Tag Archives: authentic assessment

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.

Authentic Assessment: Will New York State Begin to Move from “Bubbling” to “Deeper Learning”?

Back in 2009 The New Teacher Project (TNTP) issued a report, The Widget Effect, school districts only rarely observed teachers or even attempted to discharge teachers.

“A teacher’s effectiveness – the most important factor for schools in improving student achievement – is not measured, recorded, or used to inform decision-making in any meaningful way.”

If we could “measure and record” teacher effectiveness, if we could identify the worst teachers and fire them we could improve student achievement. What we have seen is an unrelenting assault on teachers: use student test scores to assess teacher quality and remove tenure (See Vergara v The State of California here); make firing teachers easier.

The assumption that there is a long line of highly effectiveness teachers waiting to replace the “bad” teachers is ludicrous. In fact, 40% of teachers leave within their first five years of service, in high poverty, low achieving inner city schools the percentage of much higher; a revolving door of new teachers seriously impacts student achievement.

A perhaps well-intentioned reform, replacing “bad” teachers with new teachers had an unintended consequence,  a hugh unintended consequence. Since student test scores now drove teacher competence decisions, prepare for the tests, in fact, preparing for the tests became the driver of instruction.

In New York State the opt out movement exploded and eventually Governor Cuomo, to his credit, announced a four-year moratorium on the use of student test scores to assess teacher quality.

Couple the moratorium with the new ESSA requirement to create a new student accountability model and a window opens. Watch a webinar from the Learning Policy Institute laying out the opportunities under ESSA here .

Under the far more permissive regulations in ESSA, the new law states have wide discretion.

Teachers agree:  we should assess what we’re actually teaching?

In the ideal world, we teach a curriculum, a word that has virtually disappeared from the education vocabulary, we assess student performance periodically based on maybe a portfolio of work, a series of performance tasks, a lab report based on an experiment:  referred to authentic assessment:

A form of assessment in which students are asked to perform real-world tasks that demonstrate meaningful application of essential knowledge and skills” — Jon Mueller

“…Engaging and worthy problems or questions of importance, in which students must use knowledge to fashion performances effectively and creatively. The tasks are either replicas of or analogous to the kinds of problems faced by adult citizens and consumers or professionals in the field.” — Grant Wiggins

Performance assessments call upon the examinee to demonstrate specific skills and competencies, that is, to apply the skills and knowledge they have mastered.” — Richard J. Stiggins.

The movement, frequently called “deeper learning,” supports the change from bubbling in multiple choice answers to “create and produce,” a Stanford University online (MOOC)  Massive Online Open Course describes performance assessments,

Whether students are learning to select, use, and explain evidence to support a claim or to analyze data to evaluate a hypothesis, tests that require that students only bubble in a scantron are inadequate to measure (or support) students’ learning and growth. Performance assessments are more suited to this task. Performance-based tasks require that students create and produce rather than recall and regurgitate. While performance assessments vary along multiple dimensions, including duration and focus, they all demand that students use and apply critical skills and knowledge to demonstrate understanding.

Stanford has created a performance assessment resource bank, , a rich repository for schools planning to move from bubbles to deeper learning.

I believe the state is edging in that direction; remembering the Common Core disaster. The introduction of the Common Core Learning Standards coupled with Common Core state tests angered everyone and saw standardized test score grades flip from two-thirds “proficient” to two-thirds “below proficient.”  Either teachers forgot how to teach and students forgot how to learn or the entire process was deeply flawed.

A “deeper learning” approach to teaching, the use of authentic assessments requires “buy-in” from schools and extensive teacher training. Keeping track of student progress in a class of twenty-five or thirty students can be onerous, a three-day test in April may be viewed as a lot easier.

We don’t have to use a “one-size-fits all” approach to teaching and learning. School districts or clusters of schools in the “Big Five” can opt in while other schools continue the more traditional approach.

Commissioner Elia has been extremely sensitive to the “field,” aka, the stakeholders; opportunities for consultations and engagement have been myriad. For example, the Higher Education Committee is moving toward recommending changes in teacher preparation regulations, there have been I believe ten open forums around the state, all the Deans, from CUNY, SUNY and the privates have been invited to be part of the process.

A reminiscence: an authentic assessment.

An alum is writing a history of the school at which I spent my career teaching and is interviewing former students and publishing the history in the alum bulletin.  I was surprised and overjoyed at one of her articles. Around 1980 I was teaching a Sociology class, and, decided to create an exercise: create a statistically correct (“stratified random sample”) survey of student attitudes and opinions, questions dealing  from homework, to pot-smoking, to condom distribution to the quality of teaching to race relations. We worked on the assignment for weeks, eventually presented the report to the Principal and invited him to the class to discuss the findings. When the alum interviewed the former students and asked them what they remember about their school career three of them referenced that assignment – more than thirty years earlier – think they remember what was on the Regents that year?