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					                                                                                               theme / EXAMINING EVIDENCE

        A BALANCE


BY LISSA PIJANOWSKI                           Forsyth County Schools, located        ment days for learning content that
                                          35 miles north of Atlanta, has             supports standards-based classrooms.

              orsyth County Schools has   designed a balanced assessment pro-        One of the learning opportunities,
              recently finished a very    gram that emphasizes classroom             Assessment FOR Learning (Stiggins
              successful year. In 2008,   assessment and organizes data and          & Chappuis, 2006), was designed to
              all 16 elementary schools   resources to foster collegial conversa-    emphasize formative over summative
              and eight middle schools    tions focused on standards and learn-      assessment to provide timely and
made Adequate Yearly Progress. In         ing. The district’s focus on assessment    effective feedback to students
spite of the fact that Georgia adminis-   began five years ago through a profes-     (Marzano, 2003) and inform class-
tered new, more rigorous math assess-     sional learning program called             room practice. The professional learn-
ments for grades 3-5 and grade 8, the     Focused Choice offering all staff in       ing not only transformed classroom
district had an average of 22% more       the 32,000-student district six early      practice, but also drove the district to
students passing the assessments than     release days and two full staff develop-   make significant changes in how
the state average. To what does this                                                 school leaders and teachers used
district attribute its success? Leaders                                              assessment data.
and teachers believe that a new,             LISSA PIJANOWSKI is associate super-        For this district, balanced assess-
intense focus on benchmark assess-           intendent for academics and             ment does not mean that summative
                                             accountability in Forsyth County
ments combined with focused, colle-          Schools. You can contact her at         and formative measures are weighted
gial conversations contributed to this          equally. Forsyth County Schools cre-
impressive growth.                                                                   ates a system that gives formative,

NATIONAL STAFF DEVELOPMENT COUNCIL        800-727-7288                                             VOL. 29, NO. 4    FALL 2008   JSD   43
                                   Five assessment measures
                                    Standardized                  Benchmark                 Common                    Classroom                 Progress
                                    assessment                    assessment                assessment                assessment                monitoring

                                    PURPOSE: A                    PURPOSE: A                PURPOSE: A common         PURPOSE: Classroom        PURPOSE: Progress
                                    standardized test is          benchmark assessment      assessment is             assessment refers to      monitoring is a
                                    designed to measure           is designed as a          collaboratively           all assessment            scientifically based
                                    the amount of                 measurement of group      developed by grade-       activities undertaken     practice that is used to
                                    knowledge and skill a         performance against       level teams or            by teachers, and by       monitor academic
                                    student has acquired          an established set of     departments as a          the students              growth of an
                                    and produces a                standards at defined      measurement of group      themselves, which         individual student or
                                    statistical profile used      points along the path     or individual             provide information to    an entire class based
                                    as a measurement to           toward standard           performance against       be used as feedback       on predetermined
                                    evaluate student              attainment, typically     an established set of     to modify the teaching    learning goals. The
                                    performance in                administered every        standards.                and learning activities   effectiveness of
                                    comparison with a             nine weeks.                                         in which they are         instruction and
                                    standard or norm.                                                                 engaged.                  intervention is also

                                    DESIGNED BY:                  DESIGNED BY: Forsyth      DESIGNED BY:              DESIGNED BY:              DESIGNED BY:
                                    Georgia Department            County Schools and        Collaborative teacher     Classroom teachers.       Classroom teachers
                                    of Education and              state and national        teams/departments.                                  and national
                                    national assessment           item banks.                                                                   assessment vendors.

