This past summer, I was invited to participate in a Math Assessment Workshop for AERO (American Education Reaches Out), sponsored by the U.S. State department. For anyone who doesn't know what AERO is (I didn't really), it's basically Common Core for international schools; the goal is to create "a framework for curriculum consistency across grades K-12 and for stability of curriculum in overseas schools, which typically have a high rate of teacher turnover." The math standards are essentially the same as Common Core (in fact, I think they're the precursor to CC, but I'm not solid on my history there). The workshop was led by Erma Anderson (@ermaander), an impressive individual with a wealth of knowledge who I'm glad to have met and been able to work with.
We were a small group of 8 teachers from schools around the world, and from all different age groups (2 K-5, 3 MS, 3 HS). The rest of the group had participated in workshops before for the MSIS (Math Specialist in International Schools) program run by AERO; I was sort of an outsider who slipped in because my wife is doing MSIS, but now I want more!
Now, I thought I was pretty up-to-date on SBA in the math community (see the previous post for my history), but this workshop turned me on to a new framework I'd never used, read about, or seen before: the four "Claims for the Mathematics Summative Assessment" from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. The purposes of the workshop were to
After getting our feet wet with this process, we turned to creating a student profile based on the four claims. We started out calling this a "rubric", which led to a lot of confusion about the purpose of the document. Once we changed our focus to creating a profile, we started coming together towards a final product. This process took two days, but we felt pretty good about having created a document that we all felt comfortable applying K-12
After this, we got back to writing and critiquing assessments. The high school group borrowed heavily from Illustrative Mathematics problems, and the following are three problems we felt pretty good about.
If anyone reading this is interested in checking out any of the K-8 problems, contact me.
Overall, it was energizing to be part of this group of math teachers who were focused and interested in what they were doing. I hope we can keep in touch through #AEROmaththinktank on Twitter.
Because of my unfamiliarity with the claims, I needed to do some independent study and research to help get my head around this way of approaching assessment. Here are two big ideas I'm going to try to use in assessment this year (but this will take some time, and I've got a lot of newness to deal with this year).
1. The four claims are the boss:
These are the things we are always assessing in math assessments, regardless of the specific learning target or subject matter. They should be considered whenever we are designing assessments. Part of Erma's instruction included a link between the four claims and the standards for mathematical practice (SMP); I'm much more familiar and comfortable with the SMP, so I found this helpful. The mess below is me visualizing this (and playing with MS OneNote on a new touchscreen computer).
2. Clusters are learning targets
I spent my first five years trying to write learning targets based on specific standards. Anyone who's done this knows how muddled it can get. Erma blew my mind with the idea of using the Common Core clusters as larger learning targets for assessment's sake. This is fitting in with the idea of a SBA "skills list", which I haven't used before, and the following is the beginnings of my attempt to do this for my geometry class this year. I'm using New Visions' curriculum as a jumping off point here.
Ok, I'm stopping there because the first day of work at my new school is tomorrow! Just had to get some of this down and out of my head before getting into work.
Where I'm coming from
I got my teaching license in 2003. None of my coursework for teaching, including my student teaching, had anything to do with standards.
Then I got a job outside of the traditional school setting, out of the loop as far as current best-practices and educational reform were concerned. I kept this job for 8 years.
In 2012, I got back into classroom teaching by landing a job at brand new international school in China. The leadership of the school was pretty progressive, and decided from the beginning to go with the most current research-based practices.
I still remember the staff meeting where we were introduced to Standards-Based (SB) Grading, Assessment, and Reporting (I'm going to use SBG, SBA, SBR, and try to explain why I differentiate later). Few of the staff (some with much more experience than I) knew about or had much experience with SB anything, and it was kind of a shock to most of us. Oh yeah, BTW, this meeting happened AFTER two or so weeks of instruction, AFTER some of us had already distributed syllabi, grading scales, etc. I had no idea what anyone was talking about - the only grading I knew was percentages and ABCs. I cried in the bathroom that day...
Pretty quickly, watching others struggle with this, I came to the understanding that my lack of experience was an advantage. I didn't have to deal with, or unlearn, years of assessing any other way, I just had to get my head around doing it this way. I was also the only secondary math teacher in the school, so I had an incredible, and often intimidating, level of freedom in developing my curriculum and classroom practices. So I bought in, did the work, and started learning.
Needless to say, I learned more through the experience of teaching than I ever had in any class about teaching. I learned more through personal research, struggling with frustrations, searching for my own answers, than I ever have from professional development. After five years with this school, I feel like I have a relatively good grasp on the idea of SB, although I'm still struggling with the practice and implementation.
Where I am now
As far as I can tell, so is everyone else. I ask educators and administrators about their implementations whenever I can, and I read a lot of blogs and articles on the subject. Over the last five years, only one educator I've spoken with said that his school had "completely figured out" SBG; further conversation revealed that what he really meant was that his school had aligned a 1-4 grading scale with a percentage grading scale in a way that the majority of teachers, students, parents, and other stakeholders accepted.
Everyone else tells the truth; it's a journey, a learning process that no one seems to have nailed down completely yet. There are great ideas out there, but there doesn't seem to be anyone (other than that guy) who's willing to say they've got all the answers and they know exactly how it should be implemented.
I like to separate SB, especially when it involves grades, into three areas that help me think about my own practice. These distinctions are mine, from my experience, and may be different from others'. (they may also be wrong! :)
Where I'm going
Earlier this summer, I participated in an assessment workshop for AERO which gave me a whole new way to think about the standards, and I really want to write a post about it later. The shift that's rolling around in my head involves using clusters (not specific standards) to come up with targets, and couching the targets in the four claims from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.
In a few days, I'm heading out to start a new job in Pakistan! I don't know everything about how things work there, but I don't think they're using SBR yet (kind of a relief to me). They use percentage scales and letter grades for reports, but I've been reading a lot on how other teachers are doing SBG within their own classrooms, even if it's not a school-wide practice, and even if they eventually have to show a letter grade. Overall I don't think I can do assessment any other way, so SBA will be a part of what I do no matter where I teach.
If anyone made it this far, thanks for reading. I hope to keep posting on this journey, reading about what others are doing, and refining my practice.
People who've helped me think about this (not an exhaustive list, INPO):
Follow the links for some great posts on SBG
After 5 years of living and teaching in Dongguan, China, we're making the move to Lahore, Pakistan this summer (after some down-time in Florida)! Never mind the geography - I'm also considering a whole lot of changes in my teaching.