ACTION RESEARCH - ASSESSMENT
The past few years have been a difficult time for students and educators. More and more people are asking questions regarding their tax dollars and the level and quality of education their own children are receiving. Local and Federal governments are constantly looking at ways save money and meet their budgets. The funding that schools and CTC’s receive are directly related to the performance outcomes of their student population. The greater the number of students that do not meet Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, the less funding received by the school. When in office, President Bush wanted to ensure that the Perkins Funds were being earned, meaning now that CTC’s are held accountable as well.
Importance and accountability
Student performance and assessment became the key to the funding. According to the Federal government, performance testing is the most effective way to assess student performance. This is not a belief I subscribe to, but it is the “easiest and fastest” way to record and report results. Instructional teachers must assess their students throughout the year to help prepare them for benchmark exams like the PSSA’s or the CTC equivalent, the NOCTI. CTC teachers must assist in this process by teaching math, reading, writing, and language arts embedded within their own curriculum. CTC teachers must also teach to ensure the students will pass their NOCTI exam during their senior year. Students that don’t pass these assessments, not only make the teachers look like they are lacking in their job performance, but also directly affect the amount of money given to the school each year by the government.
Teachers must assess their student’s daily, sometimes numerous times throughout the day. This is done to diagnose students’ strengths and weaknesses. This is usually done at the beginning of the school year to see where each student is and what has been retained since the year before. This sets a benchmark for each student. Teachers should use these results to figure out where to start and who needs additional work to “catch-up”. As teachers work through the curriculum they must continue to monitor the students’ progress. Using this formative testing strategy, the teacher can see how much of the material the student actually understood or retained. The teacher can decide if a review is needed or if the teaching strategy used needs to be adjusted to ensure every student gained from the theory. Taking these assessments also gives the teacher grades to assign to each student. Parents are constantly looking for the “final” outcome of the homework and studying their child had done. Formative assessments such as quizzes and tests will relay information to parents and also present the teacher with data to use to ensure students are learning the vital skills needed to pass the PSSA’s and NOCTI.
Assessments and how teachers use utilize them
Assessments are defined as: The evaluation or estimation of the nature, quality, or ability of someone or something: "the assessment of educational needs". The application of assessments in the classroom is the responsibility of the teacher. With that in mind, it would be a disservice to teachers if they did not understand the reasons for using assessment as tools to better student understanding, curriculum development, and instructional delivery. The following are justifiable reasons that all teachers must understand and employ assessments:
1. Diagnosing Students’ Strength and Weaknesses – By the use of pre-assessment devices, teachers can identify the students learning status prior to the initiation of instruction. In this way an inventory of student skills and knowledge can be the guide to the instructional needs and help to identify those individuals that might need extra instructional help. This gives the teacher a better understanding of the diverse needs of their group of learners.
2. Monitoring Student Progress – The use of testing and assessments is important as a system of checks and balances. This opportunity makes assessments useful for students as well as teachers. This system of checks and balances also serves to identify those students that are “at risk” as well as those who are performing beyond expectations. In other words, assessments help the teacher target those students that may need further assistance and/or reinforcement as well as planning alternative instruction to keep higher performing students interested and engaged in the learning domain.
3. Assigning Grades – One of the more traditional reasons that teachers should know about assessments is assigning students grades. This is part of the educational process that helps indicate a students’ level of performance. In CTE we are responsible for task tracking in order to identify those students who are to be completers of a program. Assigning grades in this sense give a better understanding of student skills mastery as long as the assessments are conducted in accordance to the curriculum goals and objectives.
4. Determining One’s Own Teaching Effectiveness – By using pre and post-test results a teacher can gain a better understanding as to the depth of knowledge gained by their learners. The results of such assessments help to guide the teachers’ instructional planning and help to make decisions regarding what to teach and what to emphasize.
5. Influencing Public Perceptions of Educational Effectiveness – Education has become part of the public forum with greater scrutiny and demand for educational excellence. The public now has access to the results of standardized tests scores and school rankings. The focus on the results of such “high stakes” testing is at the forefront of determining educational effectiveness. Assessment devices used correctly with instructional delivery helps students to prepare for these “high stakes” tests.
6. Helping to Evaluate Teachers – More than ever there is a groundswell in education for teacher evaluations to be directly tied to teaching results. Although teacher performance based or merit pay systems are not without controversy there is compelling evidence that assessments used in this fashion would be evidence of student educational growth.
7. Clarifying Teachers’ Instructional Intentions – Creating instructional goals that coincide with desired educational outcomes can only be measured with the application of proper assessments. The goals for any qualified classroom or educational program could be better achieved with “back-to-front” academic, curriculum and assessment planning. The goal of such planning is to look at the terminal performance objectives of students as graduates or completers and to work backward to the beginning of instruction. By developing this vision in such a way as to promote effectiveness of curricula, instruction and assessments will help to ensure the success of students as graduates
Parents can easily go on the Internet and find the published PSSA scores by school. Parents look at that data to see how well the school is performing. This can provide positive public relations for the school if they are performing well or negative relations if they are performing below AYP. The population can increase and decrease due to the reports because parents may want to relocate to ensure their child is offered the best education possible.
