New Visions Math Teachers Tackle End-of-Year Regents Preparation

Last month, a group of thirty-six high school math teachers and assistant principals from New Visions schools gathered to discuss what Regents exam preparation should look like this year, given the shifting testing environment.

New York State and City high school students face an upcoming Regents exam period that is unlike what they’ve experienced in the past. For the upcoming exams, students sitting for the Integrated Algebra and English Language Arts (ELA) exams will likely take two exams per subject: one that aligns with the new Common Core standards, and another that aligns with the 2005 NYS standards. The decision to encourage students to sit for two extra exams is a strategic one on the part of schools. Both students and schools may use the higher of the two scores to meet graduation and accountability requirements.

Teachers are struggling, however, to understand how to prepare students for two exams that have the potential to look very different. In last month’s professional development session for teachers participating in New Visions Common Core mathematics pilot (called “Accessing Algebra through Inquiry”), teachers raised questions that included: "How can I be most efficient with the limited time left in the school year?;" "What's the right balance between building foundational skills versus deepening student knowledge?", and "Is continued assessment is the right approach this late in the school year?"

The PD session provided an opportunity to address these concerns. Teachers formed groups and sorted through a list of fourteen different strategies for preparing their students for the exams, deciding which were effective. They unanimously agreed that re-teaching course material in the last three weeks is ineffective, while re-engaging students with samples of their own work is effective. Many of their explanations sounded similar to the distinctions between traditional “test prep” activities (activities that focus on the rote application of procedures) and good teaching strategies (those that encourage mastery of demanding material).

The key to planning these activities to maximize learning, though, depends upon a clear sense of where students are in their learning trajectory as compared to where they need to be at the end of the year. To provide teachers with a clear picture of this across students and classes, the coaching team debuted a “student sorter” tool - a shared spreadsheet rich with student-level and class-level data, all powered by the suite of DataCation tools designed for managing student data. 

As David Wees, an instructional specialist, explained to the group, each of the formative assessments the teachers had scanned and uploaded through their Data Driven Classroom (DDC) portal (Figure 1) were now captured in this spreadsheet (Figure 2), together with student data available from DataCation, including 8th grade reading and math scores, year-to-date attendance, the student’s most recent course grade, his or her credits accumulated in Algebra, and his or her most recent Regents score.

Figure 1. Datacation, DDC Portal: Item Analysis View

By bringing all of the data into one single spreadsheet (Figure 2), the coaching team provided teachers with a comprehensive view of student progress over the course of the year, as well as customized dashboards for each school, displaying Regents exam readiness and student growth measures using formative assessments results from the beginning of the year to the most recent unit.

Figure 2. New Visions a2i Student Sorter: Sorter View

Two teachers from the Collegiate Institute for Math and Science (CIMS) poured over the data together. The sorter categorized students’ risk level for passing the Regents based on student performance on 2005 standard Regents-style questions given each quarter and 8th grade exam score (Figure 3). One teacher pointed to the screen saying, “This is the most interesting part; this is our sixth period,” the period the two teachers co-taught.

Figure 3. New Visions a2i Student Sorter: Regents Performance Dashboard

They compared their sixth period’s performance with the performance of the eighth period class, which they noted had the highest number of students Regents-ready. By looking student by student and unit by unit (Figure 4) , they were able to identify students who should have shown growth from the baseline unit assessment to the summative unit assessment, but did not. Linear equations, they noted, was a content area that caused their students difficulty.

Figure 4. New Visions a2i Student Sorter: Unit Dashboard

The teachers also used the data to confirm or adjust their impressions of their students’ readiness. In many cases, the teachers agreed with the student’s designated risk level; for others, they noted “he could be pushed” or “she can be moved.” Together, they began grouping students based on the types of interventions they might need. David Wees, the coach, said that students struggling the most needed reminders of what they can do well, whereas students with a strong handle of the course as a whole should be challenged by tasks that cover material they have yet to master.

Brian McCormack, a math teacher at Lyons Community School, explained how he planned to adapt one of his own teaching strategies. During each unit, he gave baseline pre-assessments (called Initial Performance Assessment Tasks) again, mid-way through an algebra unit. By having students compare both versions of the task, he reminded students of how far they had come, what they had learned, and provided them an opportunity to re-engage with material they were still unsure of. He wants to continue to design lessons that would encourage his students to say “Oh, I can do this.”

Granular, item-level student data generated by tools like DDC do not just support student learning, they support teacher learning. When teachers have a means of reflecting upon individual and class progress over the course of the year, they can design strategies to enable students to learn more.

The session ended with homework for the teachers: continue the process with their colleagues back at their schools and choose rich math tasks that they can use to re-engage students with content that reflects both the strengths and weaknesses they discovered by examining the data.

Michele Meredith is a knowledge management program officer at New Visions.

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