By Nick Siewert
It’s the question every teacher most wants to answer. How can I tell how well my students are doing? How do I know who is progressing and who is stuck? The question stretches back to the one room school house and beyond. It’s why Socrates kept asking so many pesky questions. A sound assessment of where each student is in her or his learning progression on any given day provides the key to unlocking a variety of instructional moves we prize at Teaching Matters: genuine student-centered instruction, precise differentiation, effective intervention and enrichment and most importantly, meaningful collaboration among teachers to improve practice. If you don’t know where your students are, your individual and team efforts to bring them to the next level will be scattershot at best.
The growth of high stakes testing and accountability has only added weight to the need to monitor student progress with accuracy. These days, we count the state among the parties interested in how your students are progressing - deeply interested. Two and a half years into adoption of the Common Core Standards in New York, teachers know that their ability to track student progress on mastery of the standards has become a professional imperative. At the same time, innovation in the education technology space has produced an abundance of tools to track student progress. At Teaching Matters we keep tabs on these things with an eye towards three critical features: ease of use, quality of the data and the ability of the data source to inform and improve practice. In September, 2014, we launched a network-wide initiative to track student mastery of standards using a tool called Mastery Connect. The tool consists of two main components: trackers which provide an easy-to-read dashboard of student mastery progress on standards-aligned assessments and and a social network through which teachers can share assessments. We presently have 15 schools piloting the tool with implementations ranging from small teams of teachers to whole school adoption.
The results have been encouraging. Here are three quick highlights:
Teachers report that the process of aligning assessments to standards question by question has resulted in higher quality and better targeted assessments.
Training a keener eye on the the alignment of assessments has resulted in more productive conversations in team meetings. Teams looking at common assessments are easily able to drill down into comparative views of student progress across a grade, to move from there to item analysis and discussions about instructional next steps. In a team setting, the clarity of the data displays accelerates professional learning and collaboration.
Finally, administrators are saying that they are much more fully informed about student progress. The transparency of the data and the ability to see everything from a bird’s eye view to individual student reports has allowed them to provide better guidance to teams and more specific supervision to teachers.
As several schools in our network prepare for or complete their Quality Reviews, they are highlighting their work with Mastery Connect on two fronts: bringing coherence and efficiency to their assessment strategies (QR 2.2) and shaping an inquiry approach that improves student learning (QR 4.2). So far, their work has been very well received. We’ll keep you posted.
In the meantime, keep on tracking!