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Guest Blog: Reinventing Assessment for the 21st-Century

| Betty Ray

Editor's Note: Our guest blogger today is Andrew Marcinek, an English Instructor at Boys Latin Charter School of Philadelphia. His post is inspired by this week's #edchat topic, "What's the ideal classroom design for 21st-century learning?"

The answer to student achievement and mastery is not found in shaded bubble. This, however, is what we work with yearly in American schools. We teach. We Test. We re-teach. We differentiate. We struggle. We do everything within our power to promote student learning, but in the end, it comes down to the mighty test. This is the culture we live in and until we have teachers in congress and school boards eliminated, this is what we have to work with.

I will now come down off of my soap box and offer some ideas for promoting 21st century assessment in your classroom while synching your lessons with state standards and objectives. In the past, many of us would design a unit, create a test, and develop lessons. While this is still a good practice, we need to change the method of delivery and assessment in rapidly changing world.

Today's students' are unlike any other student in history; they have access to more information than any generation in history, yet they are underperforming. Wait...what? Underperforming! In the most affluent country on the planet? The numbers are shocking, but they're real. How did this happen in America?

One of the reasons this is happening is because of the way we assess our students. Students are residing in a 20th century classroom equipped for the 21st century. Students are taking 19th and 20th century exams in a classroom that has an interactive white board and 1:1 laptop ratio. This is where our problem begins.

We give assessments to gauge mastery and understand how our students are performing, however, do we vary and differentiate those assessments? No. Everyday teachers hear the word differentiation, yet only a few actually follow this trend through to their assessments. A 21st century assessment is a menu of options. It allows students to pick and choose the best method for showcasing a specific skill. It is an authentic method of learning and something adults do every day.

In the work place - be it a school, law office, or a graphic design start-up - employees are faced with a set of problems daily. Those problems need solutions. You see where I'm going with this? Why don't we apply the same principles to our classroom assessments? At the beginning of each unit teachers present essential questions that are hovering over each lesson and are constantly referred to throughout the unit. These questions need answers. It is the students' job to find the best answer along the way and make their own decision.

Let's consider two options.


Option 1

1. My students are currently reading The Kite Runner. In the beginning of the unit, I presented three guiding questions.

a. What is a family?
b. Do our childhoods shape the adults we become?
c. Can a person truly forgive another or themselves?

Throughout the unit we cover various standards via NCTE for ELA - activating prior knowledge, analyzing vocabulary, summarizing, examining figurative language, etc. These standards are implemented into the daily lessons and each day is met with a reflection blog that students maintain and are responsible for on a daily basis.

So what is the end product? How do I know if my students mastered the skills set forth in the beginning of the unit? I let them choose.

We have a classroom outfit for the 21st century learner. We have 1:1 laptops, a classroom wikispace, a class blog, projector, smart board, and digital cameras. Students are given a review of the unit. We revisit main ideas, plot points, characters, and themes. In the end, we recall our essential questions. I ask students to take one essential question and answer it by using support from the novel. I don't give them a handout or a packet. I don't even use paper. I give them a problem, a question, and now they must find the best solution.

This type of assessment emulates real life and what we, as adults, are faced with daily. Students are forced to think critically, analyze the literature, apply what they know and synthesize that with some form of multimedia, and then the class, myself, and possibly my learning network can assess and evaluate what they have mastered. This type of assessment not only embeds the entire ladder of Bloom's taxonomy, but it adheres to all of the standards and provides an audience for student work.

Students may choose to work in groups, they can choose to present via multimedia, or they can simply write an essay or blog post. The parameters are flexible and I am constantly monitoring for questions and progression. They have a deadline and a rubric that will assess their work. The rubric is broad and allows for students to showcase their talents and skills rather than travel down a myopic tunnel. The assessment meets all of the standards and allows for all types of learners to shine. It is differentiation at its best.

Option 2

Give them a unit test. Print it out and staple it together. Differentiate it by providing multiple choice questions, matching, short responses, and an essay. Have the students sit in rows, take the test all at once, and hand it in when they are finished. Run their answers through the scantron machine and get results, data, and a nice print out with an easy to read graph. You know exactly where each student is lacking and behind right? Sure, the data says so. Here is what the data does not account for...

...a bad day, a good guess, a sleepless night, a fight with a boyfriend or girlfriend, an upset stomach, a visual learner.

There is no data for that and there never will be.

Andrew Marcinek has been an English teacher for six years. He is also an adjunct professor of Language Arts at Montgomery County Community College in Blue Bell, PA. Next fall Andrew will take over the Instructional Technology Specialist position at The Boys' Latin Charter School of Philadelphia. Andrew also authors a blog, iTeach, that focuses on 21st century classroom innovation and offers lessons and ideas for teachers seeking to advance their curriculum and tweets by the handle @andycinek.

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Teacher/Founder of Open Doors Center

New Education

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After twenty years of experience teaching in private and public schools I finally took the big leap and opened my own school this past January (www.opendoorscenter.org). It has been an amazing experience and confirmed my own belief that children can guide their own learning experience through Discovery. Students that attend Open Doors Center choose a passion project and we build the curriculum around their passion incorporating all subject matter. The students are involved because it is what they want to be learning. The adults /teachers act as guides thus allowing the children a sense of responsibility and freedom in their learning. The assessment piece involves a presentation to families and students about what has been learned. We also incorporate "Journeys" which allow us to go out and experience the world around us and service learning which connects us with our community. In these past months we have had students overcome severe stuttering problems, jump leaps ahead in reading skills, and discover a true sense of self. As the movie A RACE TO NOWHERE shows us steps need to be taken to truly change the educational system. I believe that Open Doors is a small step towards that change. My vision is to see many more "new education" schools being created. It is time to do more than just criticize education. Let's go forward and make change.

