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Oh. My. Gosh. You guys, this BLEW MY MIND today during our meeting! I had to share it with you immediately. Forget about my “CI in other subjects” post I said I was going to do. Forget about the post about the awesome Canadian article that is started and sitting in my drafts. This is fantastic.
Today at my department chair meeting we were told to bring with us a task. This was to have been a task that we asked students to complete that brings one of our “Lancer 9” Common Core Standards to life. Our building has narrowed the CCSS for Literacy in All Subjects to 9 most critical for our students. The standards we chose, if you are interested, are Reading 1, 2, 10; Writing 1, 9, 10; Speaking & Listening 1; and Language 4 &6.
I had a great lesson from my Spanish 4 class that is completely irrelevant to my mind being blown, but since this post is mostly going out to other World Language teachers, I will share that. Skip this paragraph if you’re not interested in this mundane drivel. My department, as part of our Educator Effectiveness stuff chose to focus our Student Learning Objective (SLO) this year on Writing 9–Cite evidence from texts when reading to support analysis, reflection, and research. In my Spanish 4 class, we spent a lot of time getting to know each other. These personal interview conversations (PQA) melded into talking about personality, which goes to personal history/family heritage, which then becomes study of immigration and reading the book Esperanza. During this personality part, we read an article from the Spanish-language wikihow website about how to make people love you. Students read this article and marked places that were good ideas, bad ideas, and things that were unclear. For many students this is the first authentic reading they’ve ever done in Spanish. After reading the article they wrote a journal/reflection about it, using their own opinions and the advice in the article as evidence. I haven’t graded them yet, but this is the “pre-assessment” for my SLO this year.
Okay, on to the amazing. One of our science teachers brought an example of his 3-Tiered Assessment. In science classes, students take an assessment at the beginning of the year. This is a science pre-test. The brilliant thing is that the assessment has nothing to do with actual science knowledge. Like the ACT, the pre-test is an assessment of students’ ability to read scientific materials, and think like a scientist. The test has 3 parts. A graphing section, a reading section, and a writing section. Based on the results of this assessment, students are told they are a Level 1, Level 2, or Level 3 in each of the different sections. On the first “real” assessment, which focuses on half-life, all students can begin at Level 1, or their assessed level. When a student achieves a 9 or 10 out of 10 on a section at that level, he/she moves up and must take the next higher test in the future. Level 2 is sort of the benchmark in class. Once a kid is earning an A on the level 2 test, that kid has shown sufficient mastery of the material to earn an A on that test, so moving to the level 3 test is not an academic risk, but has them doing more complex work. When students are able to get an A on the different aspects of Level 3, then the teacher moves on to giving them the actual ACT test (he has amassed enough of a collection of ACT sample questions and past tests to make the test content about the same subject as the material in class.
The test has looked at the expectations the ACT exam has for student skills, and formats his tests in the same sort of way. The first question on all of his tests is about reading a graph. For those unfamiliar with the ACT, it doesn’t test any specific science knowledge, but tests the skills needed for interpreting graphs, charts, and scientific readings. So his tests are formatted to focus on the same skills: question 1 is about reading the y-axis of a graph in all 3 versions of his test. At the Level 1, a question might be a very straightforward bit of information, right on the graph. At Level 2 it might require a bit more interpretation, but is still about reading the graph. Level 3 will ask students to predict something or otherwise do more complex interpretation. But regardless of the level, the teacher knows that if a student gets the first question wrong, that reading the y-axis of a graph is something that needs reinforcing in class. The teacher based the structure of the test on Costa’s levels of questioning:
So am I this stoked about teaching to the test? No. Of course not. I’m not a fan of standardized tests. But my school has done a great job of making lemonade out of the lemons that standardized tests give us. We have analyzed the questions kids tend to do the worst on. We have looked at what those questions really ask students to DO. Our kids struggle with identifying main idea and author’s purpose. They struggle with argumentative writing and backing up their claims with evidence. They struggle with interpreting scientific graphs. All of these are not only ACT skills, but things that generally we would hope our students can do. And our science department differentiates their tests while continuously providing scaffolding and support for students to increase in these skills.
What does this mean for World Language teachers? Or other teachers in general? It means a great idea that I’ve been ruminating on for a couple of days (yeah, this post didn’t get done the same day I started it. So sue me.). I love the idea of making a class so self-differentiating. All students get similar tests, and nobody knows which level any other student gets. They all test content, but allow all students to be successful and push themselves to do more. What a great confidence builder! Students don’t fear that the test is going to be miles beyond their ability. We talk a lot about standards-based grading, but how many of us truly do standards-based assessment? An assessment that is embedded within, shall we say, proficiency levels. A student with strong reading skills might take the “Intermediate Low” reading assessment, but respond to the “Novice mid” writing prompt. Multi-level classes? Not as big of an issue with multi-level assessments. Heritage speakers put into low level classes because the office doesn’t know where else to put them? They can be challenged by assessments too!
Now, how to do this? Not a clue. But this is my new goal to figure out. I will probably begin with a novel, because those are the most defined units I teach. I do know that this science teacher did say it took a LOT of time, and his department built the plane in midair while implementing this assessment strategy. If he didn’t have a study hall supervision period, he would have gotten much less work done on making 3 versions of every unit’s test. They do 3 per quarter. (Our block schedule means that there are 6 total during a course).
I’d love to hear from you…are you as blown away by the potential of this as I am? Am I just nuts? Both? What are your thoughts?
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