A teacher is expected to teach each student the skills needed to become contributing members of society. The state has assigned standards and anchors to each grade level. Each class activity is to teach one or more of those anchors. If a teacher has an entire class that does poorly on the PSSA’s, then that is directly affecting the overall performance level of that teacher, in the eyes of the administration. Many schools are switching to a “merit-based” pay scale where teachers are given raises based on the performance outcomes of their students on standardized tests. Teachers must and are expected to prepare the students for these assessments if they are lacking some instructional skills; they need to seek help to ensure the students are learning.
The results of quizzes will help a teacher determine their own effectiveness in the classroom. It is simple, if a majority of the students fail a quiz, the material was not delivered to them in a way they could grasp it or the quiz was invalid in some way. Improvements to instructional quality can and should be made so students gain knowledge.
Understanding the value of Comprehensive Evaluation Reports
A student with an IEP needs to learn the same material as other students but maybe in a different manner. By reading a student’s IEP and studying their Comprehensive Evaluation Report, or CER, a teacher can meet the needs of that student. Within the CER there are multitudes of information. The six types of information found in the CER that a classroom teacher can use with an IEP student are as follows:
Speech and language impairments
Specific learning disabilities
The role of Perkins funding in Career and Technical Education
CTE schools that receive Perkins Funds need to ensure that their students are scoring well on the PSSA’s. Teachers in a CTC must embed reading, language arts, and math into their curriculum and teach it every day. “Programs and providers will be measured on the results they achieve as a return on investment of public funds.” This was stated in the Pennsylvania Five Year Plan for Perkins Funds. The other requirement CTC’s needed to report on is the student graduation rates. The state gathers the PSSA scores for all students attending a CTC. Those students need to show improvement toward proficient if they are not already there. The CTC overall has to show that their students are scoring higher from year to year in order to receive the Perkins Funding. Each year CMTHS has shown an increase in the overall scores of their students in math, reading, and writing with the help of initiatives like The Technical Assistance Program, or TAP.
CTC teachers also need to ensure they are teaching the material that the student will have to know for the NOCTI exam. This summative and formative assessment provides great feedback to the teacher. It is broken down into sections so the data will tell the teacher which areas the students are not grasping. Utilizing this data will help the teacher address areas of the curriculum that may need re-writing. Also, by teaching math, reading, and language arts skills, the students will automatically perform better on the NOCTI due to the increased levels of the basic skills.
Explaining Pennsylvania’s Standards Aligned Systems
All teachers need to take a look at PDE’s Standards Aligned System (SAS). There are four assessment techniques that go with the SAS. Using all of these techniques together will provide the teacher with valid data to gauge the knowledge of the students. As stated in a prior paragraph, the diagnostic assessment will provide feedback stating the students’ prior knowledge, strengths, weaknesses, and skills. Teachers can take these results and adjust the curriculum to meet the needs of each student. The teacher should administer benchmark assessments frequently. This will provide feedback that can be used to determine how a student is progressing throughout the course. The goal is meeting proficiency in that subject matter. This type of assessment is done very frequently to constantly gage where a student is in mastering the material.
Formative assessments are also performed frequently. An exit-pass for the day would provide feedback to the teacher about the material covered that day. This type of assessment can help a teacher understand where each student is at right at that time. This will answer the following questions: Did they get it? Do I have to explain that again? Were they listening? They look bored; did they hear that? An entrance pass can be used to see what they retained overnight. At the end of a chapter or unit in the book, the teacher administers a formative assessment to record grades for each student.
At the end of the school year or course, students take a summative assessment. This is an overall judgment of the material learned during a specific period of time. Many times this information has to be reported to the state authority. These are “high-stakes assessments”. The PSSA’s are considered summative assessments. They test the student on the material they learned in that grade level. By using the four types of assessments, according to the SAS, the teacher gains plenty of feedback to ensure that the students have learned the material needed to pass the summative assessments and meet AYP. The 6 Circles, explained by the SAS, will help ensure the students are receiving a quality education. They are:
Materials and Resources
By setting clear standards for the students they know what needs to be accomplished. Creating fair assessments directly related to the standards will assist students in feeling confident in taking the tests. The curriculum framework needs to specify big ideas, concepts, and the competencies for that course. This aligns with the standards and assessments and meshes the course together. The instruction has to also align with the previous three, meaning it must have the necessary strategies to ensure students are meeting the expected performance. The materials and resources used must address the standards and anchors related to the curriculum. By using fair assessments, interventions can be established to ensure all students are meeting the standards.
Teachers need to do everything that is stated above, or they are simply not performing their responsibilities as educators to the best of their ability. Parents want a return on their investment in their child’s education and the government wants to ensure the funds are being used to provide a better education, and the students deserve the best education possible. Behind all the politics, rules, regulations, and standardized testing there are students attending class every day to learn. Maybe to be more than their parents were or to compete with a sibling, it really does not matter because we are professional educators hired to do a job. Sometimes teachers forget this simple fact because of the politics surrounding it. Come in each day, teach the students, have fun with them, make sure they learn the material. We all know it may not be that simple, but it will be if you implement just some of the various strategies discussed in the SAS alone. Then, imagine what the outcome could be if you implemented everything possible. If it is not working now make the change, make a difference.
Eric Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation, Fundamental Assessment Principles for Teachers and School Administrators
ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation, Implementing Performance Assessment in the Classroom
Federation of Children with Special Needs
Popham, W. James, Classroom Assessment – What Teachers Need to Know, 6th ed. Published by Pearson Education Inc., Boston, MA. Copyright 2011
Pennsylvania’s Standards Aligned System
Guide to Student Occupational Competency Testing
PA Department of Education