Performance assessments prepare students for their futures
PARKER – If you want to see balanced assessment at work, Shannon Shelton’s eighth-grade U.S. History class at Cimarron Middle School is usually a great example. Her students often show their authentic learning experiences, like organizing a school-wide celebration of veterans. This week, however, you won’t see a lot.
During much of the spring, the innovative classroom is interrupted by the standardized tests that her kids are required to take, including the Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS), Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) and Transitional Colorado Assessment Program (TCAP).
“Two weeks ago we had CMAS, then this week we’ve got two days of MAPS testing and then you take a week out in March for TCAP,” explained Shelton.
Even when the students are not actually taking a test, the impact on the building of 1,500 students is crippling.
While students have helped to define ways that technology can help them learn best—including the integration of personally owned devices and Twitter, those efforts are put on hold because the building’s bandwidth and computers are tied up with tests.
“In order to filter them all through for fall and spring MAPS testing, as well as CMAS, our computer labs are basically out of commission for two months in the fall and almost all of April and May,” Shelton said. “The impact stretches far beyond those who are testing. All of our technology teachers, for example, are displaced to classrooms and asked to use a mobile lab with only 15 computers. The entire class is about technology, yet they don’t have access to the technology, because we have students testing.”
“I have to wait until the last week of school before I have [full] access to computers and technology,” Shelton added. “One of the many checkpoints for teachers in CITE (DCSD’s teacher evaluation tool) was utilizing technology for student development. [The testing] makes it very challenging.”
Shelton, however, hasn’t let the constraints hold her students back. She has integrated a number of performance assessments in her balanced assessment system, helping her to ‘paint a whole picture of a student,” rather than relying on a data point provided by a once-a-year test.
“I don’t like to be defined as a number, and neither do my students,” Shelton said.
She prefers performance tasks, because they provide students with scenarios that mimic what they will face one day in the real world. If students, for example, are asked to create a play to demonstrate their learning, some students can focus on script writing, while others can collaborate on set design. It allows them to best showcase their understanding through their own interests and strengths.
“The play is a perfect example, where they get cast where they best fit with what they can bring to the table. That is real world. You get jobs based on your interests and your strengths,” Shelton said.
Another great example of this type of assessment is Cimarron Middle School's Veterans Day Celebration. Students coordinate the entire event from performances to greeting veterans to writing thank yous, providing various opportunities to showcase the skills they've mastered.
READ MORE: DCSD Celebrates Veterans Day
Similarly, marketing students at Mountain Vista High School are tasked with several projects, including organizing Taste of Mountain Vista, a bi-annual fair of local restaurants.
Another assignment is creating their own cookie company and selling their creations to fellow students.
“We give them the opportunity to sit down and collaborate in a group of four,” explained marketing Sheri Bryant. “What do we think the ultimate chocolate cookie should taste like? What should it look like? What would the packaging be that would appeal to our customer to buy it? What do we want the cookie booth to look like?”
The students were in charge, deciding everything from what kind of cookie to sell to how to decorate their booth.
“Some kids actually brought in a toaster oven and warmed it up, because they felt kids would want a warm cookie,” Bryant said.
The best part, according to Bryant, is that students guide both the learning and the assessments.
“The kids really get to take the lead in deciding, ‘what does this look like?’” Bryant explained. “If their cookie turned out to be an average cookie, it was because of the rubric standard the students chose, not something that the teacher did.”
In Ponderosa High School’s Automotive and Advanced Vehicle programs, teacher Craig Caparo’s goal is to ensure his students have the technical know how to go into the industry.
In addition to classroom learning, which provides the teens with the understanding they need about the mechanical processes and mathematics that make everything work, Caparo provides assessments that test their ability to think through the types of issues they’ll see in the auto shop after they graduate.
“It’s the same thing they are going to run into in daily operations on the job,” explained Caparo. “Every time you walk into the job, as a high-level technician, every day is tough. You are always going to be faced with new problems, different scenarios of things that you have not seen before.”
“Ultimately, my end goal is to give the students the technical ability to go into the industry, but also to give them an understanding of how all of these practices can be implemented in other industries or scenarios. If they don’t decide to go into that industry, they still have something that they can take somewhere else,” Capraro added.
Capraro, Shelton and Bryant are part of a group of teachers that is working with DCSD’s Assessment System Performance department to learn about and then build better performance assessments.
All three say that connecting with the community and industry partners makes the assessments authentic, because the students can see how their learning will apply to life after school. Plus, it helps the teachers to ensure that the learning is providing students with the skills they’ll need to compete on the global stage for the career of their choice.
“When you talk to industry leaders, they are saying it isn’t the knowledge that the kids don’t have. It’s the soft skills that professionals say is truly lacking,” Bryant said.
She believes that the performance tasks that she has implemented in her class, including the Taste of Mountain Vista help build the 21st century skills her kids will need.
“When you look at our job as educators, it is to prepare our kids for the world that they are getting ready to go into,” Bryant said. “I think the number one component is teaching students not about necessarily being the all knowing, person, but rather being able to be a contributor to the world they will be in.”
In the future Bryant hopes to work even closer with industry leaders, with the goal of achieving the most authentic of tasks: having the companies ask students for their help in solving problems.
This the third in our series on Testing Madness. Next week we will finish with a discussion of how DCSD is working to implement a Balanced Assessment Systems that ensure accountability, while allowing schools and teachers more flexibility than the currently mandated tests.
Week 1: Testing Madness: A story of unintended consequences
Week 2: If not this, then what?