After becoming interested in flipping my classroom and mastery learning, I began a 2-year experiment to help students focus on the learning instead of the number at the top of their paper. For all the multiple choice questions on the test, the students had to give a reason for their choice. This was a way for my students to show me what they had learned at a deeper level. Students could do corrections on their test to get a better grade, but I never offered them additional learning activities to address gaps in their learning. I didn’t analyze the test results to see what learning targets each student missed. I didn’t ask the students to think deeply about what they learned or why they learned it. Doing these things was the first step to helping students monitor their own learning.
The following year, students in my class were held to a standard of 75% or higher on all assessments, removing the option for students to achieve a 65% and think that was acceptable. If a student did not reach a score of 75%, they would complete another learning activity and take the test again. Some students needed more than 2 tries, but that was OK in my class. It was quite an adjustment, but even after 5 weeks, the students knew that what I cared most about was if they learned the material. Parents also had many questions for me, but I believe they appreciated how I was shifting the focus from grades to learning. Students in my class set goals, reported how they had prepared for each and every assessment, and planned how they would improve their skills as the year progressed. All I needed to do was to listen to their needs and be responsive.
Through the Teaching is the Core grant (NYSED 2014-2015), I have learned so much with regard to assessment design and data-driven instruction that I never knew in 14 years of teaching practice. This is a testament to the need for teachers to always learn new things to help them be more effective. In an EdWeek article published October 27, 2015, John Hattie reminds us that there is much data already available on what students already know. Teachers need user-friendly reports in order to determine what the next step is for each student’s learning. Hattie contends that teachers and schools can determine if they are effective by leveraging assessment data appropriately. In his work with designing assessment systems, he worked hard to design the assessment reports to provide consequential actions so that schools, school systems, and teachers can continually improve. Once the reports were functional, then assessment items could be modified to yield the most useful data points upon which to make decisions.
How are you using assessment data in your practice? Are you simply using it to generate a number for the gradebook? Every student deserves our best - responsive teaching for the purpose of learning and growth with the ultimate goal of equipping students to realize their dreams.
About the author - Marley Smith is a Staff Development Specialist with the Integrated Education Services team. She previously taught Chemistry, AP Biology, Anatomy & Physiology, and college life sciences courses for 14 years. She is passionate about STEAM, Science education, and common-sense assessment practices.