Improving the Quality of the Feed: Electronic Common Assessments

Educational assessment articles and books across this country in the last five years have referenced hogs, chickens, and cows. The question has been if you want a healthier animal, do you weigh it more often or do you improve the quality of the feed?  It has been continually suggested for the last decade that improving our students’ achievement requires breaking the pattern of being data-rich but information-poor.

However, assessments were just being given and were taking up valuable instructional time when we weren’t doing anything with the data. (2)This has been the case in my district over the last few years.  We were using an outside vendor to track student progress and doing a great job at weighing students.  However, assessments were just being given and were taking up valuable instructional time when we weren’t doing anything with the data. Add a number of parents who refused to have their students take these assessments and we had an assessment system that wasn’t working for anyone!

As Director of Educational Services, it was my number one priority this last year to build capacity in my staff to convert data to information that gives teachers tools needed to probe for causes where students are underperforming or exceeding expectations, analyze conditions that contribute to various trends of student achievement, and develop intervention and enrichment strategies to support these analyses.

Interventionand Enrichment

In relationship to the educational shifts required in the academic content standards for our state, I spent considerable time developing assessments created by my teachers that function from an evidence-centered design (see the embedded image for more information on this type of design).  Evidence-centered design begins with inferences that we want to make about student learning connected to standards and follows with a collection of evidence (i.e., an assessment) that shows how we know that students are making progress toward doing what we claim they can do.

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I knew that if I was to get buy-in from staff on utilizing the data to drive instruction, we had to create our own assessments. From my perspective, this meant that we either had to learn how to write good questions quickly or find them from vetted resources.  Utilizing resources from Achieve the Core and Illustrative Mathematics and doing some work with assessment blueprinting, we created assessments on Edcite that my principals and I felt were worthy of kids’ time and that would also provide us with valuable information with which to adjust instruction.

However, assessments were just being given and were taking up valuable instructional time when we weren’t doing anything with the data. (4).jpg

Edcite’s new platform Edcite Schools fit our needs as it was cost-effective, allowed us to generate reports in a number of ways (standards-based, classroom-based, student-based, etc.), and allowed our teachers to provide feedback to students via the electronic platform. The system allowed us to search through question banks that we vetted using an assessment vetting tool on Achieve the Core. It also had the extra advantage of being able to be customized to give students experience in a viewer very similar to our state’s assessment system, AIR.

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After we administered our first assessment, we met in grade level teams to analyze results. Utilizing the reports in Edcite Schools and following a data-protocol, where we set norms, focused on what students can do, what students were struggling with, and trends amongst assessments, we were able to have the professional conversation about how we were going to improve our instruction. The quality of the feed improved and we saw growth amongst students from assessment-to-assessment.

However, assessments were just being given and were taking up valuable instructional time when we weren’t doing anything with the data. (6).jpg

Fast-forward to June, which in my state is every curriculum director’s nightmare: the release of state achievement data. I learned that the work that we did with Edcite Schools actually was predicative.  When I compared our internal Edcite Schools data to our state achievement data, with a 99% predicative accuracy, I was able to determine which students were in danger of not meeting grade-level benchmarks.  We are now data rich.

As we plan for the following year, it is crucial that we start to utilize the information that we are collecting consistently to further plan interventions to help our students who are struggling. I know, as do my teams, that there are going to be mistakes. Will we have it 100% right next year? No. The key is to plan the administration of the assessment knowing that we have to do better for our students with whatever data comes back. They deserve it so that we can consistently focus on the feed rather than than weighing.

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Bryan R. Drost is the Director of Curriculum and Instruction for the ESC of Summit County, Ohio. He holds a Master’s of Education in Educational Foundations with an emphasis in Standards-Based instruction as well as a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction and Assessment both from Kent State. Bryan holds a variety of roles at the state and national levels: chairperson for the Ohio Foreign Language Association Technology Integration Committee, an ODE Network Regional Leader, a member of ODE’s Fairness and Test Use Committee, a steering committee member of the Northeast Ohio TALK Network, a RESA master coder, a national supervisor for edTPA, a consultant for the National Board, part of NCME’s Standards and Test Use Committee, one of Ohio’s Core Advocates, and a Batelle for Kids Roster Verification trainer. He has presented throughout the state and country on various topics related to instructional shifts, assessment, and technology integration. 

