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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Assessment: No Single Measure Tells the Story of Student Achievement

At this California charter school, assessment comes in many forms.
By Roberta Furger
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Oral, written, and computer work used for projects presented at one of two Exhibition Nights held each year at Sherman Oaks are among multiple assessment measures used to monitor achievement.

Credit: Peter DaSilva

Since this article was written in 2000, founding principal Peggy Bryan has moved on from Sherman Oaks Community Charter School, but current principal Irene Preciado carries on the school's original vision.

"Test scores can form the starting point for accountability, but we aim to combine our qualitative and quantitative measures to look forward and inform ourselves and our community about current performance and improvement needed." -- Peggy Bryan, principal, Sherman Oaks Community Charter School

Last spring, students at Sherman Oaks Community Charter School in San Jose, California, demonstrated considerable improvement on the Stanford-9 and SABE-2 standardized tests. But for Principal Peggy Bryan and her staff, results from standardized tests are but a small piece in their ongoing efforts to assess student achievement and guide further progress.

"The SAT-9 is a statement about student performance at the end of the road," explains Sherman Oaks Academic Coordinator Diana Williams. "It's not a map, though. What we need is a map."

That "map" consists of multiple assessment tools that inform and guide staff as they work to improve student achievement. It consists of both performance-based assessments that are given several times a year, as well as the state-mandated standardized test, which is administered once a year.

The goal at Sherman Oaks is to make computers “second nature” to students.

Credit: Peter DaSilva

State Standards and More

Assessment and instruction in literacy and math are organized around California state standards. Goals include making all children literate readers and writers by third grade and incorporating math skills in their everyday lives and in their understanding of such other subjects as science, social science, the arts, and physical education. Instruction in those subjects follows the California Subject Matter Frameworks, but the goal is to go beyond the frameworks by presenting curriculum in integrated, thematic units of instruction.

District performance-based assessments in reading, writing, spelling, and math are given, on average, three times each year, and numerous staff development hours are spent reviewing results and discussing ways in which the findings can be used to inform and change classroom instruction to meet the needs of individual students.

Last year, for example, every classroom teacher at Sherman Oaks was asked to identify two students whose reading skills were slightly below grade level. Throughout the year, teachers were then charged with the task of performing additional assessments and experimenting with alternative intervention strategies in an effort to bring those students up to grade level. Student work and test results were evaluated by both the individual classroom teacher and his or her colleagues in an effort to come up with the best possible strategy for assisting each student.

At the end of the year, Williams and her colleagues evaluated the progress of the previously identified students. Although many were reading at grade level or above, one group of students did not benefit as much from the additional attention and intervention strategies. Using those results as a guide, the staff is developing new teaching strategies to help ensure that instruction addresses all of Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences theory, which holds that different students learn in different ways. "Otherwise we make it harder for one group of students," says Williams.

Keeping Parents Informed

Results and analysis of the various assessments are shared with parents three times each year during parent-student-teacher conferences. Schoolwide meetings are held each fall to go over baseline information from the district assessments and the spring SAT-9 tests. At that time, staff members also introduce the Sherman Oaks Report Card, which provides a sequential progress report of how each child is demonstrating the expected knowledge and skills at each developmental stage in six key areas: oral language, reading, writing, mathematics, projects (exhibition projects that integrate social science, science, and the arts), and citizenship.

In addition to regularly assessing student performance, Sherman Oaks utilizes a tool (the California Standards for the Teaching Profession) to help teachers self-assess their own growth over the course of a year as a result of the school's staff development efforts. This pre- and post-test assesses teachers on a continuum -- from engaging and supporting all students in learning to planning and designing learning experiences for all students to developing as a professional educator.

In the end, the means to the assessment is what counts, and Bryan lays out the strategy at Sherman Oaks. "First, diagnose carefully where a student is in the process skills of literacy and numeracy. Second, help students steadily improve these skills by applying them within content subject areas such as science and social science. Work with the student in explicit ways to teach the process skills, and then work with the student in facilitative ways to apply the skills."

Roberta Furger is a contributing writer for Edutopia.

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