                                    INSTRUCTIONAL                 INSTRUCTIONAL             INSTRUCTIONAL             INSTRUCTIONAL             INSTRUCTIONAL
                                    DATA: Standardized            DATA: Benchmark           DATA: Common              DATA: Formative           DATA: Progress
                                    tests can provide             assessment results can    assessments can           assessment evidence is    monitoring data
                                    information on                be used to determine      provide teacher teams     diagnostic and used to    demonstrates a
                                    individual or group           student growth and        with data to              adapt the teaching to     student’s progression
                                    performance to help           student performance       determine student         meet the needs of         of achievement and
                                    educators identify            relative to grade-level   performance relative      students. Results can     informs how
                                    instructional needs,          and/or course             to learning goals         be used to guide          instructional
                                    measure growth over           achievement               identified in a unit of   instruction and           techniques need to be
                                    time, evaluate                expectations. Results     study. Results can be     identify individual       adjusted to meet the
                                    effectiveness of              can guide classroom       analyzed to guide         student needs for         individual student’s
                                    programs, and                 instruction and           classroom instruction     reteaching,               learning needs. Results
                                    monitor schools for           identify individual       and identify individual   intervention and/or       can guide decisions on
                                    educational                   student needs for         student needs for         acceleration. Students    reteaching,
                                    accountability.               reteaching,               reteaching,               and teachers can use      intervention, and/or
                                    Standardized tests are        intervention, and/or      intervention, and/or      self-assessment to        acceleration. Progress
                                    used at the national,         acceleration. In          acceleration. Shared      determine levels of       monitoring tools are
                                    state, system, school,        addition, benchmark       results foster            achievement, set          used at the school,
                                    and classroom level.          assessments provide       collaboration to          goals, and identify       classroom, and
                                                                  periodic evaluation of    improve instruction       strategies to meet        student level.
                                                                  program effectiveness     and embedded              those goals. Classroom
                                                                  and guide professional    professional learning.    assessments are used
                                                                  development efforts.      Common assessments        at the classroom and
                                                                  Benchmark                 are used at the school    student level.
                                                                  assessments are used      and classroom level.
                                                                  at the system, school,
                                                                  and classroom level.

                                   classroom assessment much more                  Standardized tests are just one compo-      THE POWER OF BENCHMARKING
                                   weight than standardized assessments.           nent; the other four are classroom              Benchmark assessments are one of
                                   The chart above reflects five different         assessment measures designed to give        the most recent additions to the
                                   assessment components in the dis-               formative data on student progress          assessment program. The district rec-
                                   trict’s balanced assessment program.            against standards.                          ognized that teacher leaders should

44                           JSD   FALL 2008     VOL. 29, NO. 4                                              WWW.NSDC.ORG        NATIONAL STAFF DEVELOPMENT COUNCIL
develop benchmark assessments for                                                       •   What will you do now to reteach

