Tag Archives: Assessment

Fewer Texts for Deeper Understanding

by Lorna Collier

In their new book, Beyond “Teaching to the Test”: Rethinking Accountability and Assessment for English Language Learners, literacy specialists Betsy Gilliland and
Shannon Pella explore ways teachers can provide a more equitable education for
English language learners.

Using fewer—but high-quality—texts can work better than using many texts, say Pella
and Gilliland. The benefits are varied:

Rather than having to struggle to keep up with the basic idea of many texts, ELLs only need to master the content of a few texts or even a single text before working on understanding the language structure and other textual elements.

“If you have one really good text, first they figure out what it means, but then they can access and start thinking about how it is constructed,” says Gilliland.

“Kids become experts on specific texts. They can tell you not just what it was about,
but how it was made and why it was made that way.”

Grammar can be taught in terms of its functionality within the text being studied,
says Gilliland, as opposed to saying, ” ‘here’s a rule, memorize it and then we
hope it transfers into your writing.’ ”

“Teachers might be surprised how much farther you can go with a single text in
teaching a variety of different things,” says Pella, who taught secondary school
English for 15 years. “That was one of my biggest ‘a-has’ as a high school and
middle school teacher.”

The pace of teaching slows when students go back again and again to just a handful of
texts, “taking time to really unpack and analyze them,” Pella says.

She believes this makes the learning experience “much more thoughtful, with more
depth,” than what occurs when teachers use rigid pacing guides.

And when ELLs develop awareness of text features, they can access the same grade-
level material their mainstream peers are using, Pella and Gilliland point out—which
provides equity.

Learn more about this new book.

Lorna Collier is a writer and editor based in northern Illinois.

Read more in the article “Flipping Accountability on Its Head” in the September 2017 Council Chronicle.

Read a sample chapter or order the book.

Agents of Accountability

by Lorna Collier

Literacy specialists Betsy Gilliland and Shannon Pella offer a variety of insights on how teachers can provide a more equitable education for English language learners in Beyond “Teaching to the Test”: Rethinking Accountability and Assessment for English Language Learners, their new book from NCTE.

The progress ELLs make can go unrecognized in the face of low standardized test scores, so Pella and Gilliland recommend bringing these achievements to the attention of administrators and others within the school system, as well as to parents and community members.

“What I’m hoping is that teachers see themselves as the agents of accountability,” says Pella.

“When we take accountability into our own hands, we’re collecting and analyzing a variety of types of classroom assessment data in order to track and understand how well our English learners are growing.”

These data can help teachers explain to parents and the school community how well English learners are progressing, she says, which is “a totally different narrative than what the school may be able to show in one isolated test score.”

Some of the ways teachers can spread news about ELL student progress to parents and the community include:

  • Keeping parents updated through websites and monthly newsletters, translated if needed;

  • Calling parents, using an interpreter if needed (but not the child, in case there are matters you want to discuss confidentially);

  • Inviting the families to bilingual family nights, where parents, siblings and other relatives can see what the students are doing and participate in activities that show off the child’s abilities, such as creating a bilingual book in English and the student’s home language; and

  • Encouraging the school to host online or in-person events open to the community to share student work and achievements.

Read more in the article “Flipping Accountability on Its Head” in the September 2017 Council Chronicle. 

Read a sample chapter or order the book. 

Lorna Collier is a writer and editor based in northern Illinois.

 

Mrs. Stuart Goes to Washington: Policy Brief, Assessment and Back to School

Project: Policy Brief

Oh, the wonderful world of writing policy briefs. This week was spent working on a piece for the National Council of Teachers of English. We are trying to uncover who is teaching English and how these educators feel about a range of topics. There is data on teachers in general, but not a lot on teachers of English specifically. As an organization, we wanted to learn about this critical group of educators. Here are some questions that arose during my research:

  1. What might the race and gender of our teachers tell us about the ways we connect with our students?
  2. Why is it important to look at the levels of education a teacher has achieved?
  3. In a post–Common Core world, have levels of job satisfaction changed?
  4. What are the professional learning needs of teachers of English?

The most glaring fact so far has been the lack of current research on teachers. The U.S. Department of Education is set to release the next set of data end of summer/beginning of fall.