 

DIS Insight: Digital Assessment & Edcite (Part 2 of 2)

Click here to read Part 1 of this post, where Alexander Clarkson discusses the challenges teachers face when giving regular formative assessments and feedback.

Smal bit of feedbackA solution

I don’t have the answer, but I have an answer: next generation digital assessment. My teaching emphasized writing as assessment because I was suspicious of structured response items like multiple-choice, true/false, or matching. They felt less like authentic thinking tasks and more like artificial hoops that practically beg students to cheat or use test-taking skills to trump thinking skills. But, what if I could reduce the amount of writing grading that I faced by replacing those bulky assessments with next generation digital tasks that required authentic thinking skills, properly challenged students to master those skills, and provided formative feedback necessary for modification of instruction? And what if that approach graded itself?

The idea is simple. We can now develop digital assessment models that automatically grade while providing students with challenging, authentic skills practice. We must move away from multiple-choice question types to those that present thinking challenges that cannot be “gamed,” but will accurately provide data on a student’s ability to perform a skill, with that data indicating how to proceed.

Let me give an example. I wrote an item last year to prepare students for Ohio’s state tests, which were being administered by Pearson’s PARCC platform for the first time. In trying to prepare students for these new tests, I had nearly no practice material, so I collaborated with another teacher to write original material based on PARCC approaches. This particular item was based on an excerpt from Stephen King’s The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (wonderful little book; check it out) in which the protagonist, a 14 year-old girl named Tricia, finds herself lost after fainting on the Appalachian Trail. The question gave the students six statements about events that happen in the novel before the excerpt presented in the assessment. Students had never read that part. They had to arrange the statements into the correct order. Students had to use causal and inferential reasoning to accurately arrange the statements. In the excerpt, the girl had just woken up from a faint, so the statement “Tricia faints” was logically the last event before the excerpt. The student would move backward from there.

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Edcite order list response item for Stephen King’s The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon.

I’m using this item as an example because it shows the type of assessment item I am now looking to repeat. It requires skills that I actually want students to develop, causal and inferential reasoning, not test-gaming with multiple-choice or matching questions. It is replicable for another passage, which means I can re-write the question with different content and give more opportunities to practice the skills. And, best of all, it will be automatically graded. All I need to do is assign it, let the students complete it, review the data, and modify instruction. The grading burden drops to nearly zero. Sure, the assessment creation takes time, but less time than grading, and assessment creation can be shared collaboratively with teachers throughout buildings or an entire district, thus reducing the time needed even further.

Empower Teacher Quote

This is where I was when Edcite came into my life. I knew what I wanted to do, but I was struggling with the perfect platform to accomplish it. As a Google user, I stuck with Forms graded through Flubaroo, but Forms was never designed for educators. It works just fine for multiple-choice questions, but designing this Stephen King question in Forms led to a student experience that was basically clunky. I suspected that students may not be able to complete the question well because of its awkward presentation. Edcite, however, offers an order list response item type, which allowed me to create the question as a user friendly drag and arrange item. It worked perfectly. After looking at it, I reviewed other items in the same assignment, which were mostly traditional multiple-choice and multiple-select items, and chided myself for not creating more of these rigorous and authentic challenges for my students. Empowered by Edcite, I’m excited to design more.

And what will those items look like? How about having students watch a compilation of movie clips and then sort quotes based on the type of figurative language? How about asking them to graph a quadratic equation or use a math keyboard to answer a word problem? Or maybe asking them to click on sections of a map when asked questions like “Identify the compass rose” or label a blank map of Mesopotamia? No multiple-choice to provide assistance. Just the student’s ability (or lack thereof). How about asking students to highlight statements from the novel The Valley of Fear to answer a question about irony? All of this automatically graded. Just design the assessment, assign it, and modify instruction based on the data. It’s just like setting up that robot pitcher.

