Reading Progress Monitoring Chart

In his book Rethinking Teacher Supervision and Evaluation, Kim Marshall recommends having teachers track the progress of their students in reading using a simple table:

  • Students’ names are listed in the left column
  • There are 26 more columns, labeled A-Z, to reflect the Fountas-Pinnell reading levels
  • Whenever a student’s reading level is assessed, the teacher writes the date of the test in the appropriate column

Here’s the chart Marshall uses (from the Kindle edition of his book):


As you can see, when a student tests at the same level twice in a row, this may indicate that a student is stuck and needs additional attention.

Teachers can copy this sheet once a month and provide it to their supervising administrator or academic support staff to assist with school-wide progress monitoring.

I created this form in Microsoft Word, for printing on 11×17 paper:
Reading Progress Monitoring Chart 2010-2011.doc

Texas Replaces High-Stakes TAKS Test with End-of-Course Tests

The Texas state senate has passed a bill to replace the controversial high-stakes TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) test with up to 12 end-of-course tests. Students would have to earn a total of 840 out of 1200 possible points (70% average) on these twelve 100-point tests in order to graduate. Since the tests would be standardized, they would satisfy NCLB’s accountability requirements.

Educators have long complained that the TAKS requires students to recall material they learned years earlier, and reviewing this material cuts into instructional time. The end-of-course assessments will solve this problem, though some are concerned that having twelve tests will be an increased burden on students and instructional time.

The Houston Chronicle points out that, while students don’t have to do well on every test in order to graduate (since they just need to accumulate 840 points), having more tests will provide more granular information about their achievement in sub-strands of a specific course:

On the flip side, end-of-course tests could be more difficult for some students. An exit-level TAKS math test, for example, covers geometry and algebra, so students weak in one area still might be able to pass. But, with end-of-course exams, students would face a test dedicated exclusively to one subject, so they couldn’t hide their weaknesses.

“For a lot of people, taking a math test right after they’ve studied the concept is going to be easier, even if it’s got more questions, but for some it won’t be,” said Debbie Ratcliffe, spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency.

When Texas required end-of-course exams in the 1990s, passing rates weren’t very high, officials said.

The Houston school board plans to vote today on a resolution expressing general support for end-of-course exams.

“It does not necessarily reduce testing,” Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra said. “But it ensures that what is being tested is more comprehensive. What will be tested will be specifically the course that teacher just taught. It’s a much truer measure of what students actually studied.” link

The state senate approved the bill (full text) unanimously, and it now goes to the house, where it is expected to receive a similarly enthusiastic vote.

New Assessment Beliefs for a New School Mission, by Richard Stiggins

In his 2004 PDK article “New Assessment Beliefs for a New School Mission,” Richard Stiggins argues that assessment holds tremendous promise for improving teaching and learning – but not through accountability. Instead, he argues, we need to adopt new beliefs about the purposes and appropriate uses of test data.

Stiggins does not object to the idea of using assessment data for accountability purposes, but asserts that accountability alone is not enough.

For decades…we have believed that the path to school improvement is paved with more and better standardized tests. The mistake we have made at all levels is to believe that once-a-year standardized assessments alone can provide sufficient information and motivation to increase student learning.

In fact, this belief in the power of standardized testing has blinded public officials and school leaders to a completely different application of assessment – that has been shown to trigger remarkable gains in student achievement.

Stiggins is referring to what he calls assessment for learning. He asserts that high-stakes testing has failed to provide the intended motivation for improvement in student learning, or at least has failed to actually empower schools to improve.

So our investment of billions of dollars over six decades in district, state, national, and international testing for accountability has produced scant evidence that these tests have increased student achievement or provided the motivation to learn. At the same time, we have seen mounting evidence of great harm for some segments of our student population.

I believe this lack of demonstrably positive impact arises from the fact that our assessment systems have been built on a fundamentally flawed set of beliefs about how to use assessment for educational improvement. These mistaken beliefs have forced educators to approach standardized testing far more as a matter of compliance with political demands for test scores than as a matter of pedagogy. While this may not have been the intent, it has become the reality.

