theme / EXAMINING EVIDENCE
GEORGIA DISTRICT ADDS ASSESSMENTS AND TRANSFORMS CLASSROOM PRACTICE
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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
theme / EXAMINING EVIDENCE
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-
by considering item attributes such as tional practice in a low-risk environ-
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
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: email@example.com 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
theme / EXAMINING EVIDENCE
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