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Standards may change, but the process remains

Clague Middle School teacher, Julie Donnelly, scaffolds reading learning targets with differentiated groups of students.

You can’t buy it in a can.

Assessment literacy, when carefully taught, provides time to absorb, discern and put skills into practice. Some teachers claim to have a grasp of the subject, when in reality the data is often misunderstood, misinterpreted and misleading.
Assessment literacy is the link between curriculum and instruction. Through the study of assessment literacy, teachers gain a foundational knowledge and skills necessary to acquire accurate information regarding student achievement. Once armed with knowledge and skills, educators can create high-quality formative and summative assessments, which can act as a compass to keep instruction on course for various learners. Through this exercise, clarity is brought to complex standards allowing teachers to focus on what they need to teach students to progress toward mastery of a standard, and students understand what they are expected to learn.

Washtenaw Intermediate School District and Livingston Educational Service Agency are committed to unwrapping the multifaceted standards. The two service agencies have devised cohorts to study the state standards and in turn, share the information with their respective colleagues to improve student learning.

Teachers learn the five keys to quality assessment and how to: write an assessment that aligns with the standards, create lessons and activities based on the standards that will be assessed, give effective feedback, deconstruct complex content standards and involve students in the learning process through feedback and formative assessments.

Teachers use the data from their formative assessments to differentiate instruction and intervene with students that have not met the learning target. Those that meet and exceed are given an alternative challenge activity to further learning within the context of the standard. These teachers will then work closely with other teachers from Livingston and Washtenaw counties by coming together monthly and developing units based on clearly defined learning targets.

Heather Rottermond, assessment coordinator for the two counties, says the Assessment Literacy Network is helping teachers to develop their skills. The educators involved in the process are engaged, excited and expectant.
“In order to master the content area, teachers deconstruct the standards, to see the underpinning knowledge, skills and reasoning that has to happen,” Rottermond says. “In addition to textbooks and other resources, they are using human resources. Chelsea and Ypsilanti teachers are learning and collaborating side-by-side; it is a powerful thing to see.”
The Assessment Literacy Network is designed to help teachers learn how to gather accurate information and how to use the assessment and results to improve student achievement effectively. Gabrielle DeSano, a third grade teacher at Holmes Elementary School in Ypsilanti, says she is already seeing the impact of her involvement.
“My students now have a much clearer understanding of what they are supposed to gain from a particular lesson,” DeSano says. “Deconstructing a state standard into kid-friendly targets has been highly beneficial to my students.”

Transformed is the way that Jill Albert, a sixth grade mathematics teacher at Beach Middle School in Chelsea, describes the change in her teaching and assessment techniques.
“My students now feel more successful and knowledgeable in math. After a test (summative assessment) the whole class reflects on what they did well and what still needs work,” Albert explains. “This process has made me more mindful of what I am asking students to do and how I am asking them to do it.”
Rottermond became a proponent of assessment literacy while she was teaching language arts and social studies. She remembers her students being motivated by a thirst for learning rather than a grade.
“I learned to go deep with a few standards and I discovered students learned more,” Rottermond says. “The reward was not the grade. They wanted to learn and that was the motivation.”
She says that happens when educators understand the instructional learning cycles, how better to prepare when they know the vertical alignments, and being creative.
“Teachers have to master the technical side of instruction by analyzing the standards and assessments to ensure that students are meeting the standards, but they also need to inject creatively in teaching the standard targets. Integrating the arts, field trips, video clips and technology to bring the material to life,” she says. “It’s a lot of work, but once you learn this process, you won’t go back.”

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