How do I start using standards?
What are the challenges I will face?
How do I assess students' progress?
How does technology complement this approach?
How do I introduce standards to the parents and community?
How do I assess students' progress?
The quick answer is, with every assignment. If you have carefully aligned each task to the standards -- especially if you've worked with colleagues to do this in an SIP workshop -- then you will be able to see progress every day. You will get into the habit of seeing which students aren't getting it and asking yourself whether the assignment or the instruction is at fault. You'll be prepared to modify one or the other or both, because your aim will be for all students to learn. You'll no longer be happy if only a few get it.
The longer answer is that some assignments and tasks are better than others for assessing students' progress towards standards. Worksheets are essential for developing skills in mathematics, but they won't tell you whether students can solve problems or explain their answers.
Progress in writing is assessed by one thing and one thing only -- writing. The same with reading. Writing single sentences or filling in blanks on worksheets doesn't tell you whether students can read and write. Beware of textbooks that ask students to read a story and then color a picture or design a poster.
Don't think we're just talking about elementary school here either. We've seen assignments in inner-city high schools that asked students to make decorated posters and write one-paragraph bios in social studies. If these assignments measure progress toward any standards at all, they are only to grade 4 standards -- and these are grade 10 students.
Progress toward standards on a large scale -- district, state, or nation -- can be assessed by using multiple-choice items or performance-assessment tasks, but the results must be reported according to students' achievement of the standards. As we've noted before, you can't report progress toward standards using a norm-referenced scale -- no percentiles or curves! The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)
1 uses the levels "advanced," "proficient," " novice," and "basic."
A word about "teaching to the test." When state and local tests are aligned to standards (test publishers usually claim that their tests are aligned), it is logical to assume that teaching to the standards means teaching to the test and vice versa. But of course, the test can only touch on a subset of the standards because of time limitations. Teaching only to the test would therefore shortchange students. If you teach to the standards, you're helping kids develop critical thinking, problem-solving, and explanation and writing skills. Students who are adept at these tend to be capable of performing well on multiple-choice tests, too.
But it would also shortchange students to ignore the test completely and not prepare them for its form. Some students know from long experience how to do multiple-choice tests, but are stymied by a performance assessment that asks them to write. On the other hand, some students -- a large number of minority students, for example -- do not know how to handle multiple-choice questions and consistently get lower scores than they should.
As to the morality of teaching to the test: Having a copy of the test and teaching only to that is cheating. But you are teaching well if you use published examples and officially released guides, because then you're preparing students for what they will face.
Workshop: Teaching to Academic Standards
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