is negatively associated with teacher accountability.  It’s also one of those buzz words that seems overused at times.   As an educator, information/data can be an important tool in my tool belt as I utilize it to inform and individualize instruction.  I’m surprised to find that the general public seems to view student data as just scores from standardized tests.  I don’t think that data can be limited to standardized assessment results.


Below,  I’m going to create a data collection list for educators.  I’m not going to include yearly state assessment data, such as MSA in my list.  I’ve found that standardized tests that are given once a year give little to no direction in informing instruction.  I remember a colleague once categorizing state assessments as autopsy reports.   They may be helpful in analyzing school data for school improvement goals, but for the individual teacher, they seem less than stellar.


Data Collection Tools –>

Survey Results – Collecting survey data can be one way to get to know your students on a personal level.  Developing rapport with students is key in helping them reach their potential.

Technology – Students can use iPads or computer activities to work on skills that need strengthening.  In the past I’ve used SplashMath to individualize instruction for specific students. For example, a student might receive only problems associated with place value for a certain time period.  I will get a report on a weekly basis on which problems were missed or correct.  This data can be emailed and utilized to inform further instruction. This feedback can immediately be put to good use.

Guided Groups – Guided math/reading groups can be a great way to collect data on individual students.  I’ve seen teachers travel around the room with a clipboard and collect student data in that manner.

Projects – Student projects can be utilized to collect student data.  Student work samples can also be used to develop a portfolio for each student.  Using a camera, educators can also take digital pictures to review and use during parent teacher conferences.

Journaling – Students write in journals about their skills and overall performance in the classroom.  I believe journals can be used in all classes.  I’ve had success utilizing journals in math classes.  When appropriate questions are asked, teachers can glean data regarding feelings about particular concepts that need revisiting.

Collaborative Work – Students often show dynamic strengths when working with a partner or group.  This type of information can be documented by the educator.  A self-reflection piece may also be helpful.

Unit Assessments – Unit assessments are not only meant to be graded and recorded.  Unit assessments can also be analyzed by students.  Students can check what questions were missed and set goals for their learning.

Exit Cards – Exit cards are generally given at the end of a lesson.  These cards are quick and informative.  Teachers can collect the exit cards and even have the students analyze the results.  Students can determine strengths/concerns and document them in a journal.

Student Data Binders – Students can place homework, tests, and projects in an individual data binder.  This binder should be a transparent way for teachers, parents, and students to review data to view strengths/concerns.

Standardized Assessment Data – The type of data that I’m talking about for this category relates to assessments that are given more than once per year.  An example could be the NWEA MAP assessment.  This assessment data can be used to find strengths/concerns and individualize instruction for students.


Measuring Student Growth

Mastery or Growth (or both!)

In my experience as an educator,  I have found that teachers look at student data subjectively – through the eyes of the beholder.   Now, this isn’t necessarily the absolute truth, but teaching is a subjective profession (as there always seems to be conflicting opinions on what determines effective education.  Just turn on the news to find conflicting opinions or follow Diane Ravitch on Twitter for just a taste of  the educational unrest that occurs daily.

Mastery connected to student growth

Some teachers look at mastery of a concept or objective as a student receiving 90% or more correct on an assessment or unit.  It varies,  some would say 85% +, but it all depends on the teacher and what the district considers mastery.  But … what if instead of looking at mastery as a quantitative %ile measure, let’s look at individual student academic growth as a valuable measure.  You may say that that’s fine in theory, but how is growth measured and isn’t that subjective??  Well, grading in general is subjective – depending on the teacher’s grading methods.  How do educators and administrators measure individual student growth?

Just like measuring your height with a ruler, educators and administrators should have an accurate tool to measure student learning. Administrators and teachers need to be able to leverage student achievement data to improve learning.  Larry Cuban’s post addresses this issue in this insightful post.  To learn is to grow, at least in the sense of bridging and gaining an understanding of new concepts.  When students master a concept, I would assume that they are growing, at least in an academic  sense.  I’ve been on somewhat of a quest to understand how to effectively measure  student growth in order to become  a better educator.  Using NWEA’s MAP assessment gives a minimum picture of growth, but that is one measure.  Even NWEA has made a general statement that teacher employment decisions  should not be tied with student growth results from the MAP.

Another test that some educators might bring to light are  state standardized tests.  I don’t feel like these tests actually measure growth.   You can look at how a student performed in fourth grade and then fifth grade, but that’s not necessarily comparing growth.  These types of tests are more of report that answers the following question – Did the student meet the bare minimum standard for the state?  Even Education Secretary Arnie Duncan, has voiced his concerns, saying “The current bubble tests do little to assess critical thinking or anything beyond the most basic skills. His stance is refreshing, but once again, this is not a  solution-oriented stance; more so just accepting that there’s a problem.  Also, by the time the state tests come back, it’s a new school year and new agenda items are on the plates of administrators.

When students grow, what types of tools are available to measure how much they grow and how are those growth results compared to the national, state, or even school average?I believe the new Common Core may help answer this questions as objectives become more aligned, but not fully.  Also, a PLC or PLN may assist in helping solve this question.  Just a thought for today …

Disclaimer (unfortunate but necessary) :  The thoughts and opinions expressed in these pages are my own, and not necessarily the opinions of my employers.