You know what they say about assessment …

I took a break from writing and research to meet with Miah Daughtery, the Director of English Language Arts and Literacy at Achieve. A fellow Wolverine, Miah and I discussed everything from ideas for getting kids to read—The Reading Minute by Kelly Gallagher—was new to me! to understanding why standardized assessments are so long (if you don’t know what a psychometrician is, then you probably don’t know the answer). One thing that was suggested in my district was that we write our own district-wide benchmarks. It was such a casual comment to our little department of 10 teachers that it seemed like a simple idea. Miah and I discussed how complicated writing assessment is, especially if it is assessment that you are going to use to make claims about student achievement. Miah has a presentation called “The Top 25 Ways a Test Item Can Be Flawed.” There are more than 25? The moral of the story is, folks, we need to revisit our benchmark plan. Miah suggested checking out the assessments from Achieve the Core, so I’m going to start there.

Oh and I’m back in the classroom on Monday

When my eyes got tired of looking at data, I turned my attention to my classroom. I have 6th and 8th graders reporting to me, excited yet sleepy, Monday. As most teachers do, I have grand plans for the year. These include, but are not limited to

  • infusing global education in all of my units, and building a website for my students to interact with me while I am on my study abroad, probably on Facebook or a page on my personal site
  • getting my kids to enjoy reading (also, getting them to actually read)—this means getting my classroom library in order, which terrifies me
  • doing daily read-alouds and maybe the Reading Minute
  • pairing contemporary texts with my mandated curriculum

I’m open to ideas!

 

Seriously, need to get it together! What a mess.

Form Doesn’t Mean Formulaic: Finding Creative Approaches to ESSA Assessment Plan Design

ESSA Fordham blogI was always a free-verse guy back when I was serious about writing poetry. In creative writing classes, however, my teachers challenged me to express myself with the rules of forms—the villanelle, the sestina—that I would not have chosen on my own. This imposition of structure, even when it felt arbitrary, often forced me to be creative in new ways, to consider economy, focus, and balance in ways that enriched my less-constrained compositions.

The recently passed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) offers states a great deal more flexibility in designing assessment systems than they had under No Child Left Behind and the waiver system it spawned. States will now be genuine authors of their plans to assess student learning and diagnose inequities in outcomes for the first time in over a decade. But the law does impose a form on those plans, prescribing a set of components and characteristics that each system must include. For example, school rankings must consider not only still-mandatory yearly test results aligned with state standards but also a “school quality” indicator, such as a measure of school climate or student engagement. Those of us who might prefer free-verse assessment are out of luck.

In the debate over the bill, there was much disagreement about whether these requirements were the right ones or, indeed, if the federal government ought to be setting requirements at all. This debate will certainly continue, but the immediate challenge for states and districts is to craft assessment plans that best serve their students within the rules set by the law. As this process unfolds, states could look for the paths of least resistance to comply with the law, an approach that was common under the waivers system. Alternatively, like poets writing within a form, they could use the constraints within the law to generate creative approaches that might significantly improve on the status quo.

A recent ESSA assessment design competition hosted by the Thomas D. Fordham Institute in Washington gives me hope the second approach will prevail. Loosely modeled on American Idol, the competition included ten finalists who gave brief presentations about possible designs for state assessment systems within the rules of ESSA. A panel of judges asked questions, and then both judges and audience members voted on how well they liked the proposed system. In the spirit of ESSA itself, which assumes that different approaches will work best for different states, there was no winner declared.

Like the judges, I didn’t find any one of the proposals a perfect solution. However, I was impressed by the thoughtfulness and creativity of many of the entries. Those imagining a more effective assessment system to increase equity seem to have benefited from having to work within the rules of the law.

Proposals included intriguing ideas that go well beyond path-of-least-resistance compliance. Here are some examples:

  • Sherman Dorn of Arizona State University proposed a citizen “grand jury” structure for determining which schools are in need of improvement, juxtaposed against the prevailing “algorithmic” systems that use a rigid quantitative formula for identifying underperforming schools.
  • The BE Foundation proposed the use of student digital portfolios to track student success and school quality, representing learning both in and out of school indexed to competencies and providing information relevant to students, parents, and community stakeholders.
  • Bellwether Education Partners’ proposal suggested that should states over-identify schools in need of improvement based on the blunt instruments of student achievement and growth measures and then choose the schools in which to trigger intervention based on a rigorous inspection process conducted by outside experts.
  • Separate proposals from America Succeeds and Education First both argued for allowing districts some choice of indicators within a larger state-set framework to encourage innovation and improvement in areas targeted by the local community.
  • A thoroughly impressive group of high school students from Kentucky who serve on the Prichard Committee Student Voice Team argued for measuring school climate based on student surveys, an idea echoed in proposals from the University of Southern California and TeachPlus.
  • Several proposals considered incorporation of measures of social-emotional competencies, such as persistence and relationship skills.

