George Lucas Educational Foundation

Assessment Challenge - Further efforts from Feb. 23 webchat with School of the Future

Assessment Challenge - Further efforts from Feb. 23 webchat with School of the Future

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Some outstanding questions.

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Beatrice: Studies show (Marilyn Gittel) that 87% of people on public assistance that attain a 4 year college degree get off and stay permanently off of welfare. How does your school support low income students see college as a viable route out of poverty?

Brent Spencer: This is the challenge I often find ... when I am assessing students with specialized learning needs, I want to provide assessment that is authentic and relevent to them in terms of their particular successes in their individualized learning goals (as in an individual learning plan, while still giving them feedback in terms of the Grade level learning outcomes of their particular grade. I find the second type of assessment can often be discouraging to some students on adapted plans (e.g. language arts writing activity). Any suggestions?

Gretchen Rudham: Do you think that your colleague Adam would be willing to share his experience?

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Andy S's picture

Apparently if you re-log in that might help (but maybe not). What a disappointment - was really hoping for a lively exchange that would further all of our understandings and give us courage to be better at the important work we're doing.

Write your question/thought/plan anyway, and if you can't post it tonight you can try again tomorrow! Or the next day. I'll keep coming back and I'll rope in a few more SOF teachers to chime in as well.

Andy S's picture

Beatrice - Great question and nice to see someone model the citing of a source instead of the standard, "Studies show..." SOF doesn't have much trouble with that issue - pretty close to 100% of our graduates apply to and are accepted to college. The number who end up going and graduating is something we're working now to collect - but 98% (my guess) intend to - that's why they're at SOF, its one of the main elements we're known for.

Brent Spencer's picture
Brent Spencer
Grade 8 Middle School Teacher from British Columbia, Canada

I really enjoyed this discussion. One of the challenges I often face with giving assessment that I find helpful to my students is that I use rubrics, but also feel the need to give lots of written feedback, so that my students can see helpful comments relevent to certain sections of their work, more specific than the often generalized comments found on a rubric. However, I often find that when I teach 80+ students multiple subjects, I take a longer time to get the students their work back to them because of all the comments I write, yet I want to give them this feedback, which I think is very useful and important. Could anyone suggest some assessment methods they have used successfully in their practice, to give ongoing authenitic feedback that is quick and timely for students, particularly in the areas of English writing samples and Social Studies?

Andy S's picture

Brent - To clarify - you're working with a special needs population and you want to provide both personalized assessments related to their individual education plan (IEP in NYC) while also helping them contextualize their progress in terms of grade level (comparison to the standard for their age group)? And you perceive that they feel discouraged when they find out that their significant progress on their IEP leaves them still trailing behind group norms?

A few thoughts/feelings that I had, assuming I understand your situation:
1. They're entitled to feel discouraged. Both sets of measurements matter and they're entitled to both know and have feelings about both sets of measurements. It doesn't require reading Nietzsche to realize that unpleasant feelings can help us grow - and a society that systematically "protects" young people from hard truths guarantees a delusional future.

2. OK, but maybe they're not just feeling discouraged but actually giving up? What have you tried, in terms of helping them express their feelings of discouragement to caring and validating mentors, that will help them lift themselves off the canvas and come up swinging? I'll bet you've got ideas and evolving practices about how to validate their feelings of disappointment and transmute those feelings into a deeper commitment. Please share!

3. It sounds like the students feel emotionally invested in their educational outcomes and have someone (you) to work with that also cares about them, their feelings, and their education. 2+2=4, the rest is craft.

4. On the craft level, a quick thought (and probably this is the answer you were more interested in) is that if you could break down the major impediments to being "on grade level" and the steps to overcoming those obstacles, and link that plan for "catching up" to the IEP and the students' daily activities, they'd have a good chance. We're working on this right now at SOF too - I have one student with very low reading skills. My position is that we need to help her with those reading skills, not just "adapt" our expectations to her currently low skills. If she works with a tutor, stays in for lunch for individualized reading instruction, reads for 90 minutes a day, all for a couple months, and STILL doesn't make progress on reading, THEN I'd be more interested in a conversation of adaption.

