Ongoing Student Assessment Crucial as Teachers Adopt Common Core

As New York City teachers begin the new school year, they navigate a series of hurdles: learning students’ names and personalities, setting the right tone for the year and establishing classroom routines.

But much of the pressure at the classroom level comes from the uncertainty surrounding adoption of the Common Core standards.  While some states continue to push towards adopting Common Core, other states have put on the breaks.

New York State continues its push toward full adoption of standards. Teachers in grades 3-8 have already felt the impact of Common Core-aligned state tests. High school teachers are aware that they, too, may face newly aligned Regents exams this school year should the implementation timeline proceed as scheduled.

With these standards guiding instruction, teachers are aware of where their students should be by the end of the year. In English, for example, 12th graders should be able to “analyze a case in which grasping a point of view requires distinguishing what is directly stated in a text from what is really meant.” In math, algebra students should be able to “solve linear equations and inequalities in one variable, including equations with coefficients represented by letters.”

All that is known right now is what the end should look like.  But as teachers stand at the beginning of a new year, with new standards, new tests, and a new evaluation system, many are left wondering how to get there.

The question of “how to get there” is what the Accessing Algebra Through Inquiry (a2i) program at New Visions seeks to address. Using formative assessment and inquiry as its foundational strategies, the program encourages teachers to continually investigate where their students are in their learning, to measure that against the standards and to figure out the best path forward.

The key to this process is data collection. Without a clear understanding of where students are on the path toward meeting a given standard, one is searching blindly for what might work. The web-based assessment system and data platform Data-Driven Classroom, or DDC, is currently being used for this purpose in the a2i program, but is broadly applicable to other subjects as well. New Visions schools have access to the platform through DataCation, though it is available separately.

DDC’s core functionality comes from its ability to enable teachers to create scannable answer sheets whose hand-written and bubbled scores can be read, collected and reported in various ways. A teacher can use his or her own assessments or pre-created assessments such as past Regents exams, develop a matching answer sheet and print out pre-populated answer sheets for each student. Once the exams have been administered, the teacher then scores and scans the assessments. DDC then produces a digital record of both the exam itself and the scores.

The system enables teachers to generate various reports analyzing the performance of their class and their students down to the standard or item level. In just a few moments, a teacher can see patterns across an entire class, understanding quickly where particular teaching methods have worked well and where they have not. At the individual level, teachers can provide targeted, one-on-one help to students who are struggling, focusing only on those standards where students need the most help.

In the a2i program, this information is measured from a pre-assessment and is then used to shape the learning plan for the unit. Together with further data gathered from a formative assessment lesson, it also informs the content of a “re-engagement lesson,” which takes place before the end-of-unit exam. This lesson is designed to tackle areas of particular difficulty by allowing students time to examine their own work and confront any misconceptions about the material, helping them to master skills and concepts that were previously inaccessible.

Practices like these are going to be increasingly important with the Common Core, because they allow teachers to optimize what little time they have in the classroom in specific, targeted and effective ways.  When gaps in student knowledge develop, they can become much deeper and much more problematic than in the previous shallow, breadth-focused curriculum.  Therefore, teachers must be constantly aware of where their students are, using data to form an accurate picture of the needs of their students and working collaboratively to move them toward a new standard of proficiency under the Common Core.

As the year continues, I’ll continue to document the tools and practices that are helping teachers feel confident in their students’ academic trajectory.

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

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