Posts Tagged ‘EOC’

Reflections from an EOC Parent, Part 4

Friday, March 29th, 2013

Author: Collections compiled from team of Education Specialists

 

In previous In-Sight newsletters this academic year, we have featured reflections from “EOC Parents,” or parents of current high school sophomores. These students and families have entered the new assessment system, or STAAR, as full-force as those of us working in the education profession. Last year’s freshmen, the graduating class of 2015, sit in our classrooms, speak to us in the hallways, contemplate their futures, laugh with their friends and wonder what their place is in this new system. They may or may not discuss this with family members or even have family members to discuss it with. They may or may not even be aware of the changes, implications, or consequences a certain scale score may or may not make on their class schedules, cumulative scores, or graduation. They may or may not even care – or at least give that impression.   As we ourselves navigate our way through the sea of current information, changing information and missing or delayed information as the STAAR program fully develops, we sometimes forget that these students are still young people, still teenagers.  These students still need guidance, empathy and role models that have their best interest in mind.  In our rush to “create fully functioning adults” we may inadvertently skip a step or two along the way in terms of supporting our students.

 

Our final reflection offers yet another glimpse into a thought or two shared by an “EOC Parent” and hopefully continues to provide us a moment’s pause to think about the ultimate end-user in this system of ours so that we put ourselves in their shoes, attempt to think as they would, and support them through the conclusion of their K-12 education careers so that they are truly “college and career ready,”  remembering always to keep more focus on the student than any one assessment or program, regardless of how demanding it may seem.

 

As always, identifying information has been changed or deleted but the reflection piece itself remains as intended by its author.

 

I think the largest concern I have with the new assessment program comes down to a personal level. We have had changes in tests before. We have had new things come through our schools from the school itself, the district, and the state. This is something that I think most of us are used to.  I would not say we all agree with the changes all of the time but it may be easy to sit back and say “ah – a new test…oh well”.  From what I can tell the intention behind the change is good but putting it into practice and some of the decisions associated with it are not so much.  As a parent I tend to wait and see. In the end will it matter? The bottom line is there will be some sort of change and this change has affected my daughter.  I am not in the education business and while I certainly support educators, I do admit that I must rely heavily on their expertise and knowledge in this area because it is their professional area and not mine. 

 

But my area is my daughter. I would like to think that all parents think the same way. What I am concerned about is not even so much “how this affects my daughter” (I have no control over that) as it is about the way my daughter is treated and the quality of the education she receives.  In my mind good teaching, solid learning, and respect and humanity will lead to my daughter’s success.  This is a two way street and she must do her part as well but I have seen, sadly, a real decline in what they are doing in class, how they are doing it in class, and what can only be described as misdirected efforts on the part of the school.  As I have said, we have lived through changes before…what should always be constant is treating and speaking to students with respect, providing a good solid education built on classroom trust, thinking and application and realizing that the phrase “high school student” does not have a negative connotation to it unless you impose one.  We have had such a list of reactionary decisions that really do not have anything to do with improving the quality of what happens in the school building each day. They only seem to provide another distraction…shifting the focus from where it should and could be.  I fondly think back to my high school experience and I think today’s students should as well.  Why do we want a climate where “going to school” and “learning” are the bad things and shuffling students through like some sort of warehouse is a good thing?

 

It is understandable that schools and school leadership need to consider the changes, plan for the changes, emphasize the importance of the changes and everything else that goes with it. But come on – don’t lose sight of what is important. I mean even my taxes have increased to accommodate what feels like more “prepping” for tests rather than showing any real difference in the climate, spirit, or actual learning on campus.

 

  • What is this parent really telling us? What concerns can be heard?
  • Can you identify or empathize with the parent?
  • How well do we consider those parents with additional challenges, such as language or education level barriers?
  • Can we be more purposeful in helping our communities learn and grow with us in today’s educational environment?

Prepare Ahead for STAAR and EOC Testing Accommodation Decisions

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Author:  Judy Butler, Education Specialist, Dyslexia and 504

 

Parents and teachers prefer to provide for a student’s educational  needs without having to consider that the child may have a disability.  For many students with both mental and physical impairments, particularly within the elementary grades, referrals for Section 504 eligibility determination may be avoided or delayed if the student is able to receive RtI, health services, or dyslexia services outside of Section 504 or Special Education identification.  With the increased rigor of End of Course exams in high school, districts and parents may suddenly realize that students will face serious roadblocks to graduation and college admission without access to accommodations available only to students identified as Section 504 or Special Education with a documented need written into an Individualized Accommodation Plan or IEP.   According to the currently posted TEA Accommodations Triangle, http://www.tea.state.tx.us/student.assessment/accommodations/staar-telpas/ , a student must need the accommodations within the classroom, and use them routinely and effectively as well as meet very specific eligibility criteria.

