Following Unit Plans and adopted instructional resources are necessary to help our students master standards, but we must also be mindful of the updated standardized assessments students will take each spring. Whether we’re referring to PARCC, PSAT, or SAT expectations, we must ask ourselves, “Do our assessments and instructional tasks hit the right target of expectations?”
If we’re loyal to The Teaching & Learning Cycle, we start with looking at the standards (i.e. Unit Plans) to determine what our students are expected to know, understand, and be able to do. But it’s the next stage that typically get short-changed: Creating the post-assessment that will determine what/if students have learned. Instead of focusing on developing the end-of-unit assessment and matching instructional lessons & tasks to the rigor of that assessment, we typically fall into the pattern and habit of marching through the adopted instructional resources (with little-to-no modification at times) and using the publisher-created assessments that mirror the format and rigor of the lesson examples and homework problems.
To see if these publisher-created assessments are hitting the right target of expectation, let’s compare assessment items and tasks to the PARCC/PSAT/SAT released items. If they are falling short (which they most likely will), how can we use these released and practice items (and other test specification resources provided to us) to raise the expectations for classroom assessments? Paraphrasing a colleague of mine, if PARCC/PSAT/SAT is the hardest assessment students take all year, then our classroom assessments do not match the appropriate expectations. Once the end-of-unit assessment is intentionally designed, only then can we ensure our lesson design and choice of instructional tasks will help students prepare for the assessment. It may require adaptation and modification of the adopted instructional resources and tweaking tasks slightly. Ideally, our lessons and tasks would regularly include and incorporate the Standards for Mathematical Practice & Colorado 21st Century Skills and Readiness Competencies in Mathematics where students are doing the thinking, talking, and the mathematics, not the teacher. (Mark Chubb has some nice blog posts around this – check out A Few Simple Beliefs, Focus on Relational Understanding, and Aiming for Mastery? Dan Meyer’s April 2016 keynote “Beyond Relevance & Real World: Stronger Strategies for Student Engagement” is a good reference, too.)
For St. Vrain teachers, we’ve curated some other resources to assist with designing classroom assessments that meet the expectations of student mastery of the Colorado Academic Standards. Check out Illustrative Mathematics and our assessment tasks linked to applicable Unit Plans for ideas and prompts. The i-Ready Standards Mastery component can also be a great tool for PARCC-like items in a digital format.
Summary points to remember:
Have fidelity to the standards. These define and describe what our students must know, understand, and be able to do. There is room for prioritization here, identifying the conceptual “big ideas” and focusing instructional time accordingly.
Assessment communicates expectations. Are your classroom assessments communicating the right expectations?
Adopted instructional resources are tools. One of the Standards for Mathematical Practice is “Use appropriate tools strategically.” You are the highly-qualified teacher that builds relationships with your students, builds a classroom culture of mathematical discourse, and designs dynamic lessons to actively engage students in the content. Don’t outsource yourself to the script of a textbook or go on “autopilot” by blindly covering lessons without knowing the assessment expectations! Check out Elementary Mathematics Achievement by Design or Secondary Mathematics Achievement by Design for more ideas around structuring your math class/block.