Michelle 2nd grade teacher

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That is all well and good and I totally agree with it. However, the paper and pencil state tests still exist. In Texas, if you don't pass the state test at certain grade levels, you are not promoted to the next grade.....so if students don't practice using ye ole paper and pencil type test then chances are, they won't pass it. Very frustrating. We are told to differenciate our teaching, yet our state testing isn't differentiated.

Thanks, Elana I look forward

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Thanks, Elana

I look forward to delving into all of these issues more over summer. Thanks for the resources!

Director of Social Media Strategy and Marketing @Edutopia, edcamp organizer

Moodle Resources on Edutopia

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Hi Susan --

Here are a couple of resources on Moodle that I know of on Edutopia that may be helpful:

:: Great discussion with Moodle mentioned here: Blogging in Class
:: I'd also recommend joining the Multimedia Writing group -- lots of educators with experience you can tap into.
:: Article: Readers' Survey 2007: Best Open Source Software for Education- Brief article and good comment on how an eighth grade teacher is using Moodle.

Hope this helps!

Quote:

This article states exactly what has been going through my mind the last couple of months. Since Earth Day, I have been heading towards going paperless in the classroom (a promise I made to my students), and so far I can do it on my end by not making handouts/worksheets, but my students are still having to use paper for notes, writing etc.

I need to know more about which types of technology are good for student e-portfolios. We currently have a class and individual student blogs, and are starting with wikis (although I don't really know how to work this--groups by topic or individual pages?) I also want to look into Weebly and Moodle. Anyone have any good ideas for me?

Another current topic of investigation for me is shifting to problem-based learning and creating assessments around that. Any ideas, send them my way: http://missnichols.edublogs.orgThank you for this article!

Director of Technology & EducatorU.org Co-founder, Boston, MA

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[quote]I'm teaching a workshop series dedicated to designing online & hybrid learning -- one of the sessions is about constructing assessments. I focus on teaching faculty to re-think their assessment and make it more authentic by weaving in today's technology (http://sites.google.com/site/f2fqmassess/). I am going to use your blog post as the introduction/spring board into the session. Thanks![/quote]

I would love to hear how this goes. Please keep me posted on the PD session. Thanks for your comment.

Thanks for the spring board

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I'm teaching a workshop series dedicated to designing online & hybrid learning -- one of the sessions is about constructing assessments. I focus on teaching faculty to re-think their assessment and make it more authentic by weaving in today's technology (http://sites.google.com/site/f2fqmassess/). I am going to use your blog post as the introduction/spring board into the session. Thanks!

3rd grade teacher

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That is seems to be the assessment for the world where people are judged not against set standards and one-another, but rather, recognized for their individual and unique talents. But is that our world? Do students get to choose their form of expression when being assessed in order to pass state standards, be admitted to college or get a job? That happens only to some extend and only in certain areas. There is still a great amount of common skills, concepts and behaviors people are expected to demonstrate in a very specific way in learning institutions, workplace and even in social life . At the same time, in number of professions and areas of live, people are given freedom to display their knowledge in more individualistic way and they are reworded for creativity. I think that Batty Ray's assessment is a wonderful one if it is accompanied by the more standardized or common one. While Ray's assessment allows one to recognize individual strengths of students and knowledge of a certain concept or skill, it is probably not a good tool to see what students struggle with. For example, a student who struggles with written expression, might be choosing visual arts to display his skills. If there is no other assessment, that measures the student's writing skills, they will not be assessed and improved. Also, It would be useful to research the types of assessment used in counties that lead the world in academic achievement.

Middle School Computer Teacher

Getting Back to Basics "Students Must Be Taught How To Think"

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I read with interests all the comments posted prior to my own. Getting back to basics is what is most important. Before computers students and parents were taught how to think. Many people had wells before indoor plumbing. How did they manage? They had to think. My point is this if computers are available, awesome. If not, allow the students to make choices, create their own project. Every home could perhaps find a small piece of cardboard or a brown bag from the grocery store. I am often amazed at the creativity expressed by my students and I am equally dissapointed in some. The bottom line is, if teachers want the students to improve their scores, the student must be allowed to think and transfer this knowledge to many other arena's with or without technology.
Thank you

Middle School Computer Teacher

Reading and Writing is Fundamental to Education

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I read with interests all the comments posted prior to my own. Getting back to basics is what is most important. Before computers students and parents were taught how to think. Many people had wells before indoor plumbing. How did they manage? They had to think. My point is this if computers are available, awesome. If not, allow the students to make choices, create their own project. Every home could perhaps find a small piece of cardboard or a brown bag from the grocery store. I am often amazed at the creativity expressed by my students and I am equally dissapointed in some. The bottom line is, if teachers want the students to improve their scores, the student must be allowed to think and transfer this knowledge to many other arena's with or without technology.
Thank you

My thoughts/questions exactly

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This article states exactly what has been going through my mind the last couple of months. Since Earth Day, I have been heading towards going paperless in the classroom (a promise I made to my students), and so far I can do it on my end by not making handouts/worksheets, but my students are still having to use paper for notes, writing etc.

I need to know more about which types of technology are good for student e-portfolios. We currently have a class and individual student blogs, and are starting with wikis (although I don't really know how to work this--groups by topic or individual pages?) I also want to look into Weebly and Moodle. Anyone have any good ideas for me?

Another current topic of investigation for me is shifting to problem-based learning and creating assessments around that. Any ideas, send them my way: http://missnichols.edublogs.org

Thank you for this article!

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