I am in a library for the next two days to show teachers and administrators how to use PARCC’s Content Model Frameworks alongside of the Assessment Blueprints to guide teaching and learning. These sets of documents, though hefty, are instructional. Though I cannot impart knowledge and hope that will make a difference in day to day teaching and learning, I can establish as my outcome the interaction of educators with complex material as they work to design curriculum that addresses the needs of their local families. Today, I come offering a planning tool–a tool that incorporates the Frameworks and the Blueprints to establish opportunities for cross-disciplinary assessment for learning each quarter. (read more about the planners here and shop for a planner at your grade here.)
The narrative of a school
The library’s round wooden tables have few tell-tale signs of their age. Generic but solid, an outsider would never realize that at these tables had sat generations of local kids: one time students who became parents and later grandparents of students who sit at the very table as their mother or father before them. Here they read, they test, they cajole, they share secrets, they learn. Over the years, the way that learning happens has been changing: technology has evolved from a nuisance to necessity; differentiation has become educationally commonplace; authenticity and application have replaced factual regurgitation. And so, assessment too, must change.
Today in the library is a group of teachers. Some have taught in this building for thirty plus years. Others are new hires, embarking on their first year as a teacher. Along this continuum of tenure are teachers who entered the profession after retiring from industry or returned to teaching after registering their youngest for the first grade. Here sit teachers who entered teaching because they love children or they love content, teachers who entered the profession because they sought to do good or those who entered because they sought to improve on a institution that fell short. Regardless, here is group of teachers who have read stories aloud, explained difficult texts to listening students, lectured on disciplinary content, assigned reading and writing, written tests to evaluate student retention, and graded….graded….graded.
The thinking behind of teacher driven assessment
How do they assess student work? I asked this group of teachers as I have asked many groups of teachers. Here’s how they assess: they teach material and then they write a test over what they taught. They make some questions easy so everyone has a chance to get some right and they make some questions hard so the smart kids are able to show their intelligence. Sometimes (maybe oftentimes), they use tests that they have used before and just take off the questions that their teaching didn’t get to. Most of the questions are based on the knowledge that was imparted. Who wrote this or that document? Who is the Father of ________? How many ________? Explain the process of ________. Rarely do the teachers write a test presents the takers with novel or new problems, documents, texts, etc. and ask them to apply the knowledge and skills of the preceding unit. Kids know this. They study information learned over the course of the unit and before even entering into the testing room know who will get the A and who will get the C and who probably could have stayed home anyway. At a most basic level, this testing method is akin to that of item response theory. Granted, it is not supported by mathematical extrapolations or standardized assessment’s psychometrics yet it is based on the theory that not all items are equal in difficulty and therefore guided by a statistical (if unspoken) expectation about who will and who won’t score well. And then, when the kids who they knew wouldn’t score well don’t…they provide extra credit to bolster the grade.
That is old school. New school assessment is about deciding what kids should know first…before the teaching and learning begins…before the schoolhouse doors open teachers decide what is the evidence students must show to indicate that they are learning. Rather than measuring whether kids remembered the lecture that was given or the characters in the Trollope novel, evidence points that move beyond the classroom walls and become potent in the world are identified and those evidence points become the basis for the assessment. Teachers don’t have to wait until after the unit has been taught to write the test because they know what combinations of skills and knowledge will be needed in order to perform well on the assessment. This is not really new…Grant Wiggins and Rick Stiggins have been talking about this type of assessment for years: they may have different names by which they call it– assessment for learning rather than assessment of learning. Regardless…it’s the same–identifying what kids know and should be able to do as the advance work for teaching and not the concluding piece.
Evidence Based Assessment: New Generation Assessment
Standards provide teachers with basis for making the decisions on what kids should know and be able to do. Rather than making subjective calls on proficiency or skills, standards unify what is important. Though we may not all agree with this or that standard, the presence of a standard gives the public a shared foundation of expectation and a foundation that can be remodeled if need be. The Common Core Standards are helpful because the standards are not just for this state or that state, but all states who agree to share in their conceptual design. From those standards, educators can draw out the what types of evidence kids need to show in order to prove individual levels of proficiency with the skills and knowledge the standards either explicitly state or implicitly convey. For convenience, PARCC has deconstructed the standards into evidence tables–evidence that standards are not teaching objectives–expressly noting that a single standard embraces a variety of skills and knowledge pieces. It is these pieces that teachers need to focus on as they deliver their multi-day lessons as instructional objectives that will elicit evidences of student learning. Deconstructed, teachers need to design opportunities for students to show that they have proficiency with various levels of the standard as well as with the standard as a whole. Even beyond the evidence statement, teachers need to target the standards as I and others (Wiggins & Stiggins to mention two) have been saying for many years now (see these posts: Teaching and Learning is Reinventing the Wheel, Post 2).
PARCC ELA Task Generation Model
Going even deeper than the evidence statements is the PARCC grade level blueprint for assessment (form specifications) that list not only the standard to be assessed but whether that standard will be assessed by a performance task, i.e., writing or if that standard will be assessed by a selected response item, i.e., a two-part multiple-choice question that not only elicits an answer but also requires the reader to generate a “why” or “how” I know this through a second multiple choice response: multiple-multiple choice. In providing educators with this blueprint for assessment, PARCC has given teachers a guide to instruction and formative assessment. The standards will all be assessed; the challenge is how to incorporate them in the classroom effectively, especially given the short time-frame for implementation. By looking at the specifications, teachers can begin to plan for teaching and learning by using these guidelines as a framework for classroom modeling and participation followed by group or independent assessments for learning.