Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Making Assessing Worthwhile

Common assessments have become a big thing at my school in the past couple of years. A big thing with which I am still struggling.

Prior to this quarter, our common assessments in language arts have been our running records. I had no problem with this. We were all doing running records to help us plan effective guided reading groups so it didn't require any extra time or energy. It was an authentic, meaningful assessment.

This quarter we decided to focus on the high frequency words our students should know by the end of first grade. Every January we assess all 100 words - the writing of which typically takes more than an hour over the course of a week. I do 25 words each day and it takes us between 15 and 30 minutes to do that, depending on how focused we are, how many distractions we have, etc. We also do one-on-one assessments of each child reading the words. When we decided to focus on high frequency words I immediately argued against assessing all 100 again. (We decided to focus on the 20-30 words each class worked on during this quarter.)

The time factor was a significant reason for my wish to not assess all 100 words. But I spent a lot of time thinking about what we gain from these assessments and what they cost us. When I tell students a word and they write it down, I learn if they can spell it in that moment, in that isolated manner. That may or may not translate to their actual writing. Which is where I really care if they can spell it.

In the past I would not have assessed 20-30 words at the end of the 3rd quarter. But that doesn't mean I wouldn't have been assessing them. During writing conferences I would be noting their facility with high frequency words. I would not have know who could spell each specific word at any given moment, but I'm not convinced I know that from our common assessment either.

In the past I would have known who has a strong grasp on the high frequency words and who does not. That would have allowed me to form guided writing groups around using our resources for these words as well as creating work stations to practice them. I believe that would have worked just fine.

Now, I'll spend a considerable amount of time assessing students rather than teaching them. I will likely still end up with guided writing groups and work stations, just as I would without this common assessment. I just wouldn't have hard numbers for us to compare as a team. Sigh.


Techmuse said...

Doesn't common assessments mean assessing the same objectives---by whatever means is appropriate for your teaching style and your students--if, at the end, you have the same data (i.e. Jon can do 90% of the words right, but Bud is still only at 10--isn't that all that matters...I don't understand why the assessment have to be identical if they are all sufficient...

The Science Goddess said...

I'm wondering, Jen, if you're not so much against common assessments as you are bad assessments. The two don't have to be interchangeable.

I also wonder if there is a way to shift the conversation at your grade level to focus on what you (as teachers) want to use from this information. I'm not going to claim that writing the 20 - 30 words (again) is a worthwhile assessment. Is the larger goal to use this to look for areas of success so you can share what's working amongst yourselves? In other words, all of the good things you've detailed here---writer's workshop, etc.---might be things you do so well that when other teachers see the evidence, they'll want to see/hear about how you enable student success when it comes to sight words. This is not a reason to use kids as teaching tools. Your kids do not have anything to prove to another teacher. How can you change the conversation with adults to consider "What do we (teachers) hope to learn about our practice...and is this common assessment the best way to gather that information?"