Can PARCC Blueprints be the Stone Killing Two Birds?

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Kill 2 birds 3If you are an educator, you are probably in one of the forty-three states that applied for and received a Federal waiver from certain NCLB provisions in exchange for adopting a student-growth model as part of educator evaluation.  What does that look like in your state? In your school or district? Is this an “add on” and a “have to…”? Are you thinking, “This too shall pass?” Or have you been busy writing value-added student-growth measures (VAM) and  student learning objectives (SLO)? I know teachers and schools in both camps. Some have run local field tests and are practiced with the demands coming their way while others are scrambling to understand the process and find a quick fix.

As I talk with teachers around the country, I hear many have written or are writing assessments tied to curriculum (in compliance with the waiver provisions) but based in last-generation assessment theory and structure: conventional multiple choice answers. From my vantage point, that approach is comfortable for teachers, but does nothing to ensure Common Core Standards are being met nor does that approach provide students with the support they need to tackle Next Generation assessments.

As a matter of fact, Education Week reported that Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) discovered just that disconnect through field testing. In student polling, SBAC discovered an increasing disconnect between classroom learning and assessment measuring as the students advanced in grades: “Roughly nine out of 10 students at grades 3-5, two out of three students at grades 6-8, and only one out of three students at grades 9 -11 found the assessments to be ‘somewhat well’ to ‘very well’ aligned to instruction.  ” (Smarter Balanced Field Test Report 2014, p. 13).  Similar disconnect was seen among teacher responses, especially in the area of the Performance Tasks.

Why the disconnect?

Either the test isn’t aligned to the Common Core Standards or the teachers are not yet fully understanding and implementing the standards. As one who works daily with the teachers and who knows the consortia assessments  very well, I venture to say the latter is more true than the former. Most teachers who assert they are teaching to the standards cannot tell me specifically which standard any given component of their lesson aligns with or what standards their lesson generally is designed to teach.

Additionally, there are significant differences between conventional assessment and 21st Century Assessment (read about PARCC’s 21st Century Assessment in my earlier blogs: PARCC Testing Acronyms and Another PARCC Acronym: the PCR or Prose Constructed Response).  PARCC and SBAC are directly focused on the Common Core Standards; they were crafted to truly reflect test-takers proficiency with the standards. Structurally, because of the standards, they feature multi-parted selected response items that can account for measuring multiple standards within a single item; they are composed of questions requiring multiple correct responses, reflecting the standards commitment to complexity; and holding to a philosophy of rigor, the format requires that all selected response options are viable answers, no “gimmes”; the assessment value writing, with a significant effort developing standards-based constructed (essay) responses. Rather than fight the new  assessments, I suggest educators learn to use the assessments to meet the needs of their own evaluation cycles. Rather than confront kids with two types of assessment formats, why not adapt newer testing approaches within the balanced assessment requirements of student growth measures?

What is the Solution?

For the last two years, I have been suggesting that teachers align their instructional units to Performance Tasks rather than thematic topics. Instead of naming a social studies unit “The Reconstruction Era” cast it in the frame of a performance task: Points of View and Purposes in the Era of Reconstruction.” Instead of titling an ELA unit, “Challenges and Challengers” rename that unit “The Effect of Dialogue and Events in Themes of Challenge.” Instead of a unit on biomes, what about “Comparing and Contrasting Biomes of the Globe.” Once the unit is cast in a Performance Task, then actually select the appropriate standards for designing the unit–write a pre-assessment, write a midterm formative assessment, write a post-assessment, then design the teaching plan using the content and expectations of the assessments as a guide for text selection, activities, and additional materials necessary for proficient teaching and learning.

How is this related to SLOs? The pre-assessment becomes the baseline data for setting growth decisions. The midterm formative assessment provides the opportunity to adjust instruction and/or growth goals. The post-assessment can be used as a measure for growth. If you are using PARCC’s Performance Topics as the guide in SLO creation and then designing designing pre, interim, and post assessments aligned to PARCC’s Assessment Blueprint, for measurements of growth using your state selected means of meeting NCLB compliance (aka: PARCC or SBAC), then you understand the analogy I am trying to make

Do you need help?

To support teachers and schools from PARCC states, I have designed macro-enabled Performance Task Planner Templates that lead users step-by-step through the assessment design process. A dropdown box presents the user with the full list of possible performance tasks in each of the  test sittings (literary analysis task, research simulation task, narrative task). The user selects one of the grade-level  performance tasks to address and the corresponding standards’ cells automatically populate. The form leads users through the contemplation and crafting of items that can eventually become a pre or post assessment or a means to design text-based discussions that support Common Core rigor and 21st Century assessment thinking. Additionally, in my product library, I offer unit (multi-day) lesson planners with dropdown boxes and fillable form space leading through the backwards design process.

Use this coupon for a free planner: PTCoup14 (valid until November 19, 2014). Be sure and read the instructions before downloading and opening the documents.

Use this time of change to advantage!

I urge educators to use this time of change to the advantage of students by designing pre and post measures that mirror the types of assessments your state has chosen as the annual measurement of student progress: PARCC? SBAC? AIR? ACT Aspire? The assessment blueprints for AIR and ACT’s Aspire are not readily accessible, but the PARCC’s Assessment Blueprints and SBAC’s Performance Task Specifications make public the design of their assessments. With this in hand, teachers can design their pre and post assessments to both measure student growth and prepare students for the upcoming testing.

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