The timing of the topic of assessment could not have been better than this week. My current “pleasure reading” book* is Rick Wormeli’s Fair Isn’t Always Equal: Assessing & Grading in the Differentiated Classroom. I have to say, I have never felt as compelled to mark up a book as I do this one. There are underlined sections and stars and many, many notes in the margins. Each chapter leads to another that is even more interesting and applicable. Seriously…mind blown!
I took the time to think back to the different stages of my teaching so far and the roles that assessment played in each of those stages. I can break my teaching history up into four different subgroups, each with a different group of students in a different location. The first stage of my teaching started right out of college. The year was 1998 and I was eager, if not naive, about my place in the teaching world. My first group of students were likely my toughest, both in terms of what they needed academically compared to what I had to offer and from a behavioral standpoint. My ability to look at the whole picture was extremely limited by the small size of the frame about which I looked through. It has been a long time since that classroom, but I can only think that I gave many one-size fits none, end of unit assessments and used little, if any, formative assessment in my instruction. I’d like to formally apologize to those students.
My second stage of teach was the year of no textbook. I’ve already written about that class and how my perceptions on differentiation and assessments were changed by the experience. What I haven’t written about were the other classes I was teaching, which included 7th grade math and 7th grade science, along with a computer science class that I co-taught. Both the 7th grade classes had textbooks which had recently been adopted and followed NCTM and national science standards. They had built-in formative assessments, but I don’t remember either of them being particularly rich in differentiated tasks. The computer science class was learning Office and followed a pretty scripted curriculum which my co-teacher was in charge of. Because I was teaching these four preps (with no prep period) each morning, then taking a full load of college classes in the afternoon, I didn’t do too many differentiated activities in the 7th grade or computer science classes. I was grading homework (which I would not do at this point) and doing a lot of hands-on science with the 7th graders, but not actively using formative assessment.
My third stage of teaching was in a standards-based district in Alaska. Formative assessment was the name of the game, even though I wasn’t actively calling it that. Each student needed to demonstrate mastery on all the different standards (strands) within a level with 80% proficiency or better before taking an end-of-level assessment to determine if overall mastery had been achieved. Each student had a portfolio and all documented information was to be stored there. I mentioned in our Twitter meeting that I was able to teach the concepts to mastery and the students had no problem passing the tests, even though I was not teaching them how to take the tests nor the specific problems that were on the test. I knew each of my students very well, and only allowed them to take level tests when I was certain they had mastered the material. This made summative assessments painless in my classroom. All of my students passed every level assessment they took. The formative assessments were ongoing and part of the activities we did every day. That was data for me to look at and determine where each student was in the continuum of mastery and what still needed to be addressed. It was data to help a student see the progress she had made over the past three weeks. It was data to share with parents and administrators to show gains and areas of challenge. These formative assessments helped drive instruction!
My fourth stage of teaching was a quick stop as a reading intervention teacher. In this position, I used formative assessments on a weekly basis. I was working with a fairly large population of students and needed to know if my instruction was effective for each and every one of them. I used the data to reorganize groups if needed, add additional support, provide classroom teachers with feedback, make special education recommendations, show students growth from week to week, and exit students from my program as needed.
My experience, like those of my classmates, with assessment has been and varied and interesting journey. I loved reading through this week’s blog postings and sharing information as a group on Twitter. I feel that for the most part, many of us are torn between what we feel is best for our students and what our districts are telling us needs to happen in regards to assessment and grading.
*I just finished The Martian by Andy Weir, and thought it was phenomenal. The problem-solving in the book is beyond comprehension!