That’s why Edcite is such an incredible gift to teachers. Instead of offering a handful of question types and limited ability to customize, Edcite offers (at the time of this writing) 74 question types. I have discussed only five or six here. Most questions allow for customization including the embedding of images, videos, sound files, links, and more. With a little creative thought and focus on effective learning challenges, a teacher could use this platform to completely redesign assessment in a way that would provide repeated opportunities for authentic skills practice. Oh, and without the crushing burden of grading.

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Various Question Types available on Edcite.com

I’m an English teacher. I will always grade essays, and my students will always work hard to improve those vital communication and critical thinking skills, but by embracing next generation assessment approaches, I do not need to only grade essays. I can develop a library of assessments that will sharpen a wide range of skills without the constant crush of grading.

It’ll just be that kid and me, her in the cage, me watching from outside. A pitch and a miss, followed by a few words. Another pitch, another miss. More words. Some demonstration. Another pitch, and CRACK! A slam threatening to punch a hole in the net.

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Clarkson Profile PicAlexander Clarkson is currently the digital instruction specialist for Sylvania Schools, where he helps teachers include innovative instructional strategies in their classrooms as they move to full 1:1 implementation. Just last year, though, Alex finished a sixteen-year tenure of teaching that included English language arts, philosophy, and film studies at the college, high school, and junior high school levels. When he’s not thinking about digital instruction, Alex marvels at his two-year-old’s abilities with a tablet and his fifteen year-old’s abilities with a drum kit.

DIS Insight: Digital Assessment & Edcite (Part 1 of 2)

Part 1 of Alexander Clarkson’s Guest Blog Post

The Problem

As a teacher, I think of batting cages often. shutterstock_405329950No, I don’t teach phys. ed., and I don’t coach sports, but the batting cage, a precious memory from both my childhood and fatherhood, rattles around my brain as the perfect metaphor for the kind of teacher I strive to be. Think about it. The cage is the perfect teaching and learning situation. In an artificial environment designed to replicate an authentic one, the learner is encouraged to try and try again, modifying each attempt under guidance from a mentor or personal observation. There are no high stakes because no one’s keeping score. The only purpose is refinement of a skill, and nothing distracts from that. Boys and girls for generations have received effective instruction in that simple cage as they refine their skill for the big game.

Over the past few years, I have endeavored to create batting cages for each of my students through techniques of formative assessment. My students would target a set of related skills and practice them once, twice, three times, and hopefully more before the summative assessment, or “big game.” The formative practice carried no grade, but it received a ton of feedback. For example, when I taught skills of argument writing, I would not ask students to write one big researched argument paper, but several short ones. Students would read news articles for controversial topics, choose one, conduct extra research, fashion a logic model of their argument and the opponent’s counter-argument, outline the paper, and write it. I’d read it, add comments, assign a rubric-based grade, and hold a workshop to discuss trends in strengths and weaknesses. So, a student could write a paper on an issue of their choice, say school uniform policies, and receive guidance both written and verbal. We would workshop the paper, and they’d try again. Chalkboard feedback
Not a revision, mind you, but a new paper on a new topic with all the same steps repeated, but perhaps this time the student would choose living wages for fast food workers. Each new paper was a new pitch in the cage, different in space and time, but identical in structure and expectation. Just like the coach outside the cage, I was looking for skill refinement through repeated practice and guidance, and I tried to bring it to every skill I taught: creative writing, literary analysis, grammar revision, news article analysis, research, and more. Each series of assessments was a new session in the batting cage.