                                                                                                                                         theme / EXAMINING EVIDENCE
reading/English language arts and            Forsyth County Schools                         the standard?
mathematics using consistent stan-           Cumming, Ga.                               • Which individual students require
dards-based pacing guides. The dis-          Number of schools: 30 (16 elementary,          additional remediation and inter-
trict provided teachers guidance and         8 middle, 4 high, 1 nontraditional char-       vention based on these results?
                                             ter, 1 alternative)
instruction on how to choose items           Enrollment: 32,000
                                                                                            These questions lead teachers to
aligned to standards. Teachers became        Staff: 3,500                               delve deeply into the standards they
quality assessors through this process       Racial/ethnic mix:                         teach and to reflect on their instruc-
                                                  White:                        83%
by considering item attributes such as                                                  tional practice in a low-risk environ-
                                                  Black:                          2%
Lexile range for reading passages and             Hispanic:                       9%    ment. Teacher understanding of their
Bloom’s Taxonomy level when critical-             Asian/Pacific Islander:         4%    own performance data must precede
ly choosing items to include on each              Native American:                0%    conversations within a professional
                                                  Other:                          2%
assessment. With all classrooms in           Limited English proficient: 5%             learning community. School leaders
grades 3-8 using the assessments three       Languages spoken: 29                       and teacher leaders provided support
times a year, the data have fostered         Free/reduced lunch: 14%                    for teachers by asking coaching ques-
                                             Special education: 16%
rich dialogue not only within build-         Contact: Lissa Pijanowski, associate
                                                                                        tions to ensure they had reached a
ings among teams, but across the dis-        superintendent, Forsyth County Schools     deep level of individual understanding
trict. However, collegial conversations      E-mail:      before engaging in team conversa-
around using assessment evidence do                                                     tions.
not come naturally. School leaders
need well-designed professional learn-    ing the data, the learning moved              LEVEL 2
ing and relevant, timely data to frame    toward facilitating the conversations.            The second level of reflection and
the dialogue to transform classroom       The district modeled facilitation of          dialogue was grade-level/content-team
practice.                                 collegial conversations for school team       conversation. With individual reflec-
     The district created school teams    members at each session and provided          tions in hand, teachers participated in
that included an administrator,           sample questions, organizers, and             a grade-level/content-
teacher leaders, and the instructional    reflection tools so that each team            team meeting to deter-
technology specialist to engage in        could design conversations that               mine overall strengths            With all
ongoing learning on using data            worked for their staff. School and dis-       and challenges, discussing        classrooms in
reports and leading meaningful con-       trict leaders engaged the staff in three      the following questions:          grades 3-8 using
versations. The professional learning     levels of reflection and dialogue to          • What are our grade-             the assessments
design included training on how to        develop a rich understanding of what              level/content-team            three times a
access different types of reports pro-    the data were telling them about                  strengths based on the        year, the data
viding student, classroom, and test       instructional practice and student per-           results?                      have fostered
item detail through Edusoft,              formance.                                     • What are our team               rich dialogue
Riverside’s assessment management                                                           challenges based on           not only within
system. The district also published       LEVEL 1                                           the results?                  buildings among
districtwide and school-level reports          The first level was individual           • What factors in our             teams, but
to highlight the standards across the     teacher reflection. Teachers used their           curriculum and                across the
district that posed the greatest chal-    class reports and item analysis to                instruction do we feel        district.
lenge to students. The use of Edusoft     reflect on the following standards-               influenced these
to support formative assessment has       based questions:                                  results?
provided classroom teachers the abili-    • Which items did students miss               • How can we collaborate to reteach
ty to create performance-based assess-         most frequently?                             standards that are hardest to
ments, align assessments to standards,    • What standard was each item                     learn?
scan answer documents, and review              aligned to?                              • How will we know if our students
results in a matter of minutes. The       • What was the school performance                 have mastered the standard?
district leverages Edusoft for bench-          compared to your class perform-          • What remediation and interven-
mark assessments as well to provide            ance on that item?                           tion will be most effective for
teachers with timely, meaningful          • Why do you think most of your                   individual students with low per-
reports.                                       students chose the responses they            formance?
     Once teams were adept at access-          chose?                                   • Is there additional professional

