Context: Over the course of the past eight years our school district has required language arts teachers to deliver a large variety of teacher-created assessments to mark student progress. Originally this was structured as six common formative assessments. This was quickly cut down to three. Those three changed routinely each year. While they usually revolved around the same standards (the former Utah Language Arts Standards, and the newly revised Utah Core Standards), they changed drastically in scope, methodology, materials, and structure. These CFAs were more recently replaced with “district benchmarks” which also proved inconsistent. For instance, the pretest, mid-year assessment, and post-test don’t measure the same standards.
Each year's assessments are written by a team of various teachers, a group which changes year-to-year. Each year's assessments are met with teacher frustration because of narrow focus, timing issues, inconsistent implementation, poor communication, and unclear expectations. A large portion of these problems stem from the group that helps write the assessments. The district usually has difficulty getting a cross-section of teachers willing to participate in these meetings. Therefore the group's resulting work is based on incomplete experience that doesn't adequately consider various perspectives. The tests ultimately disrupt instruction, provide feedback that doesn't inform instruction, and pit teachers against each other for the making of the tests in the first place.
Solution: Language arts district assessments need to focus on consistent and clearly separate standards.
Support: For support in this endeavor we will reach out to two district personnel with training in assessment writing and standards-based grading. One is a middle school reading instructor, and the other is currently an achievement coach. Both have received training in multiple methods of writing and designing specific questions/prompt to assess specific learning goals. They can help provide the internal support structure to guide changes to the methods outlined.
They can receive further support from the Evidence-Based Learning department by supplying their team with time and facilities to meet, plan, and teach effective methods of assessment. This includes connecting this team with the pilot group of teachers from each secondary grade level. If further support is needed they could connect with Mr. Rick Wormeli, a well known educational consultant.
Goals: Short-Term: During the early part of this summer pilot teachers will be trained on the process of writing effective assessments that measure specific standards (done by 6/15). Following this initial training the group of pilot teachers will apply principles learned to create pre, mid-year, and post assessments for their grade level and chosen standards, with access to training team for further assistance (6/30). Intermediate: Assessments will be delivered and data will be used to inform instruction of each unit (ongoing throughout coming school year). Long-Term: Following units teams will reassemble next summer to reassess assessments and testing process and practices, again with the guidance of the advance team (6/15/18).
Secure Needed Resources: First secure the time of the presenters. Make sure that Emily and Karen are available and on board with the district's vision of assessment and training. This means ensuring availability during the summer weeks, leading up to and during the initial teacher training. This includes providing all the material needs of these presenters. What texts will they need to help prepare their training? What other supplies are helpful? Will lunch be provided? Second, ensure that a team of teachers are willing to serve long-term on the committee to design assessments. This would probably include offering a financial incentive. Once a team has been assembled, ensure that they will be available during the summer months and five days during the year for follow-up training. Finally, ensure that all participants would be available for revision meetings the following summer.
Acknowledge the Emotional Reaction to Change: The main obstacle here is changing the informed pessimists into hopeful realists. This is a challenge, in that some teachers tend to live exclusively in the pessimistic realm. A lot of this is acknowledging that such feelings of concern are normal, but hopeful alternatives exist. Second to this, it is important to understand that as the district moves to this method of assessment the data may not be only positive. It is anticipated that there will be a dip in implementation, and that this dip is a part of the growing process.
Anticipate Restructuring Problems/Identify Problem-Solving Skills: When problems arise it is important that active processes are in place to help find solutions. To provide such an environment time will be given within each meeting to anticipate possible complications and solutions. Going into it the meetings there will be listening sessions to allow teachers to provide feedback. These lessons will be taken into the meetings to help anticipate further complications.