Assessments and Growth Mindset

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School has been in session for over month and many of my classes had a unit assessment last week.  The district adopted math program has 10-12 unit checkpoints (depending on the grade level) for the school year and each assessment covers specified math strands.  These assessments are designed to assess understanding and include an open response that emphasizes students’ conceptual understanding and math communication skills.  The entire unit assessment takes about 50+ minutes to complete.

I usually try to administer and grade all the tests on the same day.  This doesn’t always happen.  Before passing the tests back to the students the class generally has a discussion about certain problems that were missed more than others.

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What’s up with problem eight ?

We also have celebrations as a class.  During the class discussion we don’t blame, but reflect on what the numbers might mean.  This idea has taken time to cement and required a bit of modeling.  Based on the results I might even teach a brief mini lesson to help address and reduce misconceptions.  This is also an opportunity for students to analyze their own test and look for correlations.  Afterwards, students are given a sheet to reflect on their own analysis. Students are asked to review their assessment and give feedback on their own performance.

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Click for file

After the students fill out the above sheet they visit the teacher for a brief conference.  These last a quick 2-3 minutes and include a time to check-in with the student. We have a conversation about the student’s reflection and look for opportunities to improve in the future.  This is also a time to set some possible goals.  The sheet is glued into the student’s math journal and can be a document that the student will look back on as the year progresses.

I feel like the process of analyzing, reflecting and setting goals is important.  I believe it reinforces a growth mindset mentality, but it also has me wondering about the role of different assessments in the learning process.  I’d say about 95% of what is used at the elementary level is formative.  I could see how that changes as students progress through middle and high school.  Feedback and the possibility to make positive strides towards improvement can often be utilized with most assessments, regardless if you label it formative or summative.  If a school truly embraces a growth mindset model, what role do summative assessments play? I believe that summative assessments have a role.  I’m just thinking that they may be perceived a bit differently if a school emphasizes a growth mindset model.


image credit: Woodley Wonderworks 

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

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?

Exit Cards and Formative Assessments

Image by:  Nattavut


This particular post stems from the above tweet.

Most educators understand that formative assessments can be a valuable tool in teaching and learning.  I’ve found that formative assessments play a pivotal role in my instruction as an educator.  Specifically, I’ve found that exit cards can be a powerful tool in analyzing student learning.  If you’re unfamiliar with the idea of using exit cards as a formative assessment tool, click here.  Below, I’ll give you a brief overview on why and how I use exit cards in the classroom setting.

Why?

It’s not required, but I feel as though exit cards  give me an opportunity to quickly assess students’ understanding of the objectives taught for a particular lesson.

Procedure

In my experience exit cards work well near the end of a lesson.   During that time, the students fill out a small half sheet of paper that includes 1-3 questions related to the objectives taught during a specific lesson.

The questions may be multiple choice, but they generally include some type of written response that demonstrates an understanding of the objectives.

I don’t grade the exit cards (A or B …) instead I put a check on exit cards that show understanding and a subtraction sign that reminds the student and teacher that extra support may be needed.  The exit cards are placed in each student’s portfolio and can be utilized during parent/teacher conferences.  Periodically, I may conference with a student to review their exit cards and set goals based on the conversation.

Students are also given an opportunity to review the exit card slips before an assessment and may even journal about their academic growth in my class.

How often?

I may give exit cards once or twice per week or more frequently as needed.

Next steps?

The exit cards can be utilized to engage students in self-reflection activities (journaling or individual student conferences).  The exit cards can also be reviewed in class to give examples of correct answers.  I’m also planning on using exit cards beyond math and incorporate them into other content areas.

Here is one resource that may be beneficial in communicating what makes a “good” exit card with question and response examples.  I was also thinking that exit cards could be created and shared with a team of teachers and discussed during grade level meetings.

Grades for Homework?

Grades

A little background … I’ve always been an elementary teacher that grades just about everything.  I’ve thought that every assignment should contribute to an overall grade.  When I say grade, I mean a point value, such as 8/9 points.  Mainly, I did this because it worked with my grading system.  Parents and students alike understood my grading policy.  My policy allowed little subjectivity, which in my case provided less of an opportunity for arguments over grades.  Quick disclaimer:  I never allowed graded homework to count for more than 25% of the entire grade.  I thought that if I didn’t grade the homework, what incentive is there for the kids to complete the homework?  I gave the kids the “talk” about how homework is practice and will help in the long term, but always attached some type of grade to the homework.  My view on grading has changed over time.  A few years ago I decided to tweaked my system.

For one of my math classes, I decided to not give an official grade for homework assignments.  Instead, I decided to give a check or minus at the top of the page.  A check meaning that the student understands the concept (generally getting 80% correct) – here’s where the subjectivity lies.  A minus would mean that the student received less than 80% correct.  I still graded formative and summative assessments, but decided not to officially grade the homework (and have it count for their grade) for this particular class.

I was waiting for community members to start contact me about how they were confused and didn’t understand my grading … etc.  So what happened, did my inbox fill up like a helium balloon?  Actually…

No, it didn’t.  I didn’t get one email or phone call asking me to clarify the grading of the homework.  In fact, students became much more aware of how they were doing in class based on the check / minus system.  Students who received a minus actually took the initiative to redo the problems without asking.  Also, I was finding myself grading less homework, which allowed me time to focus on creating engaging lessons that promote student learning.  I also expected a drop in achievement and focus – neither happened.  I’m so glad that I took a leap and decided to grade using this new method.

Next year, I’m going to expand the system to the other grade levels that I teach.

This post was inspired from :

http://mctownsley.blogspot.com

http://russgoerend.com/

photo credit: Bunches and Bits {Karina} via photopin cc

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.