Thoughts on Embedding Assessment Strategies
In this age of more rigorous standards and next generation assessments today’s educators and students are under more pressure to “perform” successfully. No longer can teachers really “teach to the test” since there is no longer a sample test that is all inclusive. Educators now must embed assessment strategies as thought they were preparing their students for a test like the ACT or SAT. That is a big challenge for most educators. It takes very intentional and deliberate planning by educators to ensure consistent, effective, and impactful.
It has been said that assessment is the single most effective instructional strategy to increase learning. There are several assessment strategies that can easily be planned and integrated seamlessly into daily instruction without taking away from the demands of the curriculum.
First, students need to “know that they know”! To build students’ self-esteem and confidence teachers need to integrate small practice probes to allow students the opportunities to review and practice prior skills as well as secure new knowledge and skills. This review and practice can be completed in small groups, individually, or in pairs. Students need to be trained in making these transitions from one structure to another so valuable instructional time is not lost. Good classroom management is a must.
Engage and motivate students with your choice of anchor tasks and activities for review and practice as well as classroom topical instruction. There is a wide variety of ideas for use in learning stations and centers as well as for the delivery of topical instruction that engage students more fully by being authentic and meaningful to the students.
Integrate test taking skills while building a strong foundation with vocabulary. Vocabulary is the foundation for any discipline. Students need to have a firm understanding of the language they encounter in the content they are studying. Engaging students in authentic writing provides them opportunities to use language precisely as well as a check for the teacher to see the level to which students have developed their understanding. Providing opportunities for students to read stories and text integrating the topics they are investigating also supports the development of vocabulary.
Using a notebook in the classroom as a way of chronicling a student’s journey provides both the teacher and the student with rich documentation for the logical reasoning development as well as showcasing their learning experiences. A notebook is a dynamic place where language, data, and logical-reasoning experiences operate jointly to form meaning for the student.
Using trade books in the classroom provides a means of incorporating literature that can make the topics being studied come alive for the student, give meaning to the topics being studied, and support differentiation.
Too often students simply do not understand the directions. What is the question asking? What form will an answer take? As educators, we tend to get in the habit of using our preferred language when talking about topics and when questioning. Students often encounter synonymous language, especially on national tests. This is especially challenging for ESL and ELL students. Effective questioning supports students taking ownership of their own learning. Asking questions may seem like a simple task. It is perhaps the most powerful tool teachers possess. Through effective questioning educators can differentiate instruction for all levels of students.
Educators must differentiate instruction. Small-group instruction, peer tutoring, and web-based learning programs are some of the most popular strategies teachers use to prepare students with diverse learning needs for testing. There are many other options available to educators today that are just as effective. We must meet each student at the door and take them as far as we can along their journey through our class. It is not enough that they just achieve. They need to show growth. This is often most challenging with the higher achieving students. Traditionally they have been one of the more under-served populations in our schools. To show growth with them teachers need a very focused set of strategies.
On numerous occasions, I have had educators tell me that their students simply do not care about assessments. Building a sense of community is an often-overlooked component in classrooms. Teachers either assume it happens because everyone is in the same place, or they do not see a need since they only have the students for a short amount of time each day. In a true community of learning environment students do care about learning. They value learning, they value ideas and opinions, they value content, and they want to do their best. It does take work to develop a community of learning environment in a classroom, on both the teacher’s and the students’ parts. The rewards are well worth it as students come together with each supporting the others and all are doing contributing their unique piece to the whole.
Create experiences that mirror the assessment situations. With today’s next generation of assessments no longer is a standard multiple choice test the norm. Today’s assessment can include multiple choice where students select a single answer or multiple answers, constructed response, matching, sequencing, as well as other technology enhanced items. As much as possible students need the opportunities to work with these types of assessments. That DOES NOT mean that students need to spend all their time taking practice tests or assessments! It is more effective to only give a couple of practice tests and to use the results with students to see where they are in their preparation for the summative assessment.
Educators also need to have an in-depth analysis of the summative assessment that their students are responsible for taking. This includes much more than the typical “blueprint” that is being passed off in many states as a resource for teachers. PARCC did create a very in-depth blueprint for their assessment that has proved to be a very useful tool for educators in driving the instruction in their classroom. It goes beyond simply clumping together standards that may or may not even be connected while assigning a numerical range of possible questions that might appear on the assessment. Teachers need to understand the assessments they are given. This includes topics covered, the variety of approaches to each topic, the parameters and limitations for each of the topics, as well as what resources are available to support successful preparation.
Having done an in-depth analysis of the current sample assessment tests, standards, and “blueprint” for mathematics 2nd grade and up through high school for Tennessee, it is evident that there are two primary areas of importance. First, the connections that need to be made both within topics and within context is evidenced in many of the sample items as well as in the standards themselves. Second, students need to have fluency and literacy with the various representations that exist within topics of study. A student’s ability or lack thereof to move seamlessly between the various representations that exist within a topic has a major impact on the achievement level of that student.
When educators are using authentic assessments, integrating effective assessment strategies, and have experienced an in-depth analysis of the current assessments, they are better equipped for meeting all students need and maximizing all students’ achievement.
For more information on support for effective strategies for assessment email TammyJones@TLJConsultingGroup.com