Quality assessments provide opportunities to demonstrate performance
CASTLE ROCK – When most of us were in school, assessments were a thing to be feared. Some of us, no doubt, still awake from nightmares of pop quizzes, final exams and standardized tests, as well as those never ending rows of multiple choice bubbles.
Douglas County School District (DCSD) is working to build a better assessment system, which aims to measure students, teachers and leaders on the things that matter most. These new assessments will be done in a way that doesn’t feel like a test or evaluation, while also giving the participant “choice and voice” in the process.
“DCSD embraces accountability, but is dedicated to ensuring that it is the right kind of accountability,” said Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Fagen. “We’re dedicated to doing what is best for kids and demonstrating our progress on that.”
Memorization & regurgitation was the name of the game
The educational system created in the early 1900s, was made for a different time, when the majority of students were being prepared for work on assembly lines.
“It is a paradigm shift, because for so long we focused on memorization and compliance,” explained Fagen.
“When you and I were in school we were tested on memorization. We would do the spelling tests on Friday, or we would do math problems from a book,” added DCSD Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Education Ted Knight. “For years, we assessed, so we could give kids a grade, so we could sort them. This gave us a mechanism to say whether you were in the top third or the bottom third."
This created the pathways between management jobs and those on the factory floor.
The world, however, has changed as a result of the Internet and smartphones.
“We live in a world where just 'knowing' isn't enough. You actually have to apply this knowledge,” Knight said.
Teaching and assessments have been slow to adapt. Some schools continue to focus on memorization. Since these types of tests are easy to implement, they proliferated following the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act.
“It is easier to measure rote memorization. It is much tougher to measure a kids thinking at a high level,” Knight said.
Unfortunately, the old standardized tests really do not provide the type of quality, immediate feedback that teachers want and need. This is especially true in DCSD, where teachers are implementing World Class Education.
“Over the last couple years I have really begun to differentiate between assessing and testing. They’ve come to mean two very different things for me,” explained Mammoth Heights Elementary School first-grade teacher Ed Goulart. “I assess all day long. Every kid in my room, I’m watching what they’re doing, I’m looking at their actual performances. That is giving me feedback that I can use immediately to tailor my instruction to be more effective.”
“I’m a pretty big fan of assessment, if it drives my instruction,” added Mammoth Heights Elementary first-grade teacher Jean Kirshner. “A lot of the testing that we’re seeing, doesn’t give me that type of information.”
READ MORE: Testing Madness: Testing versus Assessment
Focusing on What Matters Most
While it is a bit tougher, it is incredibly important for educators to start with the end in mind and then to measure what matters most.
Based on a convergence of literature and research, DCSD has defined the most important skills that students must learn to be successful, as well as the practices that teachers and leaders must employ to make the biggest impact on student learning.
DCSD defines what matters most for students through the Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum. The most important elements for educators can be found in the standards and elements of the Continuous Improvement in Teacher Effectiveness (CITE) evaluation tool. For leaders, goals are defined within the Leadership Effectiveness through Analysis and Data (LEAD) evaluation tool.
“There is a ton of research behind what we are doing,” explained DCSD Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Education Ted Knight.
It is only natural that once we know what the students' goals are, that we spend time helping them accomplish these goals.
“It doesn’t make sense to teach a certain way, if we don't have a method of measuring student sucess,” Knight said. "Qualtity assessments provide us the data needed to determine whether students have met their goals."
"Our assessments need to be aligned to the expectations that are outlined in our guaranteed and viable curriculum," added DCSD Chief Assessment and System Performance Officer Matt Reynolds.
When teachers design their courses they first determine what outcomes they will teach in each unit and then determine what assessments they will use, prior to ever considering what learning activities to incorporate. Teachers often call this backward planning, because they are starting with the end in mind.
“I’ve seen is a shift in maybe the last decade or so. Teachers are really using assessment to guide their instruction,” Knight said.
Assessment are now integrated throughout the unit, providing a teacher the ability to gauge a students understanding and inform instruction.
“We used to start at the beginning of the textbook and go through it. It didn’t matter if you knew what a cell was, you were going to sit through the entire cell unit, because that is the place we are in the book,” Fagen said.
Assessments can be used to help personalize the lesson, allowing a teacher to cater the lesson to the skill levels of the students actually within the class.
VIDEO: Timber Trail Elementary School gives students authentic, real-world learning experience through a performance assessment
Students should have 'choice & voice'
In some cases, teachers are even encouraging students to play an active role in choosing how they will be assessed.
“We want the conversation to be between the teacher and the kids,” Knight said. “A child would have the opportunity to have some say in, ‘this is how I want to demonstrate this to you.’ Not every kid is going to demonstrate proficiency in the same way. We want the teacher to collaborate with the student to say, ‘hey, what is a way you can demonstrate your learning?'”
Quality Assessment = Authentic Performance
In many cases, this demonstration may not be in the classroom. As is shown in World Class Education, the most engaging learning opportunities, and therefore assessment opportunities are when a student is performing their skills in an authentic environment.
“We really want performance assessments where students get to apply their learning. They are opportunities where students are transferring their learning from the classroom to a simulation of a real world concept or an actual real world setting,” Matt Reynolds said.
A performance assessment provides students with an opportunity a written test can't-- a chance to actually demonstrate the skills they're learning.
"You wouldn’t want to give a paper and pencil test about the piano. We want the student to play the piano," Fagen said.
VIDEO: DCSD Assessment & System Performance Office incorporates an animation software program, allowing teachers to assess students and give personalized feedback at the moment of the learning.
“It is almost the opposite of what we used to do,” Assistant Superintendent Ted Knight said. “I remember back to when you used to have to put your folder up, so no one could see your sheet of paper. Everything was individual. Everything was on paper. That doesn’t match the real world today.”
“Today, you’ll see kids that are working collaboratively. As adults we work on projects collaboratively, so why wouldn’t kids be able to collaborate,” Knight added.
Unlike the old subject finals, in DCSD classrooms, summative, or end-of-unit assessments, are often cross-curricular opportunities to show mastery of multiple skills and knowledge.
“They shouldn’t be learning in isolated pieces and parts. They should be learning in integrated ways and they should be demonstrating their abilities in integrated ways too,” Fagen said.
For instance, at Cimarron Middle School the eighth-grade students participate in a Science Squad every month. It is an opportunity for the students to showcase their learning in a project, which is presented to elementary students.
“They are putting forth the effort and everything they've learned throughout the entire school year in an authentic assessment. Whereas, if we try to do a typical pen and paper unit test, so many students would be tuned out, it wouldn't be a very good gauge of what they've learned,” said former Cimarron teacher Nadene Kopff.
“It's really the way we like to see our assessments continue to develop, into more performance-based opportunities,” Kopff added.
VIDEO: Cimarron's Science Squad serves as an authentic summative performance assessment.