Reconsidering K–12 Assessment Formats

assessments_120x105Assessment in Education #2 … an ongoing series on assessment

What do we mean when we talk about assessments in education? Testing can provoke a lot of anxiety for students, parents, and teachers alike, so a close consideration of the goals of assessment is essential.

As we discussed last week, the billion-dollar assessment market is in flux. While this situation creates uncertainty, it also affords test makers, school systems, and other stakeholders a valuable opportunity to rethink the goals and the design of assessments. As a result, in the future we may see more models for assessments rooted in new educational philosophies. Although no assessment format is perfect, a few key models seem to endure.

Formative Assessments

Formative assessments offer instant information about a student’s educational progress. The goal of a formative assessment isn’t usually to gauge the efficacy of a teacher or a school, but rather to shed light on where students stand within a particular lesson, unit, or course. Think of these as the “present tense” of assessment: a snapshot of a student’s learning. Continue reading

9 Key Indicators to Watch in Assessment

assessments_120x105Assessment in Education #1an ongoing series on assessment

359572656_51a00dc2a6 (1)[Creative Commons  2.0, ccarlstead ]

The assessment market is a billion-dollar business. However, the market is in flux and no one can predict what will happen. Here are 9 key indicators to watch in 2017:

1. Uncertainty over the new administration’s educational policies
  • On the campaign trail, the president said that CCSS had to go and implied that states should control education policy. These two quotes give some indication of what might happen:

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What’s Hot vs. What’s Important in Education

The International Literacy Association (ILA) recently issued its “What’s Hot and What’s Important” report. The report highlights what hot topics the country is talking about—and just as telling, what is important to the educational community. Here are some reflections on the report.

Technology in the Classroom

The number one hot topic in the country is assessment/standards. Given the polarization of politics, this is not surprising. The world of assessment is in flux now, with the educational community waiting to see what will happen. Will there be more pushback from the Common Core State Standards? And if so, how will it affect assessments aligned directly to the Common CoreWill states receive more direct funding and create their own assessments? Will assessment companies have to revise their current tests? And, most important, when will the world of assessment settle down?

We think the pushback from the Common Core will continue. This may be an opportunity for assessment developers if some states write their own standards, because they will want revised assessments aligned to those standards. One thing is clear:  assessment and standards will remain in flux for most of the year, as the political battles continue.

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Why It’s Critical to Implement Civics Lessons and the C-3 Framework

Recently, citizens once again exercised their right to vote. They used the power of voting to have their voices heard. But what does it all mean? Now is the time for civics lessons that teach students civic responsibility. As the saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words,” and students must know how to act, deciding which actions are responsible and which are not. How do students treat others while making their voices heard? Civics lessons provide answers to these questions.

“Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours.” —John Locke

Focus on the Thinking and Motivation Behind Actions

Students need to see that every civic action has a reaction and a consequence. The actions establish a chain of events; each action is linked to a subsequent one.


© Nevit Dilmen [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons
The heart of civics lessons is not necessarily the content, but rather understanding the thinking and motivation behind the actions taken by individuals or groups. When students read about events in history, they should be able to answer the following questions:

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Top 10 Victory Blogs in 2016

What are your colleagues exploring? From instructional design to visual literacy to interactive lessons, here’s one way to find out: the top ten Victory blogs from 2016.

This year we had 6,187 unique visitors to our blog, and more than 2,100 of you kept coming back. Our top blog had 432 unique page-views, and it kept people interested for an average of 5 minutes. Yet we know we can do even better this year! Help us deliver educational insights that are important to you: request a Victory blog topic for 2017.

Top 10 Victory Blog Posts in 2016

1. Instructional Design 101
In educational publishing, design often refers to graphic design—envisioning and creating the visual look and feel of a book or product. However, graphic design is just one small part of another field of design essential to creating educational materials—instructional design.

2. Design: The Secret Behind Effective Digital Learning Experiences—Part 2
Imagine being able to see evidence of students’ analysis, the kinds of suppositions they make, and when and how they change their minds even before they write about it. Picture literally watching how their prior investigations influence their subsequent decisions. What if we could recognize not only students’ conclusions, but how their close reading of a text (or struggles with it) shapes their entire decision-making process?

3. U.S. Education Market Snapshot: English Language Learners (ELLs)
Overall, the number of ELL students in U.S. public schools is increasing steadily. According to the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), ELLs are the fastest growing segment of the student population. Growth in grades 7–12 is the highest and now comprises 10.5% of the nation’s K–12 enrollment. The number of ELL students in elementary grades is also increasing.