Not all these ideas are likely to be good ones. For example, as Bill Penuel of the University of Colorado at Boulder pointed out during the lively Twitter conversation during the competition, using existing noncognitive measures in high-stakes assessments runs into potentially serious problems of validity and gaming the system. However, these proposals do demonstrate that even within the form set by ESSA, there are opportunities to innovate in ways that have the potential to provide better information to states, districts, school, teachers, and parents about how to better prepare students for successful and happy lives. Let’s work to ensure states capitalize on the opportunity.

 

 

 

 

 

Insights from edTPA Implementation

edTPA tensionsLike any significant change to a major system, edTPA (a new performance-based assessment for licensing teachers) presents challenges and tensions for those who must accommodate this change. Those tensions were recently documented in the November issue of Language Arts by Amy Johnson Lachuk and Karen Koellner, two teacher educators in an elementary education program that offers degrees leading to initial teacher certification. In their article “Performance-Based Assessment for Certification: Insights from edTPA Implementation,” Lachuk and Koellner describe efforts to adjust programming in light of their state’s recent adoption of edTPA.

While the edTPA is new, the tensions it has brought are tensions familiar to many teachers. One is a tension between wanting our students to learn things for themselves through inquiry and wanting to give our students the answers. Lachuk and Koellner write:

As teacher educators, we aim to offer teacher candidates opportunities to reflect upon and inquire into their practices. We also aim to help them experience the complexities of teaching, so that they can grow in their practices. However, a formal, performative assessment such as the edTPA makes managing the tension between telling and growing even more complicated (cf. Berry, 2008); Berry questions: “What would motivate prospective teachers to seek their own solutions to teaching problems when their formal assessment is at stake?”

Lachuk and Koellner also found that the edTPA required candidates to think about teaching in ways the preparation program had not previously felt the need to push:

For example, writing and using supporting evidence about their planning, teaching, and assessment practices are how candidates are evaluated on their ability to engage in the assess-plan-teach cycle. . . . Several candidates were very skilled in writing retrospective reflective narratives about their teaching, yet when it came time to structure these reflections as academic arguments in which they used evidence to support their claims, they struggled.

The new reality meant teaching new skills, but it also meant eliminating some lessons. “[B]ecause edTPA is a time- and labor-intensive examination, we need to accommodate the process by requiring fewer assignments as part of the student teaching course.”

An even more significant tension may be the tension between wanting to give their students accurate, reliable information, and also wanting to be perceived as sufficiently knowledgeable. Lachuk and Koellner write:

Because the edTPA was a new examination for faculty, too, we wanted to project to teacher candidates that we had a firm grasp on what it was asking them to do, when in fact we did not. For instance, we created a series of face-to-face workshops and hosted several drop-in sessions for teacher candidates who were submitting and preparing their edTPA portfolios. These support workshops and drop-in sessions were intended to coach teacher candidates throughout the process, adhering to the guidelines for faculty support provided by Pearson publishing (the publisher of edTPA).

Participating in these face-to-face workshops was particularly difficult for Amy, who was concerned about unintentionally giving teacher candidates misinformation that would negatively impact their performance on the examination. Although she was familiar with the examination, Amy felt uncertain about her interpretation of the edTPAese, or the way certain concepts (such as finding a central focus for writing) were defined and interpreted in the examination. At the same time, however, for the sake of candidates’ peace of mind, she felt that she needed to present herself as knowledgeable and confident about the examination. Throughout the time she was helping to support teacher candidates with preparing their edTPA portfolios, Amy felt herself confronting this tension between appearing knowledgeable and confident while actually feeling rather uncertain.

But Lachuk and Koellner do feel confident that all these various tensions will lessen over time. “[C]andidates will be more familiar with the requirements and will have experienced more of the supports throughout our program (rather than only during their student teaching semester when they take the exam).” As with any change, the tensions felt now will shape our adjustments to that change and will ensure that, down the road, tensions will ease.

 

Read the complete article, “Performance-Based Assessment for Certification: Insights from edTPA Implementation.”