I often think about the attention and focus that mandated summative assessments have received in the past few years and how this has not always been the case. It was only in my last 15 years of teaching that so much attention and emphasis was put on the yearly summative assessments and on using performance data to rate schools.
When I first began teaching, the only discussions that were remotely related to achievement tests, as we called them at the time, was the discussion of the testing schedule during faculty meetings. I don’t recall anyone ever training me on how to read and interpret the data reports. Nor was there ever any mention of evaluating teachers against their students’ performance on these assessments.
When I reflect upon those data reports from my early years of teaching, they were much like summative data reports today in that they:
- Were sent home to parents who often misinterpreted them
- Described what was learned after teaching was completed
- Came too late in the year for interventions for addressing knowledge gaps
- Didn’t identify the specific concept or skill that a student was struggling with
- Were useless in making daily adjustments to classroom instruction to increase student learning
- Were sometimes used to separate students into different levels based on performance ability – which can be a destructive practice with undeniable effects of lowering expectations and opportunities for students who have already fallen behind
I was always anxious to see how my students had done. But the reports had very little if any impact on my teaching and student learning. As I reviewed the data reports, I would note areas that students performed well in and those where they didn’t, but don’t recall making any major instructional changes as a result.
Fortunately as the years have passed, I’ve learned some valuable lessons about assessments and the data they provide. My data collection and interpretation skills have definitely improved. Like many of you, I’ve learned so much about how to access, analyze, and sort data to make informed decisions. In that process, I’ve learned that while there is relevance and importance in summative assessments, it’s the day-to-day formative assessments or assessments for learning that provide immediate feedback which impacts learning. Formative assessments illuminate what students don’t know, so that modifications and adjustments can be made while teaching is occurring and students are learning concepts and skills.
I’ve learned how valuable formative assessments are in providing data and feedback to help me in thinking about appropriate interventions or changes in practice and/or instruction that will improve learning. These are the assessments that empower and guide us as teachers in determining and planning individualized learning opportunities for our students.
Formative assessment can be done in a variety of ways including observations, questions – both students’ responses to questions and the questions they ask, solutions to problems, the way a student tackles a problem, and even the look on a student’s face. But it’s getting to the core of misunderstanding that may not always be so simple. In math there can be prerequisite skills that students are struggling with that can only be pinpointed by spending one-on-one time with a student. And the time it takes to unearth these prerequisite skills is time that a teacher doesn’t always have during the school day.
But what if you could assess student knowledge and understanding and quickly access data that not only helps you manage your day-to-day teaching routine, but more importantly helps transform your teaching to better meet the needs of individual learners? What if you could quickly and easily answer questions like:
- Which of my students are struggling with learning which math concepts?
- What specific knowledge gaps or prerequisites are keeping these students from learning these concepts?
- What recommended materials and resources would be effective interventions for helping each of these students learn these concepts?
- Should I provide whole class, small group, or individual one-on-one instruction to aid the student in learning these concepts?
The good news is that all of these questions can be answered. We want to share with you the lessons we’re learning from LearnBop data and how you can use the data to answer questions like these. So mark your calendar and join me on Tuesday, February 11 from 4:30 – 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time or Wednesday, February 12 from 8:30 – 9:00 a.m. ET for our twitter chat at #LBdatachat as we discuss how the LearnBop data is collected and how it can be used to inform instruction.