Assessments at Cascadia
How are teachers changing their teaching? Are they teaching to the test?
It is definitely true that our curriculum is changing and we’ve seen lots of modifications to what is being taught in the past few years and here at Cascadia we’ve also made changes to how we’re teaching. But much of the change has been not because of the test, but the new standards and for us; teacher choice!
The old state standards were hard to decipher and when teachers planned they were often added on to the end, where does this standard fit? But now with the move to the Common Core State Standards, teachers are starting with the standards and asking, How can I teach this to my students? This is an improvement!
So some of the direct ways that teachers have changed instruction:
Math in Focus
The District purchased a new math curriculum aligned to the CCSS. Our 1st-3rd graders are now using it. The biggest shifts in math are a concentration on fewer concepts allowing more in-depth exploration.
Coherence: the progression of concepts across the grades has changed so students are building new understanding onto foundations built in previous years. And rigor: students pursue a deep, authentic command of the mathematical concepts including conceptual understanding, procedural skills fluency, and application.
Project Based Learning
We decided as a staff to move towards incorporating more Project Based Learning into our year to help serve our special student population.
We have tweaked and changed units to offer students more opportunities to do projects that help to apply the learning to real world situations. These projects have often been built around science or social studies topics but usually also include literacy and math skills as well.
We also have the iLab up and running this year to help support teachers in completing project where the student need to build or design a product to meet a goal.
Shifts in ELA
Just like in math there were some shifts in the ELA standards as well. One is that students need exposure to complex texts, not just ones at their reading level. For our students this means that teachers are trying to find texts that challenge our kids and they teach them through close reading the skills necessary to access those text.
Another shift has been that students need more practice with nonfiction text. Most of the college and career reading that we do is with nonfiction texts, but traditionally schools weighted more heavily towards literary text. CCSS is shifting to bring a greater balance to the types of text kids are exposed to. So teachers have shifted some of the units they teach to find a better balance.
Most grades are scaling back to three or four reading/writing units with one being literary, one opinion, and one informational. Each grade looks a little different though.
The third shift is an emphasis on asking students to use evidence to analyze and defend claims. Teachers are aiming to ask students to backup their thoughts and ideas with evidence from the text, not just with their personal experiences, prior knowledge or vague generalities. So in class you see kids citing from text and using what they read to back up their ideas.
Using Performance Tasks
You might be hearing your child’s teacher talk about performance asks that they’ve created and given to students. A performance task is meant to be a different kind of assessment than just a multiple choice test or a unit long published piece. It’s an assessment given at the end of a unit that is usually 2-3 days long and includes application of what was learned and skills gained in the unit.
For example, in a research unit the teacher will teach the skills needed to do the research, take notes, and write the various parts of the research essay. Throughout the unit students would be working with teacher help and direction to write an essay. A performance task at the end of the unit might give the student several new texts and ask them to write another short essay.
Students would be expected to independently apply all the skills they learned during the unit to this new task. This allows for teacher to see if the skills have transferred and students are able to perform the task independently.
Using Data to inform instruction
Teachers use data to drive changes to their curriculum; they don’t just anecdotally make changes or blindly follow the curriculum map. Teachers have for years given assessments to see what students know and still need to learn.
Here at Cascadia we are trying to collaborate on grade levels and develop common assessments that the entire grade level gives so that teachers can see the bigger trends in student learning and can work together more easily to adjust their teaching.
It can be challenging to write new assessments and so for the past few years we’ve used a Benchmark test to help offer some form of common assessment that the teachers themselves don’t have to create. These benchmark tests give another data point for teachers to help glean a better picture of their students.
One other nice thing about having access to the Benchmark tests that SPS offers is that there are also lots of other resources that come with access. There are more texts and question sets that teacher can choose to give their students, these are often called quick checks and just like an in class assignment teachers gain information on students understanding of what’s been taught.
One worry I hear from parents is that teachers have to teach to the test. I feel that there is a difference between preparing students to be successful on the test, through limited practice, and teaching to the test. Our teachers are helping to prepare students for the test and have made curricular decisions to help students meet the standards.
What assessments is my child taking this year?
Assessments come in many forms throughout the school year. There are three main categories that assessments fall into; formative, interim, and summative. All three are necessary for a balanced assessment system (see below).
This year your child will take many formative assessments given in class by their teachers. These include spelling, reading and math assessments. These are intended to see how students are mastering content delivered and teachers use them to adjust the curriculum.
Interim (or Benchmark)
For the past couple of years the district has offered schools the option to give interim tests. They are district directed, but not mandated. We have given Interim tests here at Cascadia because they give teachers data on how students are progressing towards meeting end of year standards and show growth across the year.
This year the students took what we called the Beacon Test. Students in grades 3-5 took tests either on grade level or two grades above depending on teacher choice. These tests are also good practice for the new summative test students will be taking. The Beacon tests have similar question types including multiple choice, multiple select (more than one correct choice), constructed responses and technology enhanced items. Teachers are using the data to inform their instruction and help to ensure that students are meeting the new standards.
Each year the state mandates we give summative assessments to students. This year we will give students in grades 3-5 the ELA and Math SBA test. 5th graders will continue to take the MSP in science.
Administering Smarter Balanced Assessments is a state mandate, not a district mandate. The Smarter Balanced is the new state-required assessment. It was piloted over the past several years and is now required statewide.
It replaces state-required MSP and HSPE assessments in reading, writing and math. Smarter Balanced is also being used across much of the United States.
As a tool for educators, Smarter Balanced Assessments are an improvement. They are designed to better measure student growth from year to year. They are adaptive to students’ skill level and will adjust questions (easier/harder) based upon previous answers, an approach that does a better job of assessing learning of students both above and below grade-level standards.
This assessment will provide diagnostics to help educators close opportunity gaps for students. Smarter Balanced Assessments reflect a higher level of rigor. The new assessments measure the more rigorous work happening in our classrooms at each grade level.
Smarter Balanced Assessment testing applies to 3rd-5th grade.