Assessing What Teachers Teach and What Students Learn: Creating Authentic Assessments for Students and Teachers

Student waiving his hand in the air enthusiastically, “Teacher, teacher, is it on the test?”

These days the answer is, “I have no idea.”

The current Common Core grades 3-8 tests are not content-based they are standards-based, they “test” the ability to identify skills-acquisition; content, curriculum, has fallen by the wayside.

See two 9th grade Social Studies Standards below:

Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.

Analyze in detail a series of events described in a text; determine whether earlier events caused later ones or simply preceded them.

I have no objection; the standards are perfectly reasonable and I would expect that teachers would address the standard in their lessons.  Testing companies, in New York State Questarai, creates test items that measure the ability to exhibit knowledge of  the standards; there are no New York State created curricula.

Standards are not new, we have had standards for decades. For a period in the nineties teachers had to include standards in each lesson plan. After the topic and the aim we were required to write three SWBATs (Students Will Be Able To)  standards related to the specific lesson. In many schools anything displayed in classrooms or hallway walls had to include the specific standard.

Standards are abstract and not related to content. New York State does provide curriculum modules on the open source Engage NY website. See an example of a Ninth Grade ELA Curriculum Module here. These are not required, they are detailed and the claim is that they are aligned to the Common Core and school districts frequently adopt the Engage NY modules.

School districts rarely have the ability to create their own curricula, they simply “adopt” the Engage NY so-called curriculum modules.

The state did spent years working on and finally released Social Studies Frameworks, close to a curriculum,

This Framework integrates existing New York State Learning Standards and the New York State Core Curriculum for Social Studies into a single, three-part document. It is intended to serve as a guide for local districts in developing their Social Studies curricula.

The state makes it clear, developing curricula is the responsibility of the local district.

The math side of the Common Core State Standards are far closer to what we would call a curriculum – see an example: the Second Grade Mathematics curriculum module.

Sol Stern, in the current issue of City Journal, is sharply critical of the absence of a “coherent, grade by grade curriculum,”

“The existing K-12 school system (including most charters and private schools) has been transformed into a knowledge-free zone. It is now producing the ‘dumbest generation’ ever …. digital-age social media stupefies young Americans and makes them less interested in serious reading than any previous generation. Add in the education establishment’s refusal to teach knowledge in the classroom and the result becomes a toxic mix of intellectual apathy and ignorance.”

Stern asks, “Will conservatives at long last begin working to restore a knowledge-based curriculum?”

No Sol, if  you define conservatives as the Betsy DeVos acolytes they will be focused on choice, and leave decisions to the Local Education Authority (LEA), including creationism as an alternative theory.

Governor Cuomo, to his credit, has suspended the use of the grades 3-8 state tests to evaluate teachers, the Board of Regents adopted a four-year moratorium.

Summative assessments, the six-day April/May state tests or the end of the term Regents Exams are not the best way to assess students or teachers. As we know school districts, schools and teachers coach students to pass tests, the test is the ultimate determinant of teacher and student performance.

In New York State teachers are currently assessed by a combination of principal observations and a locally negotiated Measurement of Student Learning (MOSL); during the moratorium  state test scores are not part off the teacher assessment process.

The United Federation of Teachers and the Department of Education, after many months of negotiations, finally agreed to a Annual Personnel Performance Review (APPR), the principal/teacher assessment metric.. See a summary of the plan here.

The new  APPR agreement makes major strides towards assessing what a teacher actually teaches,

* Project Based Learning assessment, students final assessment is at least partly composed of work the student has developed over time in  conjunction with a specific project based on a learning unit.

* Student Learning Inventories, collections of student work that will include both Department of Education  developed components as well as classroom artifacts that capture student growth.

Major steps to an authentic assessment system – assessing what teachers teach and students learn.

The Secretary of Education nominee appears centered on providing opportunities for choice, and we can expect battles over Title 1 funding and a range of other contentious issues.  The new law, ESSA, does “reserve for the states,” a wide range of education decision-making.

The New York City APPR agreement may provide a path for the state in the creation of the plan that the feds require of each state: authentic assessments.

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2 responses to “Assessing What Teachers Teach and What Students Learn: Creating Authentic Assessments for Students and Teachers

  1. Learning content in any subject matter should always be the primary goal. Otherwise, why give any of the subjects names? If the primary goal is to teach decoding and inference skills with content matter being a secondary concern, then in my opinion its a classic case of ass backwards. Thankfully, we are going to witness the devaluation if not outright elimination of Common Core as the educational medium that drives all learning. As far as Learning Objectives (SWBAT), it bega the question, what if they won’t be able to? There’s no answer for that in Common Core. SWBAT is a subjective learning assessment, while Aims are very objective and lesson specific, SWBAT should have no place in grades 1 thru 8.

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  2. Pingback: Guarding Democracy « Dad Gone Wild

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