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Insights From NCSS 2016

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Mark Twain said, “What gets us in trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know that just ain’t so.” Today’s students are bombarded with information and images and there is a need for lessons that foster critical thinking and civic responsibility. The time for strong, innovative social studies lessons has arrived. The National Council for the Social Studies conference provided a showcase of lesson, organizations, and companies that are working to meet those classroom demands. Here are some insights we gained from the NCSS 2016 convention:

  • Learning from the past is critical in thinking about the future. Primary sources are perfect tools for seeing how events unfolded, the thinking and emotions behind the events, and the impact those events have on the world today. Organizations such as The Library of Congress, The Civil War Trust, Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and the Pennsylvania Historical Society are treasure troves of primary sources with lessons and programs that allow students to see the links between the past and the present. Companies such as Pearson highlight primary sources in their social studies programs. Gibbs Smith Education offers fine state history products. As we discussed in a recent post, it’s worth checking out your state or local historical society for primary sources that will enhance and enrich history lessons.
  • Often events are driven by economic decisions that continue to affect our daily lives. Students should learn to review and think about how the government spends money and how citizens benefit. Organizations such as the Council for Economic Education have many lessons and programs for students to explore these important issues.
  • Geography is about much more than learning map skills. Geography tells us about people, their environment, their movements, and how geography affects our daily lives. As individuals in a global world, geography knowledge is critical. The National Council for Geographic Education and Core Knowledge support geography teaching and learning at all levels where students learn not only about physical geography, but also human geography.
  • Social responsibility is critical in today’s ever-changing world. Students need to understand both the backstories of current events and must comprehend the why as well as the who and what of current events. Access to current events through videos, social media, print, and magazines is offered through Scholastic Magazines, Time Education, CNN Classroom, and Studies Weekly. These companies have products that allow students to focus on specific current events, discussing, thinking about, and understanding why things happen and what are the consequences.

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The Past & the Future: Museums & Historical Societies

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For tourists in London, it’s hard to miss the city’s deep connection to history: it’s everywhere you look, indoors and out. But the Churchill War Rooms museum brings the city’s wartime history to life with a unique blend of the past and the future. The museum is a cavernous collection of preserved bunkers, allowing visitors to experience the same cold, cramped conditions military personnel did. Standing in the space, you can truly feel the looming threat of an attack overhead. And yet the War Rooms also features a glimpse into the future of museum design and education: a giant interactive timeline that uses digital technology to animate correspondences across Churchill’s life.

Victory sees museums and historical societies all over the world as untapped resources for classroom instruction, and even cutting-edge Ed Tech. These resources can help bring history into the future and make it relevant to new generations of students. And you don’t need to take students to Europe to achieve this. Just see what local institutions offer in your own area. Continue reading

Teaching a Holistic Approach to Writing

Here’s a scenario many educators are all too familiar with: a new writing assignment is met with blank stares, or worse, outright revolt.

We know that writing is key to literacy and is linked to great student success, so what’s the problem with this scenario? Instead of approaching writing as a chore, we should introduce students to a more holistic approach to writing. After all, writing isn’t just one thing. It’s a tool we use to communicate in many different scenarios. It speaks to many different audiences and serves many purposes. Taking this broader view can help convince students that, in fact, writing offers them quite a lot.

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Dual Language Programs and the Bilingual Advantage

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Students studying abroad in India

As a college student, I spent a semester studying abroad in Italy. My embarrassment stumbling over new words will be familiar to many language learners. Whether asking for directions, ordering food, or attending class, I struggled to keep up as I frantically translated my thoughts from English to Italian. One night, after one of those expansive, hours-long Italian dinners with friends, I realized with a start that I wasn’t translating in my head anymore. I was thinking in Italian for the first time, focusing on the conversation instead of grammar and syntax. It’s moments like these that make learning another language so rewarding.

Wouldn’t it be great if learners could experience this at age 8 instead of 18? That’s the kind of experience that dual language programs can provide. Continue reading

How to Manage Classroom Instruction

Not having heard something is not as good as having heard it; having heard it is not as good as having seen it; having seen it is not as good as knowing it; knowing it is not as good as putting it into practice.—Xun Kuang, c. 312-230 BCE

Choosing Instruction Modes

Facing a classroom of students who represent different levels of learning curves is not an easy task. We know students learn better by doing, but they may not all be ready at the same time. This is a key reason for planning how to manage classroom instruction.

An effective way to start planning is to ask yourself:

  • When should I teach the whole class?
  • Should I move some students into group work?
  • When are students ready to work independently?

The choices you make directly affect students’ learning and the structure and pacing of lessons. The presentation below gives an overview of when whole-class, small-group, and independent modes work best in classroom instruction. Just click “Start Prezi.”

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