Assessment Practices for the Real World: Should Professionals Take Standardized Tests?

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Tatiyana Webb, Memphis TN, trc-tatiyanawebb@cpm.org

My name is Tatiyana Webb and I teach 8th grade math (Core Connections, Course 3) in Memphis, TN. This year I have been working with the Teacher Research Corps (TRC) conducting research on assessment practices. This topic has been important to me because I have seen students struggle with being able to demonstrate their understanding of material on standardized assessments. Often students develop test anxiety, and these assessments do not provide an exceptionally accurate depiction of what students know. This year I have explored different methods of assessment strategies with my 8th grade math students. It has been important to me to allow them a variety of ways to show me what they know. This includes some verbal assessments, video assessments, self-assessments, and projects. Students have responded very well to these alternate methods of assessments, and the data that I was able to collect was far better than what I have typically gained from a traditional paper and pencil test.

I have also had an interest in education policy and how it affects our school system. This year I took part in a statewide policy fellowship, where I had the opportunity to learn about education policy in Tennessee. I was specifically interested in learning more about how education policy is made and then implemented at the local level. A few years ago while helping to design interim assessments at my school, I had a lot of questions about testing practices, design, and purpose. I wanted to learn more about this process and play a part in it. I wanted to have conversations about other methods of assessments that were more equitable for all students and that actually allowed them to showcase their knowledge. In addition, I have personal experience with standardized tests where scores suggested I would not be successful. So I really wanted to get to the bottom of how assessment policy impacts students. During my fellowship I learned a great deal about testing practices and policy in TN and how they are used to inform instruction.

As part of this fellowship, I had the opportunity to share my voice in Nashville, TN with a state legislator on education policy. This was an unique opportunity, and I was grateful that policy makers were listening to teachers’ voices. The primary focus of this conversation was about high quality teachers and exposure to post-secondary education options for students. However, during this conversation, the legislator expressed her views on standardized tests, which was not a favorable one. After talking with the legislator, a fellow teacher and I had a follow-up conversation where I shared with her my research with TRC. During this conversation she mentioned that standardized tests are important and students need to know how to take them because they will need to take them as adults. Her husband, a firefighter, just had to take a standardized test in order to get promoted. This was interesting to me. My immediate response to her was, is there a better way, other than a paper-and-pencil test, for her husband to demonstrate that he knows how to perform the duties of his jobs? I asked more about why he had to take a standardized test and what it covered. She explained that it was on fire code and what he knows about putting out fires. She also explained that there is a physical exam as well. I explained to her the research that I have been working on with TRC. Firefighting seems to be the profession that would lend itself to relying more on alternate methods of assessing. The fact that a profession such as firefighting would rely on a standardized test to assess someone’s abilities to perform duties seems a bit backwards to me. This is a perfect example of how using an alternate form of assessment would be more appropriate, an assessment where the firefighter would be actually applying the knowledge they will use everyday to put out fires.

As I continue to learn and explore assessment practices and the policies behind them, I am aware that assessment is important. We all assess our students, formally and informally. The bigger question is what is the best method that provides us with the information we are seeking from the assessment in the first place? Can we design and implement assessments in a way that is equitable? I have never been a fan of standardized testing. I do agree that we need to assess knowledge and mastery, but we need to do it in a more real-world way. I believe we are damaging kids’ mindsets about school, learning, and overall mental health by having all this added pressure about getting a certain score on a test. I am a fan of capstones, project-based learning, and portfolios. I am fairly new to the teaching profession, but when I think about creating a better, happier life for me and my students, figuring out how to be less stressed about a test seems like something we should figure out. Thinking about the future we are preparing our students for, they need to know how to “do things”, “think,” and “create solutions.” We do not need to simply fill in the correct answer choice on a test. We need our students to show what they know the same way firefighters do – by taking action and putting out fires, not by guessing A, B, C, or D.

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Algebra Tiles Session

  • Used throughout CPM middle and high school courses
  • Concrete, geometric representation of algebraic concepts.
  • Two-hour virtual session,
  •  Learn how students build their conceptual understanding of simplifying algebraic expressions
  • Solving equations using these tools.  
  • Determining perimeter,
  • Combining like terms,
  • Comparing expressions,
  • Solving equations
  • Use an area model to multiply polynomials,
  • Factor quadratics and other polynomials, and
  • Complete the square.
  • Support the transition from a concrete (manipulative) representation to an abstract model of mathematics..

Foundations for Implementation

This professional learning is designed for teachers as they begin their implementation of CPM. This series contains multiple components and is grounded in multiple active experiences delivered over the first year. This learning experience will encourage teachers to adjust their instructional practices, expand their content knowledge, and challenge their beliefs about teaching and learning. Teachers and leaders will gain first-hand experience with CPM with emphasis on what they will be teaching. Throughout this series educators will experience the mathematics, consider instructional practices, and learn about the classroom environment necessary for a successful implementation of CPM curriculum resources.

Page 2 of the Professional Learning Progression (PDF) describes all of the components of this learning event and the additional support available. Teachers new to a course, but have previously attended Foundations for Implementation, can choose to engage in the course Content Modules in the Professional Learning Portal rather than attending the entire series of learning events again.

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Building on Instructional Practice Series

This series contains three different courses, taken in either order. The courses are designed for schools and teachers with a minimum of one year of experience teaching with CPM curriculum materials. Teachers will develop further understanding of strategies and tools for instructional practices and assessment.

Building on Equity

In this course, participants will learn how to include equitable practices in their  classroom and support traditionally underserved students in becoming leaders of their own learning. Participants will reflect on how their math identity and mindsets impact student learning. They will begin working on a plan for implementing Chapter 1 that creates an equitable classroom culture and curate strategies for supporting all students in becoming leaders of their own learning. Follow-up during the school year will support ongoing implementation of equitable classroom practices.

Building on Assessment

In this course, participants will apply assessment research to develop methods to provide feedback to students and to inform equitable assessment decisions. Participants will develop assessment action plans that will encourage continued collaboration within their learning community.

Building on Discourse

This professional learning builds upon the Foundations for Implementation Series by improving teachers’ ability to facilitate meaningful mathematical discourse. This learning experience will encourage participants to adjust their instructional practices in the areas of sharing math authority, developing independent learners, and the creation of equitable classroom environments. Participants will plan for student learning by using teaching practices such as posing purposeful questioning, supporting productive struggle, and facilitating meaningful mathematical discourse. In doing so, participants learn to support students collaboratively engaged with rigorous, team-worthy tasks with all elements of the Effective Mathematics Teaching Practices.