This practice helped me understand that assessment was not a threatening trial, or at least it should not be. Each assessment was an opportunity for feedback and help, not a dreadful exercise in humiliation. Assessment, not test. A way to check for progress and provide guidance to improve. Following that line of thinking, the more assessments, the better. Why step into the cage for two pitches? Where’s the use in that? The best practice comes from repeated assessment and repeated guidance. If executed properly, students should look forward to assessments as nonthreatening opportunities for help, and teachers should throw themselves excitedly into the role of individualized mentor.

Each Assessment Quote

Unfortunately, the excitement on my part was hard to come by for one simple reason: grading. Proper formative assessment should be frequent and feedback should be as close to immediate as possible. A teacher that returns an essay a month or more after submission should not have bothered to assign it. The feedback will be nearly meaningless at that point. I redesigned writing assignments to be shorter in order to grade them faster and more tightly focused so we could discuss feedback on a narrower range of skill standards. I challenged myself to turn back papers in no more than three class days, and I kept to that pretty well. Students wrote, we discussed, I graded and discussed my feedback, they wrote, and we repeated the process. Pitch after pitch. But, keeping up that pace for an average course load of 160 students was coming close to breaking me. Sure, I became a faster and better grader. I wrote precise and useful rubrics. I developed new digital means to speed up the process. I went paperless to improve organization and communication. This time was a flurry of innovation, student interaction, spontaneous class planning, and . . . utter exhaustion.

Argument Paper Screenshot
Google Docs-driven argument writing with comments for feedback.

But, I could not abandon this approach. I believed in frequent formative feedback, even on major skills like essay composition and research, and the students benefited. Time on task in the classroom rose dramatically as revision tasks were clearly defined and manageable for students. Tension lessened because the workshops necessary to drive this instruction fostered collaboration, creating social, instead of isolated, effort.

Clarkson Classroom Pic
During workshop, a student works with me to explore a piece of feedback from a formative paper.

I was better able to support students because their challenges were specific and had a history from previous efforts. But, the overload was still there. So, what to do?

Click here to read Part 2: “The Solution”

Clarkson Profile PicAlexander Clarkson is currently the digital instruction specialist for Sylvania Schools, where he helps teachers include innovative instructional strategies in their classrooms as they move to full 1:1 implementation. Just last year, though, Alex finished a sixteen-year tenure of teaching that included English language arts, philosophy, and film studies at the college, high school, and junior high school levels. When he’s not thinking about digital instruction, Alex marvels at his two-year-old’s abilities with a tablet and his fifteen year-old’s abilities with a drum kit.

 

Teacher of the Month: Matt Waligura

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We are delighted to present our April Teacher of the Month, Matt Waligura, a high school science teacher from Freedom High School in Orlando, Florida!

Read more about Matt and his use of Edcite below.


Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Matt Waligura. I am a 42 year old father of two, a son 13 years old and a daughter 10 years old.  I live in Central Florida and am currently employed by the Orange County Public School system. This year will complete my 15th year in the education field.

What do you teach? 

At the present time I teach Physical Science at the high school level. We are currently in our first year of implementing a complete digital curriculum. Each student has a school-provided Lenovo device that they keep with them at all times.

Why did you become a teacher?

I have always enjoyed the outdoors and our environment. This love of the outdoors and being athletic in high school steered me towards a career in the science field as well as possibly becoming a coach at the high school level. I had several teacher / coaches that had an impact on me and influenced my career choice during that time. The path that I was interested in led me to earning a degree in biology and a secondary education certification. I have enjoyed my years in education and the sports aspect of high school tremendously.

How did you hear about Edcite?

I was presented a short presentation on the Edcite link in a science department meeting around the start of 2016. The aspect of a web based site that I could use to present assignments directly to individual student devices was very appealing. The ability to keep track of student records and accountability was an added bonus. Due to our entire school being driven by a digital based platform the Edcite application was a terrific fit to supplement my lesson plan

What aspects make you most “Edcited” about Edcite?