5. A friend of mine writing a dissertation on special ed laws (federally and in NY) pointed out that the laws insist on "services" but not outcomes. Therefore we're mandated to jump through certain hoops but we're not really mandated to succeed, when working with special needs populations. I think its worth trying to succeed regardless of whether that's mandated or not and I believe that heroic efforts by the motivated student and committed staff can achieve great outcomes (at least sometimes). Maybe I was overly shaped by watching Spud Webb win the Slam-Dunk Contest but, on the individual level, I think there's an ethical obligation to provide students with a clear map to overcoming limitations even if the path seems daunting and unlikely. (On a policy level, obviously there's a lot that needs to be done to support and/or obviate these extraordinary efforts).

Andy S's picture

Gretchen - I'll ask him. He's got incredibly well-prepared and thoughtful resources. He works with the students to track their progress on an almost-granular level. I hope eventually it will be a book people can read.

Brent Spencer's picture
Brent Spencer
Grade 8 Middle School Teacher from British Columbia, Canada

Thanks, Andy. I absolutely agree with these comments. When a student becomes discouraged with their difficulty to communicate a concept, we often consult together, and I look to the student's interests. Often, students come alive to a topic if it somehow ties in to an area or skill they are passionate about.

Andy S's picture

[quote] Could anyone suggest some assessment methods they have used successfully in their practice, to give ongoing authentic feedback that is quick and timely for students, particularly in the areas of English writing samples and Social Studies?[/quote]

Hey again Brent. Where in BC are you? I travelled a bit up and down Victoria Island and visited a few schools a few years ago.

I've only come up with 3 possibilities to this overwhelming trilemma of timeliness vs number of students vs depth of feedback.

1. Targeting students - provide bursts of feedback to targeted students over short periods of time and then switch to focusing on other students.

2. Limiting feedback - My colleague Esther works paragraph by paragraph with her 9th grade exhibition students on Google Docs (20 or fewer for the Exhibition). That means she can focus timely feedback on a paragraph at a time, rather than having to decorate each long paper with 20 disparate bits of feedback. I've also fantasized about creating a digital version of the editing code (squiggles, underlines, etc.) where I could just type in 1 4 B D X and the student would translate that (using the code-breaking manual) to "Strong beginning, needs deepening, please proofread, add evidence, cite Chomsky in the last section."

3. Recruiting help - In my course all student work gets posted to individual blogs. I've required that the students get timely responses to their posts from at least 2 peers, a student younger than them, and a mentor figure (often a parent or relative). Not only do they get a quicker (and therefore more efficacious) response they also feel the incentive of writing for an authentic audience and a sense of support and interest from people they know. This has been the best innovation I've managed in years and if I could get Edutopia to give me a blog I'd write about it. : )

David Wees's picture
David Wees
Formative Assessment Specialist for New Visions for Public Schools

Andy, your idea of embedding deliberate peer feedback into the assessment process is a great one, and one too often teachers ignore.

Peer assessment is in many ways much more valuable than teacher assessment. Being able to respond to critiques from your peers (without taking their criticisms too personally) and give feedback to your peers is an extremely useful skill for life.

Annette Loubriel's picture
Annette Loubriel

I think what this school is doing is what I am presently doing with my children. I have found that the Singapore Math and Science are excellent at acheiving this real world perspective in the learning process. The Singapore Math and Science curricullums come with books of tests which are intended to be tools for learning (formative assessment), and they come already structured for you to use them for that purpose. I have complemented this with Sonlight's English language and literature program which is connected to History. In our school we have never sat down to study for a test. We have experiences, we read, we learn concepts, we practice calculations and then we take a comprehensive to test to see how well we can apply what we learned.
The results: My fifth grader has consistenly increased his percentile, to the last percentile of the above average range in Math as well as Reading (English and Spanish - bilingual). I particularly observed a 2 percentile increase in Spanish comprehension which I can only attribute to the critical/analytical thinking skills developed using the Singapore Math Curricullum.

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