Archive for the ‘Social Studies’ Category

Assessment for Learning: Technology Supported Formative Assessment

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

Every day in classrooms across Texas, technology tools are infused with quality instruction to boost engagement, simplify learning task management, differentiate for diverse learning needs and increase learning through exposure to content with multiple modalities.  Educators have who embrace the transformative power of learning with technology can also take advantage of the opportunities available for assessment for learning, a.k.a – Formative Assessment.

Technology-rich, authentic assessments and automated quick-checks for understanding can provide feedback to inform teachers on how to design instruction and students on how to continuously improve. In the publication “Meaningful Measurement”, author Lyndsay M. Pinkus points out:

Many formative assessment strategies address the teacher’s information needs, helping to answer questions critical to good instruction:

• Who is and who is not understanding the lesson?

• What are this student’s strengths and needs?

• What misconceptions do I need to address?

• What feedback should I give students?

• What adjustments should I make to instruction?

• How should I group students?

• What differentiation do I need to prepare? (Pinkus, 2009)

I encourage you to download and read the full publication “Meaningful Measurement”, specifically chapter 3 concerning formative assessments.


When you get a chance, passively observe K-12 students as they interact with the technology around them.  Watch as they courageously explore the buttons and features they encounter.  They risk getting stuck or lost. They risk creating a “mess” of the tool.  They risk having to ask for help, or look up answers.  Observe as they test a solution, evaluate its effectiveness and determine the next action based on the information they gather.  Or, more simply stated, click a button and see what happens.  You can literally watch learning happen, in real time.  Each action is a moment of self-teaching, learning, and formative assessment for the student.  A popular label for this type of learning is “Problem Based Learning” or in some more structured cases “Project Based Learning”.  Both are a form of “Performance Assessment” and work as your guidance system as you lead each learner down the path to understanding and demonstration.   Check out “Sources of Performance Assessment Tasks, Rubrics, and Samples of Student Work” for excellent examples, rubrics, tasks and more for each content area and general topics.


Here are a few notable technology tools that are simple to integrate and get powerful results when it comes to student quickly taking the “pulse” of learning to formatively assess student progress.

  • is “a smart student response system that empowers teachers to engage their classrooms through a series of educational exercises and games via smartphones, laptops, and tablets.” In short, it allows teachers to create a variety of short assessments, such as quizzes and exit tickets, that can be taken from any web enabled device.  The interface is extremely kid-friendly, even for young students.  Best of all, it does not require student accounts, but still provides somewhat detailed student performance data by name via secure e-mailed excel file directly to the teacher.  Visit for a preview.  The site says it is in beta as of this writing, but you can go to (teacher tool) and (student interface) and grab an account and start assessing right away.  Easy to learn… easy to use.


Use to quickly and easily set up an online place for students to post comments, questions, and answer your prompts.  Again, this does site does not require students to have accounts, and the posts expire after a time you decide, allowing for “easy cleanup” while still giving access to absent students.  You simply set up the room (one click) and share the URL.  Try this site for your next “exit ticket”.

  • Epsilen – Project Share Texas

You’ve heard the buzz, and perhaps had some professional work experience in Project Share as a Texas educator, but in case you are unaware, the project is now open for student enrollment and you are encouraged to use the learning management system with your students.  (Note: talk to your district and your Education Service Center about student accounts).  With the Epsilen platform (Project Share’s engine) you and your students can interact in a robust virtual learning environment that allows you to share files, use forums for discussion, real time chats for, full featured test/quiz making suite (and associated grade tools), wikis for collaborative writing, blogs for student publishing, electronic portfolios with interactive assessment rubrics and much more.  Having all of these tools in one, safe, uniform and free platform opens up a treasure trove of formative assessment opportunities.  For more information, feel free to check out our blog at or the State’s official page at  Also, feel free to contact Region XIII’s Project Share team at for more information and to inquire about training.

L. M. Pinkus, ed., Meaningful Measurement: The Role of Assessments in Improving High School Education in the Twenty-First Century (Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education, 2009).

RtI: An InFORMed Framework

Monday, October 10th, 2011

How Formative Assessments Fit into the Response to Intervention Framework

Response to Intervention (RtI) is a tiered model of intervention that can be defined as the practice of providing high quality instruction and interventions matched to student need, monitoring progress frequently to make changes in instruction or goals, and applying student response data to important educational decisions. (

Formative Assessement

This model is built on the idea that we, as educators, are making data-based decisions regarding both the instruction and the interventions that we provide our students. Within the RtI framework universal screening and progress monitoring are two types of formative assessments that serve as key sources of these data.