I would have to say that the accountability aspect of Edcite has made me the most “Edcited”. The site allows me to monitor my students by their individual reports or by a complete class summary of the assignment. The ability to see whether a student has “opened”, is “in progress”, or has “submitted” the assignment is a great tool in motivation and accountability. Supplying a breakdown of their answers to the assignments, and thus being able to view each student’s responses, allows me to formatively assess the students’ progress throughout the lesson. The ability to use this application for summative (exam) assignments has also been a plus.

Formative Assessments

How do you use Edcite in the classroom?

I have been implementing Edcite on a frequent basis. The site has allowed me to present my classes with a “bell ringer” at the start of class and then as a formative assessment tool throughout the lesson. The ability to set each assignment up with a time limit and date parameter is fantastic! It has also provided a reliable platform for homework assignments. The ability to have students access the site at school or at home allows these assignments to be completed in an efficient manner. I believe that the site has helped improve my ability to formatively assess my students with greater confidence

Final Words of Wisdom for other Edcite Users? :)

I would recommend Edcite wholeheartedly. The ability to create and or select already shared assignments is a snap. Edcite’s resource to create very highly engaged questions and present them in a specific manner to match a rigorous lesson plan make this a site that I will definitely continue to use in my education career. To have it all contained in one easy and simple-to-navigate package is spectacular to add to an educator’s demanding schedule.

Teacher of the Month: Megha Huber

We are so honored to present our March Teacher of the Month, Megha Huber, a high school math teacher from California! According to the teacher who nominated her, Megha “is an amazing human being, gives unconditional love and support to all colleagues, leads with love and respect, has a passion and dedication to all her students and creates great activities on Edcite.”

Read more about Megha and her use of Edcite below.


Tell us a bit about yourself.

I have been teaching for 9 years and I am currently completing my first year as Math Department Chair at Colony High School in Ontario, California. I have been married for two years and my husband I recently welcomed our first son.  I enjoy spending time with my family and telling my husband corny math jokes, which he declines to acknowledge are hilarious (but I know he is laughing inside).

What do you teach?

I currently teach Integrated Math III Honors and College Prep.

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Why did you become a teacher?

When I was in school, I saw that many of my friends feared math or had bad experiences with the subject.  From a young age, I had a great love for math and I got into teaching to try and have others share in that feeling as well.  One way I try to foster this love for math is by showing students that math is everywhere, and incorporating real life activities in the classroom.

How did you hear about Edcite?

I heard about Edcite through my colleague, Jessica Martinez, who has been incorporating and creating great assessments on Edcite!

How do you use Edcite in the classroom? Whatshutterstock_126401921 aspects make you most “Edcited” about Edcite?

I love the variety of question types Edcite offers because it allows me to formatively assess students for mastery throughout a unit.  Students are given weekly “take home quizzes” to practice and provide feedback during a unit.  This makes me “edcited” because it has given the students a sense of ownership of their education and puts them in control of their learning.

Final Words of Wisdom for other Edcite Users? :)

Be patient! Technology integration is new to many, but keep at it and you will see all the benefits that it brings to our classroom.

Teacher of the Month: Tracey Tisdale

Tracey Tisdale

We are so thrilled to honor our February Teacher of the Month, Tracey Tisdale, an elementary teacher from Ohio! According to the teacher who nominated her, “[Tracey] is inspired to give her students the best, most relevant education possible. By doing this, she seeks out and implements 21st century teaching on a daily basis. Although she is a seasoned teacher, she is always seeking out new ideas that bring education to the next level.”

Read more about Tracey and her use of Edcite below.


Tell us a bit about yourself.

I am a teacher at Millersport Elementary in Walnut Township School District. I earned my BSED from Ohio University in 1983.  I hold a MSED  in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of New England. I have been teaching for 23 years (full time) and have been at Millersport for 22 of those years. I am married  with three children. My own kids’ ages range from 29 to 14. I have seen education through two sets of eyes in my life (through my role as a parent and as a teacher). It has changed dramatically.

What do you teach?

I teach 5th and 6th English Language Arts.

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Why did you become a teacher?

