Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Assessment 2.0 and the Every Child Achieves Act

By Heather Jung 

Since last July, I have been participating in a program to gather teacher leaders from around my home state of Virginia together to discuss issues on our current educational system.  The program is called: the Virginia Center for Excellence in Teaching (VCET) and is run through the education program at George Mason University.   As part of this program, I participated in a conference call with Dr. Steve Staples, the superintendant of public education in Virginia.  I found Dr. Staples’ comments very intriguing, especially those regarding realigning and reshaping the assessments and accountability. In Virginia, we have not accepted CCSS.  Instead, we assess based on Standards of Learning (SOLs) set forth by the Virginia Department of Education.   Yet many of the current SOLs are not consistent with the 21st Century Skills that we are trying to instill in our learners and need to be revisited.  Dr. Staples has appointed a committee to revisit the SOLs, but he did not give any specifics about who was on the committee. 

ASSESSMENT word cloud, business concept

Students in Virginia take standardized SOL tests on the computer each year. These tests are used to determine if schools have met annual yearly progress (AYP) and annual measurable objectives (AMO) according NCLB.  Many of our ELL students are eligible to take an alternative portfolio assessment called the Virginia Grade Level Alternative (VGLA).  The VGLA portfolio includes gathering evidence demonstrating student performance of the standards.  The students are required to perform 50 to 100 rote tasks and worksheets for documentation.  The rote tasks required for the VGLA take time away from authentic learning tasks that would benefit the students more.  I have heard that portfolio assessments were the great alternative to standardized tests, but when I look at the VGLA portfolio, it does not really meet the instructional needs of my students.

At my school, many students come in 3 years or more below benchmark.  Many of those students make significant progress during the school year, often as much as 1.5 to 2 years of growth.   The administration at my school does a good job of recognizing this achievement in house but, because these students are still not “meeting benchmark,” their progress goes largely ignored at the county and state level.

It seems as though we need to find an Assessment 2.0.  A method, which can track and celebrate the accomplishments of students, and teachers, who are making great growth even if that growth cannot always be measured in a standardized way.

As we look forward to the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) with the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA), now is the time consider how to change our assessment systems. ECAA will require students be assessed every year in grades 3 and up for math and language arts and science (though not as often).  States will have autonomy to choose their assessments as long as they "...involve multiple up-to-date measures of student academic achievement, including measures that assess higher-order thinking skills and understanding, which may include measures of student academic growth and may be partially delivered in the form of portfolios, projects, or extend performance tasks;" (pg 36).  

This language provides little reassurance that things will change under the new policy, but the bill has not been passed yet! Now is the time to let our voices be heard and demand that changes be made to the old standardized testing systems!      

Monday, February 16, 2015

Teacher Timesavers Reimagined

by Jackie Moreno and Ashley Coblentz

What if students took on more of the “teacher workload” and in the process became more engaged and invested in school?


Instead of running around crazily as stressed-out adults, why not invite students to be a part of the essential work that happens at schools, such as having a say in how schools spend money, plan events, and communicate with parents? We have been thinking about this a lot this year, especially in the midst of new demands placed on educators.

At Sandburg Elementary our principal has branded 2014-15 the “Year of the Student.” This is all about teachers working together to create opportunities for student leadership and ownership of learning. 

Third-graders writing the morning message

"Whoever does the work does the learning" is often said in education. Here are some Sandburg teacher inspired ways to bring this to life in the classroom:

  • Instead of rushing to school early to write a morning message, pass the markers to the students.
  • Instead of hurrying to finish a newsletter on a Friday, have students do it by writing about what they learned that week.
  • Instead of stressing about planning school assemblies, let students take charge. For instance, Sandburg’s fifth grade students lead whole school assemblies where teachers are in the audience and students are front and center.
  • Instead of coordinating field trips, empower student leaders to plan outings by contacting organizations, writing permission slips, and setting up transportation.


One of our students’ favorite experiences this year has been spending thousands of dollars on books for their classroom and school libraries. Due to high poverty, our school is eligible for Title I funding. Historically adults have been in charge of figuring out how this money is spent, but this year each child in our school was in charge of spending fifty dollars at Barnes and Noble to shop for books to fill their classroom libraries. Additionally, students created surveys to determine how the school library budget would be spent.

Before the trip students surveyed their current classroom libraries; created online wish lists within their budgets; and graphed the genres of books selected to decide if their choices supported a balanced classroom library. This culminated in a joy filled day they will always remember and left them with a personal investment in how they care for and engage with their refreshed libraries.  

Turning over the book selection to students connects to reading research around student choice improving academic outcomes and saved teachers hours of time that would have been spent paging through catalogs and placing orders. And after all, the best experts on what kids like to read are kids themselves.

Inviting students to participate in these practical, fun tasks incorporates standards into authentic learning experiences, allowing students to understand how school applies to everyday life, while helping teachers save time. What could you subtract from your to do list, that your students could take on?

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Scenes from an Unquiet Classroom


by Ashley Coblentz and Jackie Moreno


Do our students help write the script for learning or do they sit in the audience?
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This is a question we regularly ask ourselves, and although we definitely want to say the former, the true answer is found in how we use our time. As we count down our last days of first quarter, we are at the perfect time of year to take a close look at our daily schedule, to see if the value we place on student-driven learning is truly reflected in our day.

Today we’d like to share one of our favorite projects that fosters student choice and empowerment, student created book trailers! They are multi-media projects that encourage students to take on the roles of writers, actors and directors of learning.
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A Spanish language book trailer created by a third grader.
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Creating in the Classroom

Together teachers and students define which standards will be addressed. Once students demonstrate they clearly understand the purpose, the creative direction of the project is primarily up to them. For example, students might choose the theme, tone, script, etc. Next enters joy and engagement as they compose music, act, illustrate, read and write about what’s most compelling to them. In other words, students decide how they will prove they have learned what they set out to.

In Writing Workshop 2.0, in addition to publishing their narratives digitally, students might print them as well. Then QR codes leading to student-created book trailers advertising their books are placed on the copies. Other QR codes featuring a student read audio book version are placed on the print copy as well. 
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Joy is found not only in the creation; it expands further as they get to share their writing and book trailers with the whole school. This is incredibly powerful for them since it creates a sense of authentic purpose for writing. By creating the trailers and books, students have more access to texts that reflect experiences of other students “like them”. This is a particularly powerful opportunity for ELL students to tell their stories and the stories of their families, especially given mainstream portrayals of immigrant communities.
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How To

1. Students write and publish narratives.

2. The book trailer concept is introduced, and students are given a descriptive rubric. Students use the rubrics to evaluate professional or other student created book the trailers before creating their own so that they know exactly what the CCSS learning goals are and what is expected from them.

3. Students then use iMovie to create book trailers about their stories. Students use the rubric to make sure their trailer includes all of the key components.

4. After that, students use Voice Record Pro to record themselves reading their narratives. They then convert their voice recordings into QR codes so that other students can hear the stories read aloud.

5. Place the books with the QR codes on them in the school library so that students throughout the school can read the print versions and scan the QR codes to access the book trailers, as well as audio versions of the books.