He identifies four mistaken beliefs about assessment as a tool for school improvement:

Misconception #1. High-stakes standardized tests are good for all students because they motivate them to learn.

Stiggins says that this can be the case, but only if students believe that their efforts will ultimately be successful. For many students, this is not the case, and testing is decidedly harmful:

Now consider those students whose academic record reveals a chronic history of failure. Their reality is different. For them, the realization that the bar is going even higher – that now it will be even more difficult to succeed in school – is neither invigorating nor motivating. On the contrary, it is deflating, discouraging, and defeating.

He suggests that high-stakes tests must be accompanied by supportive classroom assessment environments:

The answer is not to eliminate high-stakes tests. Rather, it is to build learning environments that help all students believe that they can succeed at hitting the target if they keep trying.

Misconception #2. It is the instructional decisions of adults that contribute the most to student learning and school assessment.

This misconception, says Stiggins, has led us to ignore the the power of students to use assessment information to improve their own learning. Instead, he says, we should consider students as “crucial instructional decision makers whose information needs must be met.”

Misconception #3. The instructional decisions that have the greatest impact on student learning are those made once a year.

While we have invested a great deal of time and money in standardized, annual assessments, we have not put nearly as much energy into making routine in-class assessments reliable or instructionally useful. This investment would pay off handsomely, because, as Stiggins says,

The instructional decisions that have the greatest impact are made day to day in the classroom.

Without question, [teachers and students] both need continuous access to evidence of student learning arising from high-quality classroom assessment. Yet we cannot provide it because our assessment beliefs and traditions have included no attention to the accuracy or effective use of day-to-day classroom assessment.

Misconception #4. Teachers and administrators don’t need to know about and understand the principles of sound assessment practice – the professional testing people will take care of that for us.

Stiggins notes that society demands third-party assessment of student learning and school performance, so teachers can’t “manipulate the data in their own favor.” This has resulted in a lack of interest in training teachers in sound assessment practices. Instead, he asserts that teachers should be trained to conduct valid, reliable assessments to inform their daily instruction. To wit:

The typical teacher will spend one-quarter to one-third of his or her professional time involved in assessment-related activities. If teachers assess accurately and use the results effectively, then students prosper. If they do it poorly, student learning suffers. And it has. Therefore, the new belief must be that, without question, teachers need to know and understand the principles of sound assessment. The evidence of student learning they gather each day influences the most crucial instructional decisions. The remedy to our current situation is to offer targeted, productive professional development to put the available classroom assessment wisdom into the hands of practitioners.

Stiggins closes the article by advocating a balance between assessment of learning (with standardized tests) and assessment for learning, conducted by the classroom teacher for instructional use.

If we engage students in continuous self-assessment over time, we can keep them believing that success is within reach if they keep striving. And if we provide them with the opportunity to use this evidence to tell the story of their success, such as in student-led parent/teacher conferences, we can tap a wellspring of confidence and motivation to learn that resides naturally within each student.

Read the full article

Educating the Whole Child in a Standards-Based World

There is no question that standards matter. After high school, students will be expected to know and be able to do certain things as responsible members of a democratic society. Every state has standards, and NCLB mandates regular testing to determine how many students are meeting those standards.

In our high-stakes era, test scores matter a great deal, probably far more than they should. If the tests are good predictors of future success, we can safely assume that higher test scores are good, and lower test scores are bad. But we want to develop many desirable traits in our students, only a handful of which are measurable.

Schools in Texas have taken a rather blunt approach to raising test scores: preparing students directly for the test through drills and direct exam-preparation activities. Texas has drawn a great deal of criticism for its narrow focus on tests, though some schools have also been hailed as successes for raising their scores.

But what if there were a better way to raise test scores (which matter), in a way that also develops other traits that matter (but can’t be measured by standardized tests)? Montessori schools are doing just that, according to a recent study:

Montessori education is characterized by multi-age classrooms, a special set of educational materials, student-chosen work in long time blocks, a collaborative environment with student mentors, no grades and tests, and individual and small group instruction in academic and social skills. More than 5,000 schools in the United States, including 300 public schools, use the Montessori method, according to background material for the study.