I became a teacher because it has been my goal since I was a Jr. High student. As a high school student, I had the opportunity to tutor kids in the 2nd grade. I knew then that it would be my chosen career path and I never hesitated on that decision.

How did you hear about Edcite?

During a common core (PARCC) conference,  I heard about Edcite through another teacher. After looking at it the first time,  I was hooked. Nothing could be more exciting than to have the proper tool to prepare our kids for what they need to know.

What aspects make you most “Edcited” about Edcite?

Where do I begin?

  1. The ability to create my own assignments and tests using a platform that is necessary for my students to understand.
  2. The various choices of question types
  3. The ability for my students to have instant feedback on an assignment or assessment.  
  4. The option for students to learn from the mistakes they’ve made, by seeing what the correct answers should be for a given question.  

Sorry,  it’s hard to pick just one or two reasons.

Tisdale 3How do you use Edcite in the classroom?

My students take all their summative assessments on Edcite. We also use Edcite for Webquests and discovery assignments.

Final Words of Wisdom for other Edcite Users? 🙂

How lucky are we to have such a wonderful support staff in Edcite? One of my favorite things about the Edcite community is the access I have, as a teacher, to someone who can help me. I recall just starting out on Edcite, and I had so many questions. My questions were answered within minutes of my request. You just don’t find that everywhere. The Edcite team is also constantly changing to meet the teachers’ needs. I love how they take our suggestions with sincere interest and, more often than not, apply those suggestions to the site. They respect our role as teachers.

You can also learn more about Tracey in this Lancaster Eagle-Gazette news story! Interactive lessons help prep students

Data Analysis: One of a Teacher’s Best Tools

 

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Data. That 4-letter word! Often when teachers hear the word data, it makes us cringe. You mean we have to look at data to determine what we are teaching?  That takes so much time. For those of us who have been in education for a while, it can be hard to get into that mindset of looking at data in order to determine what to teach. I mean, really, I’ve taught long enough, I know the areas that are the concern, and I plan for that in my lessons….Right?

Data analysis is actually one of a teacher’s best tools. It can be as holistic as looking at the summary of data to determine strengths or weaknesses within a Professional Learning Community (PLC), or it can be used to determine whether students missed a question because of knowledge and skill or due to a poorly written question.

It seems easy: give the formative assessment and look at the data. From there, use the data to create differentiated assignments addressing the strengths and weaknesses of the class. The problem is logistics. How do you do that when you have 150 students, a pacing guide for your district-wide unit, school meetings and other routine duties, all while trying to have some sort of home life?

I wish I could say that our school has figured it all out, but we are still in the process of working on it. I do know that we have decided to use a tool for assessment that will give us the data immediately. Our teachers have started using Edcite to create assignments for students so the data will be quickly and easily accessible. For example, our math teachers administer formative assessments to gather data for our RtI sessions that we hold twice a week. Teachers look at the data, determine what types of sessions they need to offer students, and then give exit slips after the sessions to determine if students have mastered the skills.

shutterstock_220837810We also use Edcite’s new platform, Edcite Schools, which gives us the ability to create master distributions of assignments and analyze far more powerful reports.  This saves teachers time because one person can make an assignment and distribute it to all students in a grade level, across classes. There is also a feature to create groups and folders for teachers to access for collaboration.

Our school is moving forward with the data piece in education.  Weekly we are looking at ways to make data analysis easier, more efficient, and more effective for teachers in order to help students progress and achieve.

We know it is a long journey, but we are up to the challenge.


 

Melanie ThiesseMelanie Thiesse has been in education for 31 years. She has taught junior high English and business classes. With her experience in both English and business, she was asked to design a course and write the curriculum for a class that combined business skills with English skills. It was adopted by the state, and several districts in Arkansas adopted the course for their schools. For the last 4 years, Melanie has been working as an Instructional Facilitator. She enjoys working with teachers to help them provide rigorous instruction to students to prepare them for the future. Melanie is also part of Edcite’s advisory panel of teachers, the Edcite Evangelists.