The Beginning of a Journey

Educators are like most people. Just like the plumber who understands the delicate intricacies of piping, drains and traps that transform a house into a sanitary environment, educators have areas of their practice where they feel the utmost confidence and ease. Administrators, colleagues and parents recognize their innate ability in this area of expertise; they are the one that first-year teachers come to for answers, and are forever more enlightened for the conversation. Yet, below this calm surface of proficiency, in most educators there lies an area of their practice where they do not feel so capable. Unresolved questions, conflicting ideas and uncertainty contribute to a shadow of doubt. Am I being purposeful and using sound methodology? Am I creating an environment for achievement? How can I improve? Echoes of thoughtful refrains.

In my case, assessment is the lurking monster in my closet. Despite clearly articulated feedback as to the relevancy and efficacy of the assessments that I use in my classes by parents, students and administrators, I still have doubts. This week’s reading is helping me to articulate and target some of the underlying areas for improvement that I will be working on throughout the Curriculum and Instruction program. If indeed it is true that, “…teachers can spend up to 30 percent or more of their classroom time in assessment-related functions” (Chappuis, Stiggins, Chappuis, & Arter, 2012, p. 3) the goal to improve my perceived proficiency in assessment is a sound one.

The first step to self-improvement typically involves engaging in a self-inventory; what do I do well and where can I improve? Our first task this week was to take an Assessment Practices Inventory; this was a self-analysis of my perceived level of proficiency in each of the elements of quality classroom assessment. Since I will use this same document two additional times to rate myself during this class, I believe that it is valuable to utilize as one of my artifacts. According to Chappuis et al., (2012) there are five clearly articulated keys to quality classroom assessment; clear purpose, clear targets, sound assessment design, effective communication and student involvement. Each of these key elements was broken into I can…, I know… etc. statements in the Assessment Practices Inventory. Already, I can look back on how my self-awareness and understanding of assessment has evolved in less than a week; I can see where I am already gaining knowledge and confidence in some areas.

The first key category deals with clear purpose. When I think about having a clear purpose in my assessments, it is helpful to frame my thinking around the following questions from the reading; who will use the information? How will they use it? What information, in what detail, is required (Chappuis, et al., 2012, p. 5)? Further, Chappuis, et al. (2012) describes the purpose of formative assessment as a means to improve or support achievement while the purpose of summative assessment is to measure or verify learning (p. 5). While I am still expanding and refining my repertoire and usage of formative and summative assessment tools, I can also see that I do in fact use a variety of assessments throughout my teaching. I use informal ‘quick checks for understanding’ via exit tickets, brain dumps, word sorts, and pair and shares to name a few. When I find gaps in understanding, I slow down, reteach or provide additional time for thought and practice. These formative practices are for my and my students’ information. Summative assessments, on the other hand, provide anecdotal and tangible evidence of student achievement and ability that I use to make decisions about student learning when I write quarterly report cards.

Likewise, I believe that I do a good job of establishing clear targets for my students. Learning targets are clear, I know what achievements I want to assess and they are the focus of my instruction (Chappuis et al., 2012 p. 5). I post lesson objectives for each class section on the white board; class begins with a verbal run-down of what our objectives for the day are. Daily objectives and homework are also posted online for students; it’s my way to keep my students and myself accountable for the learning targets each day and long-term. Additionally, I clearly articulate that the goal of middle school English (in my last school) was to prepare all students for Advance Placement (AP) classes. The student may or may not choose to take AP Writing or Literature, but our learning target is that they are prepared for that option.

I am very much a proponent of backwards design, and I am always asking myself what is my objective, what is my learning target, what do I want my students to know and be able to do at the end of this unit? These deliberate questions help me to ensure that I am considering sound design in assessment. I begin designing my unit through creation of the summative assessment then work my way backwards. I share scoring rubrics with students before they begin a project or assignment; I believe that it is unfair to be assessed based on an unknown criteria. Perhaps the missing component from sound design, does the assessment control for bias? (Chappuis et al., 2012, p. 5), is something that I have not given the same level of thought to and is an area for further exploration.

The next two key elements are trickier for me to feel confidence around; effective communication and student involvement. In my initial discussion post this week, I targeted student involvement as my primary focus for this year, but after reflection, I will add effective communication as well. An important aspect of effective communication is, “..when we convert summative assessment information into grades that accurately reflect achievement at a point in time” (Chappuis, et al., 2012, p. 8). Even though I have been complimented on the narrative quality and depth of my report cards by parents and administrators, I still question whether what I am reporting “…accurately reflects achievement at a point in time” (Chappuis, et al., 2012, p. 8). I am also recognized as a teacher who frequently communicates student progress with parents; I don’t like surprises when parents receive their students’ report card. As I tell my students, it is my job to share “the good, the bad and the ugly”, and that I keep track of everything. However, it seems that none of the report cards or progress reports that I have ever filled-out leads me to feel that I have adequately answered the question, “Is achievement tracked by learning target and reported by standard” (Chappuis, et al., 2012, p. 5) in a clearly articulated manner. I look forward to exploring this aspect of assessment in more depth in later chapters.

While I do encourage and support student involvement, I think that I can do a better job with setting up a systematic method for students to track and communicate their evolving learning. I also need to do a better job of consistently following through with revisiting and modifying (where necessary) learning goals. My second artifact is a Class and Group Participation Rubric that I envision using monthly to help students track their progress in class. I like students to engage in a lot of small group and partner work in class. I believe that cooperative learning is a skill that must be developed and refined over time and when done correctly leads to opportunities for unimagined learning and discover. However, middle school students are not always on-task, prepared, contributing to learning, or exhibiting an attitude that is productive whether they are working individually or in a grouping. I believe this artifact is a step in the right direction of systematizing student involvement is self-assessment and reflection of how their action (or in-action) effects their non-academic grade and more importantly, their ability to be successful.

In closing, I feel like I have to own my conflicted feelings about my assessment practices. While I appreciate the positive feedback I’ve received from my administration, parents and even students, I still feel I need to fill in the missing gaps in my knowledge. Because really, it doesn’t matter if my principal believes I’m doing a good job if I have doubts. To grow and improve, I have to be the one that self-actualizes a feeling of confidence based on sound practices and a theoretical knowledge base. As I continue to acquire experience and practice while engaging in self-reflective thought, I believe my perceived proficiency in assessment will grow as well.

Chappuis, J., Stiggins, R., Chappuis, S., & Arter, J. (2012).  Classroom assessment for student learning: Doing it right, using it well. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.

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One thought on “The Beginning of a Journey

  1. Kim, your hearty self-assessment is a great starting place for thinking about the ways that you wish to increase your capacity as a designer and user of balanced assessment practices. Your opening metaphor is an engaging one that will leave us haunted by the thought that a well working system is nearly invisible, and a broken one smells to the heavens! I have used participation rubrics like the one that you posted with middle school and high school students, and even with graduate students. I wonder if monthly is frequently enough in the beginning? Depending on the traits of the students, I’d advocate that asking them to keep track for themselves on a daily or weekly basis might bring some needed changes before getting to a point 4-5 weeks out where larger interventions might be needed. My sense is that students who are on track need to keep intermittent scores less frequently, and that students who are further from goal attainment benefit from more frequent formative self checks. Do you have any experience with this in the student group that you are targeting?

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