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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Guest Blog: Reinventing Assessment for the 21st-Century

Betty Ray

Director of Programming and Innovation

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.

Betty Ray

Director of Programming and Innovation
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Comments (52)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Mary Willard's picture

The majority of my students don't even have internet access at home much less a computer. While I am fortunate enough to have a white board, I don't know if I will have it next year or if it will be moved to another teacher. Get real, we teach 21st century students on a 19th century budget.

Dr. Mike Todd's picture
Dr. Mike Todd
Chief Learning Officer

Testing or not testing...are students learning and applying knowledge? I believe that children (and young teens) have an innate burning to be creative. To create their world, create their own understanding, and create their future. However, for this to happen students must have educators that are facilitators of work; educators that support students through connecting student needs with caring adults.

Bob Lendzinski's picture

What my friend, Bill Lodge, wrote is accurate. I will do a two year comparison. Last year at my school, we were in an old, dilapidated building with very little technology, same as Mr. Lodge, I know this because I taught at the school he is in now.

Many of my students failed due to the lack of 21st century technology in the classroom.

This year, we got a new building and every piece of technology was thrown at us, minus having students taking laptops home. We have everything else. As I differentiate my assessments, the only students that are failing my class are those that are truant. It's an amazing difference that has benefited them as well as me.

But back to what the other Mr. L said, how do you handle the 21st century assessment in a 20th century classroom?

Dr. Mike Todd's picture
Dr. Mike Todd
Chief Learning Officer

Mary and William-
I understand where you are coming from. I work with a school district in FL that has over an 85% free and reduced lunch rate, however most of the students in the high school have cell phones with texting, internet service, and e-mail. Some teachers at the school text students reminders of test dates and homework via moodle that students can access for free. There are barriers, but we have (no) we HAVE to get around them.

Bob Lendzinski's picture

I didn't know you could send text messages through moodle. I use moodle now. I will have to check that out.

TY!

Karen Kennedy's picture

I agree with Andrew. I teach World Geography and just had my students create their own projects for their final exam/project. They chose the country/area of the world in which they were most interested. They had to write 4 essential research questions and then decide how they would show me(and the audience) what they learned. They had to create an artifact and present it to an audience that included parents and administrators. They did a great job and created everything from Glogs, Voice Threads and movies to the standard tri-fold posters. They baked, cooked and found wonderful music and photos. It was what learning should be!

Teri Schlesinger's picture
Teri Schlesinger
Parent and substitute teacher

I have a question? Shouldn't students be taught the fundamentals of any subject or topic, not to mention how to do proper research, as well as master basic English grammar and syntax before they can do any kind of constructivistic/inquiring work? Even in a room with the most modern state-of-the-art equipment, how can a group of students use all that if they are not taught how?
about a minute ago *

Andrew Marcinek's picture
Andrew Marcinek
Director of Technology and EducatorU.org Co-founder, Boston, MA
Blogger

21st century thinking and assessment does not require any technology in the classroom. The content is not changing nor are the fundamental skills. Option one can still be accomplished with out one computer or cord in the classroom. I'm simply saying that we need to teach students how to seek out answers to questions in a variety of ways. We have a responsibility to train kids to think and research properly in a world plastered with avenues of information. Students have trouble thinking beyond high school, because high school is set up in such a focused and organized manner. When students leave arrive at college or the work place, they are often met with a problem that is not found in the parameters of a packet, nor does it offer multiple choices.

The basic principle of 21st century assessment is to provoke students to think critically and to seek out solutions in a variety of ways. In our everyday life, these skills go far beyond the work place. In order to use the tools, bells, and whistles students need to understand the thinking that goes behind them. I tell my students that they have no business using twitter until they have a firm grasp on the English language and a strong vocabulary. In order to speak in 140 characters, you need that grounding or you will sound awful. That is just a fragment of what I am talking about.

The big misnomer in education is that we NEED technology in the classroom in order to accomplish 21st century learning and assessment. This is hardly the case. As I mentioned before, the fundamental principle in 21st Century assessment is allowing students to have choices, provoking their thinking by questioning what they are learning, and providing authentic, real life examples to their lessons and assessment.

As for ubiquitous student Internet access, that is also a problem at my school. I work in an all boys charter school in West Philadelphia. I teach 9th and 10th grade language arts. Most of my students are below reading level, however, they are improving greatly this year. My biggest successes have been in giving them options for assessments and shredding the standard paper test and scantron formats. My students present, recite and perform. I give them grounding in the basic skills through a variety of lessons.

Finally, a lot of this comes down to who is facilitating. By no means am I self nominating myself for teacher of the year, but in order to promote new styles of learning we, as teachers, need to model this type of learning. Teachers need to get out of the habit of "knowing it all" and "it has always worked this way for me" Because that is a major problem. In any other profession where can you get away with saying those two phrases?

Andrew Marcinek's picture
Andrew Marcinek
Director of Technology and EducatorU.org Co-founder, Boston, MA
Blogger

21st century thinking and assessment does not require any technology in the classroom. The content is not changing nor are the fundamental skills. Option one can still be accomplished with out one computer or cord in the classroom. I'm simply saying that we need to teach students how to seek out answers to questions in a variety of ways. We have a responsibility to train kids to think and research properly in a world plastered with avenues of information. Students have trouble thinking beyond high school, because high school is set up in such a focused and organized manner. When students leave arrive at college or the work place, they are often met with a problem that is not found in the parameters of a packet, nor does it offer multiple choices.

The basic principle of 21st century assessment is to provoke students to think critically and to seek out solutions in a variety of ways. In our everyday life, these skills go far beyond the work place. In order to use the tools, bells, and whistles students need to understand the thinking that goes behind them. I tell my students that they have no business using twitter until they have a firm grasp on the English language and a strong vocabulary. In order to speak in 140 characters, you need that grounding or you will sound awful. That is just a fragment of what I am talking about.

The big misnomer in education is that we NEED technology in the classroom in order to accomplish 21st century learning and assessment. This is hardly the case. As I mentioned before, the fundamental principle in 21st Century assessment is allowing students to have choices, provoking their thinking by questioning what they are learning, and providing authentic, real life examples to their lessons and assessment.

As for ubiquitous student Internet access, that is also a problem at my school. I work in an all boys charter school in West Philadelphia. I teach 9th and 10th grade language arts. Most of my students are below reading level, however, they are improving greatly this year. My biggest successes have been in giving them options for assessments and shredding the standard paper test and scantron formats. My students present, recite and perform. I give them grounding in the basic skills through a variety of lessons.

Finally, a lot of this comes down to who is facilitating. By no means am I self nominating myself for teacher of the year, but in order to promote new styles of learning we, as teachers, need to model this type of learning. Teachers need to get out of the habit of "knowing it all" and "it has always worked this way for me" Because that is a major problem. In any other profession where can you get away with saying those two phrases?

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