PLCs Exploring Assessment

As I continue to work with faculties implementing Professional Learning Communities, I have found that giving PLCs some guiding questions can deepen the quality of their early conversations and speed the way to insights and ideas for change.Insights and ideas create an energy and enthusiasm that encourage participation so that the value of time invested in PLCs is discovered and the process can gain a foothold in the school culture.

In an earlier blog, Teaching Teams as Professional Learning Communities,

I provided questions for focusing on individual students.Here is a set of questions for having a PLC examine teacher designed assessments.

I asked high school teachers from all departments to bring a set of assessments to our meeting. Working in cross department PLCs, they examined the following questions:

(Used with these questions was an article from Sept 2004 Phi Delta Kappan, Working Inside the Black Box: Assessment for Learning in the Classroom.)

• Examine the assessments in your group and categorize by similarities.

• What are the reason for the various assessments in your group?

• What information did the teacher receive from each assessment?

• What information did the students receive?

PLC members read and discussed the following:

“Assessment for learning is any assessment for which the first priority in its design and practice is to serve the purpose of promoting students’ learning. It thus differs from assessment designed primarily to serve the purposes of accountability, or of ranking, or of certifying competence. An assessment activity can help learning if it provides information that teachers and their students can use as feedback in assessing themselves and one another and in modifying the teaching and learning in which they are engaged. Such assessment becomes “formative assessment” when the evidence is actually used to adapt the teaching work to meet learning needs.” Kappan Sept 2004 pg10

Which assessments or parts of assessments would you label as being “for learning”?

PLC members read and discussed the following:

“When giving students feedback on both oral and written work, it is the nature, rather than the amount, of commentary that is critical. Research experiments have established that, while student learning can be advanced by feedback through comments, the giving of numerical scores or grades has a negative effect, in that students ignore the comments when marks are also given. These remarks often surprise teachers, but those who have abandoned the giving of marks discover that their experience confirms the findings: students do engage more productively in improving their work “ Kappan Sept 2004 pg 13

• Discuss the issue of grades on assessments? What have been the experiences of the group?

• What ideas for experimenting with changes in your assessments would you be interested in exploring?

• What problems could emerge from the experiment? How might those problems be mitigated or explored?

An interesting idea emerged from my first experience with these questions in a PLC. A school with a 9th grade academy is looking to have freshman submit a writing assignment in March which will be assessed by 10th grade English teachers and returned with comments on “how to improve” with no grade. The rewritten work will be resubmitted in April and again returned with comments on how to improve (no grade). Resubmitted in May the work will be graded and recorded as their first sophomore grade for the next year.

PLCs…producing new learning opportunities for teachers and students.

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Steve Barkley

For the past 30 years, Steve has served as a consultant to school districts, teacher organizations, state departments of education, and colleges and universities nationally and internationally, facilitating the changes necessary for them to reach students and successfully prepare them for the 21st century. Read more…

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