I know many teachers hear “assessment” and think of that dark cloud looming over the end of their spring semester. Accountability! Scores! Proficiency! They may as well all be “four-letter words.” Over the last several years, my English 10 PLC team and I have been working to change our mindset about assessments and what they can do for us as educators and for our kids. We felt as though we could turn assessments from things we had to work toward into things that work for us.
Three Ways to Use Assessment for Good:
1) Common Assessments as Intentional Planning Tools
Backwards planning has always been a big part of my PLC’s curriculum creation process. We will often look at the skills we wish to master over a unit of study and start by creating common assessments (CA’s). These then serve as “checkpoints” in student understanding. We put these common assessments into the SAP Lesson Planning Tool to serve as a “road map” to our unit. These allow us to help create a pace for the unit, and make sure we are doing at least weekly check-ins with student understanding of skills, which leads to….
2) PLC Discussion Drivers
My PLC team has built a foundation of data-driven instruction over the last four years using common assessments. Using common assessments allows us to calibrate our expectations for kids and see their progress in concrete terms. These CAs never serve as “test or quiz” grades for our kids, but instead appear much like any daily assignment. Having this weekly data allows us to quickly see where students understand and where they continue to falter. In planning, we will often leave specific days open-ended, so that we can tailor re-teaching to the specific needs of class periods that may be struggling with skills on an individual basis. For example, during the Shakespeare unit, we use the Julius Caesar mini-assessment after studying the mechanics of Shakespeare, and then spend a day fine-tuning and refreshing skills that we see kids struggling with.
3) Using Mini-Assessments as Intervention Tools
Mastery of skills is an ongoing mission with our students. We have a philosophy in our PLC that all that matters is that they master the standard, not when. Re-teaching and re-assessing are common occurrences for our classes both in-class, and during our after-school remediation/intervention sessions. One strategy we like to employ is using next-gen assessment formatting in our intervention and re-teaching tools. For example, say we use the Long Night of Little Boats mini-assessment; after discussing the data and looking at the areas for improvement in the standards, we would take a second appropriately complex text and create a new mini-assessment with questions that centered on the standards that students struggled with. We consider these additional assessments informal pulse checks, and they have several uses: to help reinforce test-taking strategies, to model how standards might be assessed in various ways on a next gen assessment, and to give students additional opportunities to show mastery of the standard. If, during this cycle students do not show mastery, we will spend more instructional time with appropriately complex texts. Once we have completed our re-teaching and review of the areas of student struggle, we will use another, more formal assessment to test all of the standards and see how students are improving.
Assessment is all about mindset for kids and teachers! If you choose to view assessments as tools for curriculum planning and standards mastery, they can be powerful tools indeed! Best practice with your weekly assessment also has the bonus of preparing kids to face the dark cloud at the end of the year!
Thanks for reading!