A Montessori education creates solid citizens who perform at least as well academically — and sometimes better — as their public school counterparts.

…Montessori children also responded much more positively to questions like “people at my school care about each other.” And they felt more positive about school and their peers, and about their school as a community.

In addition, all the Montessori children responded to social problems in a positive, assertive way, Lillard said. Take the example of a child cutting in front of another child in line. The Montessori-trained children were “more willing to confront positively compared with the public school children who were more likely to ignore it or engage in retaliatory behavior,” she said.

When tested on academics, the Montessori 5-year-olds scored better on early reading and math than did their counterparts, and the 12-year-olds did as well as the traditional school children. link

Pressure to improve performance can be a good thing. Principals and teachers can be motivated, to some extent, by accountability requirements like those in NCLB. But too much pressure can result in a shifting-the-burden dymanic, in which test scores are improved at the expense of other, more desirable student characteristics, such as enjoyment of literature and divergent critical thinking.

We need to see standardized tests as diagnostic tools that tell us what to work on, and look for broader measures of school performance. We need to develop tests that predict more than a student’s socioeconomic status – tests that are valid indicators of what a student knows and can do. Only when we have this kind of assessment and accountability system will we create the positive pressure that will drive the kind of education system we want our children to have.

Previously: “Bubble Kids” and Dilemmas of Accountability

“Bubble Kids” and Dilemmas of Accountability

PDK has an article entitled “Rationing Education In an Era of Accountability” in this month’s edition, which discusses two dilemmas of high-stakes testing and accountability:

Dilemma 1: Data can be used to improve student achievement, but they can also be used to target some students at the expense of others.

Dilemma 2: It is unfair to hold schools accountable for new students or for subgroups that are too small to yield statistically reliable estimates of a school’s effectiveness; however, the consequence of excluding some students may be to deny them access to scarce educational resources.

Jennifer Booher-Jennings illustrates at length how a sharp focus on getting more students to meet standard leads schools to ignore both students who will certainly pass the test, and those who are very unlikely to pass. Instead, schools are focusing all of their energy on the “bubble kids,” students who are on the verge of passing. Because efforts directed at “bubble kids” have the highest payoff in pass rates, schools are ignoring the value in helping low-achieving students make progress as well as helping above-standard students strive for even greater heights. In many schools, Booher-Jennings says, students of color and students in special education don’t even have a chance to become “bubble kids,” because there aren’t enough of them to count for AYP.

There appears to be no accountability system for this type of discriminatory behavior. If schools raise their test scores, they are praised, with little inquiry into the side-effects of those score gains. In fact, high-achieving students could lose ground, and low-achieving students could learn nothing at all, and the school would still be praised for its gains as long as more bubble kids met standard.

Conversely, there is a third dilemma introduced if we focus on average scores instead of pass rates: Schools may choose to focus on further raising the achievement of high-achieving students, since taking a student from an 85 to a 95 may be easier than taking a student from a 25 to a 35. Susan Roberta Katz illutrates the consequences of this approach, popular before NCLB, in “Teaching in Tensions: Latino Immigrant Youth, Their Teachers, and the Structures of Schooling.”

What is missing from this discussion is ethics. What is the mission of the school, and how can it be pursued with integrity? How does a focus on test scores interfere with our ability to ethically and equitably serve all students? Why are administrators pressured to raise scores, regardless of how this pressure affects students?

School districts turn to paid readers for grading student essays

According to the Seattle Times, several districts are hiring people to read English papers, greatly increasing the amount of writing on which students can receive feedback. Since the turnaround time for grading 200 or 300 pages of essays is so long, the meaningfulness of feedback students receive is minimal. With an outside reader, papers can be graded in a few days and returned quickly, whereas a full-time teacher might need several weeks to finish the essays.

Schools using outside readers say students are doing more writing and getting better feedback. The downside, though, is that the teacher does not have as much detailed information about individual students’ performance. To compensate for this, some districts require the teacher to personally read one in ten essays handed in, with the outside reader handling the rest.

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