We are very excited to present our November Teacher of the Month, Shana Nissenbaum! Shana is an amazing elementary teacher who works in Ohio and lives in Indiana. Read on to learn more about Shana and how she uses Edcite.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Click here to read Part 1 of this post, where Alexander Clarkson discusses the challenges teachers face when giving regular formative assessments and feedback.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Alexander 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.
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.
We 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 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.