Formative Assessment at Tier I

At Tier I (the core instruction that all students receive), RtI makes use of universal screening measures to help guide our decision making in multiple ways.  For example:

  • Universal screening or benchmarking of all students throughout the year (beginning, middle and end of the school year at a minimum) allows for us to determine whether or not the general curriculum and instruction is meeting the needs of the majority of our students.
  • Universal screening scores can also be used as one data source to help flag students at Tier I who may be in need of supplemental supports.
  • Formative Assessment at Tiers II and III

    At Tiers II and III (the provision of targeted interventions for students determined to need supplemental supports), progress monitoring tools such as curriculum-based measures or curriculum-based assessments help provide invaluable data to inform decision making such as:

    • Whether or not a student is responding to the provided intervention
    • If the type, intensity, frequency or duration of an intervention needs to be adjusted

    Whether or not students are responding at a rate appropriate enough to close achievement or behavioral gaps in learning.

  • Universal Screening: Universal screening is conducted, usually as a first stage within a screening process, to identify or predict students who may be at risk for poor learning outcomes. Universal screening tests are typically brief, conducted with all students at a grade level, and followed by additional testing or short‐term progress monitoring to corroborate students’ risk status.
  • Progress Monitoring: Progress monitoring is used to assess students’ academic performance, to quantify a student rate of improvement or responsiveness to instruction, and to evaluate the effectiveness of instruction.

For a full glossary of RtI terms see:

New TEKS for Social Studies

Sunday, August 21st, 2011

New TEKS for Social Studies

The beginning of the 2011-2012 school year marks the official implementation year of the new Social Studies TEKS approved by the State Board of Education.  The Social Studies program consists of elementary, middle school and high school courses.  Elementary grades learn about various communities, Texas history and United States history.  Middle school grades address contemporary world cultures, Texas history, and United States history from early colonial period through Reconstruction.  The high school courses, which may be taught in any order, are United States History Studies Since 1877, World History Studies, World Geography Studies, United States Government, and Economics.  Social Studies additionally has four electives that can be offered in high school: Psychology, Sociology, Special Topics in Social Studies, and Social Studies Research Methods.

For some areas the change is minimal.  For example, the grade 8 US History TEKS do have greater specificity and rigor changes, but overall only experienced the addition of one new student expectation.  The high school Economics with emphasis on Free Enterprise System and its Benefits course, on the other “invisible” hand, has been altered from its previous form.  The course is now characterized by three Social Studies strands (Economics, Financial Literacy, Social Studies Skills) instead of the previous eight, and has twenty-one new student expectations.  Other courses such as Social Studies Grade 2, US History, and World History also experienced a significant increase in the number of student expectations.  As you plan for the upcoming school year, take the time to examine the changes associated with the courses you are preparing for.  Pay close attention to the changes in the introduction to each course.  Changes include statements about “including” (reference content that must be mastered) and “such as” (reference content that is intended as possible illustrative examples), the U.S. free enterprise system, constitutional republic, Celebrate Freedom Week, and evaluating the ideals of the founding documents.

When examining the new TEKS, pay close attention to the verb identification and content specificity in each individual Student Expectation.  Carefully study the Student Expectation to evaluate the cognitive level that is expected of the student.  The following examples may provide greater clarity:


Social Studies, Grade 2: 2(8) Geography (C) identify ways people can conserve and replenish natural resources.


According to Bloom’s Taxonomy, the verb identify would be considered lower level cognitive application for the second grade student.  Remarkably, the term natural resource doesn’t actually appear for the first time in Grade 2.  It first appears in Kindergarten, continues in Grade 1, and repeats in successive grade levels and courses.  By studying the content specificity over time, we can see how material builds in early grades to provide a foundation for students at advanced grade levels. An example of this vertical progression can be seen in high school World Geography as students are expected to:


World Geography Studies: Geography 8(C) evaluate the economic and political relationships between settlements and the environment, including sustainable development and renewable/non-renewable resources. 


The verb in this Student Expectation is requiring students to evaluate, thus requiring students to think critically about the information they are learning.  Because greater specificity is not provided to the teacher on exact settlements, you have the freedom to choose from various resources and examples to accomplish this over the school year.

Social Studies teachers will need to apply significant time to become familiar with the changes in the specific subjects that you teach.  This includes examining the increased or decreased level of rigor pertaining to the Student Expectations, newly added historical individuals, and applied content changes.

Teachers should re-examine units and lessons taught from the previous years and consider the following:

  1. How will I restructure my pace and sequencing this year?
  2. How did the new changes impact the units and lessons I taught last year?
  3. Are some of my lessons obsolete because they don’t necessarily match with the new TEKS?
  4. How will I change my lessons to meet the new expectations?
  5. What new resources will I need to meet the requirements of the new TEKS?

Although it may be easier to revert to “the way we have always done it,” Social Studies teachers are responsible for incorporating the new changes this school year. The change in the state Social Studies TEKS should be seen as a positive opportunity for all educators to start fresh and reevaluate the lessons taught and learned in the classroom.