NATIONAL STAFF DEVELOPMENT COUNCIL        800-727-7288                                               VOL. 29, NO. 4   FALL 2008    JSD               45
                                            learning support that we need as a          our school improvement plan that           scaffold staff learning at all levels
                                            team to help us achieve our goals           need to be modified based on               of the organization.
                                            for student learning?                       these results?                        • District and school leaders must
                                            The purpose of the grade-              • Are the remediation and interven-             acknowledge that changes in cur-
                                       level/content-team sessions is to iden-          tions offered to our students ade-         riculum and assessment to influ-
                                       tify standards that were most prob-              quate for closing the achievement          ence instruction can be uncom-
                                       lematic and determine how the team               gap?                                       fortable for staff and must make
                                       can collaborate to reteach and              • Do we need to modify our profes-              modifications along the way to
                                       reassess. The conversations in these             sional learning plan to provide            accommodate readiness levels.
                                       sessions lead teachers to better under-          additional support?                        Based on the results for students,
                                       stand the standards, brainstorm ideas       • What resources do you need to            the district plans to expand the use of
                                       for modifying instruction, and collab-           accomplish the curriculum and         the Edusoft assessment management
                                       orate on a plan of action for remedia-           instructional changes you have        system in 2008-09 to the high school
                                       tion and intervention before the next            identified?                           level to support classroom assessment
                                       assessment (Schmoker, 1999). The                 This schoolwide dialogue enables      and benchmark assessments in high-
                                       team sessions continued the learning        school leadership to monitor the cur-      stakes courses. Leaders and teachers in
                                       of the individual teacher reflections.      riculum and instruction in the build-      Forsyth County Schools believe
                                       Teachers analyzed their results even        ing as well as progress toward school      benchmark assessments played a big
                                       more intensely and took actions they        improvement goals (Reeves, 2006).          role in the growth the district experi-
                                       may not have otherwise considered in             The benchmark assessments have        enced after only one year. They have
                                       isolation.                                  been a critical element of how Forsyth     learned this lesson well: Never under-
                                                                                   County Schools uses formative assess-      estimate the power of timely, stan-
                                       LEVEL 3                                     ment data to impact classroom prac-        dards-based data and focused, colle-
                                            The third level of reflection and      tice. The district’s belief in the power   gial conversations led by knowledge-
                                        dialogue was schoolwide dialogue about     of formative assessment (Black &           able leadership to impact changes in
                                                     the results. Building lead-   Wiliam, 1998) has guided the work          professional practice and, ultimately,
                              Team sessions          ers facilitated conversa-     of teachers as they review student         improvements in student achieve-
                              continued the          tions about the bench-        work on a monthly, weekly, and daily       ment.
                             learning of the         mark assessments and          basis through observations, portfolios,
                                   individual        how the results of these      and conversations to make real-time        REFERENCES:
                                     teacher         assessments, along with       decisions about instruction.                    Black, P. & Wiliam, D. (1998,
                                 reflections.        other assessment data,        Additionally, the benchmark assess-        October). Inside the black box:
                                                     could influence the school    ments have enabled school and dis-         Raising standards through classroom
                                                     improvement process.          trict leadership to monitor student        assessment. Phi Delta Kappan
                                        The benchmark assessments were             progress toward standards using a          International, 80(2), 139-144, 146-
                                        incorporated into all school improve-      guaranteed and viable curriculum           148.
                                        ment plans as evidence of student          (Marzano, 2003), and lead conversa-             Marzano, R. (2003). What works
                                        learning to be monitored throughout        tions that help triangulate all assess-    in schools: Translating research into
                                        the year. The data from the bench-         ment components to provide timely          action. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
                                        marks allowed leaders to ask the fol-      feedback, remediation, and interven-            Reeves, D. (2006). The learning
                                        lowing questions of their teaching and     tion.                                      leader: How to focus school improve-
                                        support staff:                                  Through implementation of the         ment for better results. Alexandria, VA:
                                        • Do the results show we are mak-          benchmark assessments as part of the       ASCD.
                                            ing progress toward meeting our        balanced assessment program, the dis-           Schmoker, M. (1999). Results:
                                            school improvement goals?              trict has learned the following lessons:   The key to continuous school improve-
                                        • Of the reading/English language          • Teacher leaders must be involved         ment. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
                                            arts and math target areas we               in every facet of the project from         Stiggins, R. & Chappuis, J.
                                            identified for improvement this             developing pacing guides, to          (2006, Winter). What a difference a
                                            year, how did we perform?                   aligning assessment items, to         word makes: Assessment FOR learn-
                                        • How did our subgroups and at-                 organizing results.                   ing rather than assessment OF learn-
                                            risk students perform?                 • Purposeful professional learning         ing helps students succeed. JSD,
                                        • Are there strategies and actions in           opportunities must be designed to     27(1), 10-14. I

46                             JSD     FALL 2008     VOL. 29, NO. 4                                         WWW.NSDC.ORG       NATIONAL STAFF DEVELOPMENT COUNCIL

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