 

Many of the new STAAR Accommodations are available to any students, students within RtI, 504 only, or Special Education, but some, like Spelling Assistance on Reading Assessment short answers and Written Composition, and Calculative Devices are not available to only 504 or Special Education students.  Additionally, an Oral/Signed Administration accommodation is not available to any student, unless that student has also been identified with dyslexia and is in RtI, or is a Section 504 or Special Education student with dyslexia or has evidence of reading difficulties.

 

This suddenly realized fear that a child might need an accommodation to pass, but does not currently meet the eligibility criteria, can cause panic in the hearts of parents of struggling students when they consider the consequences to high school graduation, documentation to support the need for SAT/ACT accommodations, college admissions and access to services for students with disabilities at the college level.  This nagging fear can cause panic in the minds of school administrators when they consider the impact that failing STAAR or EOC scores will have on state and federal accountability measures as well as the educational planning and resources needed to remediate student achievement.  This sudden realization may also result in larger numbers of students being referred for Section 504 or Special Education evaluation a month, two weeks, or even days ahead of STAAR and EOC testing dates.   The time involved with gathering the data along with documentation insuring accommodations have been routinely and effectively used in the classroom and are usually a logistical impossibility within these last minute time parameters.

 

Fear of anticipated student low performance or failure on STAAR or EOCs should never be the sole cause for initiating a Section 504 or Special Education evaluation to determine need for accommodations.  However, it is possible that a disabled student  who may have survived their school career without being identified as Section 504 or Special Ed eligible will now need documented accommodations due to the following circumstances:  teachers freely made accommodations,  the student was able to receive the Dyslexia Bundled Accommodations without being Section 504 in previous years of TAKS testing, the physical or mental disability now limits a major life activity due to increased expectations or limited time parameters, lack of access to effective interventions, or even changes in the student’s health conditions.

 

Below are a few tips for making sure that students who truly need testing accommodations receive them long before STAAR and EOC test dates arrive:

-Establish and communicate district policies to both parents and teachers of all grade levels about referral processes and the types of information needed to warrant suspicion of a disability.

  • Public school staff may access a free Region 13 online workshop entitled: “Understanding Basic 504 Procedures and Services:  A Campus Training” by registering with Workshop ID:   FA1224572
  • Contact your regional Education Service Center 504 Specialist to aid with establishing district procedures and parent education regarding Section 504.

-For students within RtI, be sure that RtI teams are collecting progress monitoring data and referring students to 504 or Special Education evaluations when more intensive services and protections are warranted.

-Be sure that English Language Learners are not being overlooked.  Specialized training is needed by assessment personnel to determine if poor achievement is due to the process of English language acquisition, or is also impaired by a mental or physical impairment.  This is especially true if the impairment is dyslexia.  Contact your regional educational specialist in dyslexia if you need to contract with a Bilingual Assessment Specialist.

-Educational need is not required to trigger the need for Section 504 referral.  A child need not have failing grades or previously failing test scores before being evaluated for Section 504.

-Remember that there is no standard set of accommodations for any specific type of disability.  Both classroom and testing accommodation decisions should be based on evidence of student need on a case by case basis, and documented within that student’s Individualized Accommodation Plan or IEP.  The TEA Accommodations Triangle provides specific guidance for how the need and effectiveness for many accommodations can be determined.

-Consult with Assistive Technology Specialists, within district or Education Service Center regional specialists, for tools in how to determine the best low or high-tech device for each student.  Experiment with the student to evaluate the effectiveness of the technology.

-Remember that providing unnecessary accommodations within the classroom and in testing situations can be damaging to a student and their future educational success.

-Reference Region 13’s new “Scaffolding Accommodations” guide, available through the Product section of our website:  http://store.esc13.net/index.php/special-ed/scaffolding.html  when making and documenting accommodation decisions within an RtI, 504, or ARD committee meeting.

Reflections from an EOC Parent, Part 3

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Author:  Collections compiled from a team of Education Specialists

 

In each In-Sight newsletter this academic year, we feature a reflection from a parent of an “EOC student”.  Current 10th grade students have been the first to interact with the new EOC assessments and, as a result, we can learn from their experiences and those of their families.  It is also possible to unintentionally send the wrong information or share information that is not quite as clear for the person receiving it as it could be in order for it to be informative and helpful.  It can be easy to forget that our perspective and the jargon we use on a daily basis as professionals in the education business does not always translate easily to those unfamiliar with the industry’s language and this is even truer when you consider non-native English speakers and readers.  As we learn and navigate these new waters, it is also our responsibility to help others do the same; after all our goals include students owning their own learning and for families to be informed and involved.

While this installment is indeed a reflection from an EOC parent, it also happens to be a parent with a good deal of knowledge and experience within the education system.  The entry describes interactions between parent and student leading up to the implementation of this new assessment program but then goes beyond to offer a look at the data.  This is a wonderful addition as we begin to receive more data and face analysis, distribution, and clarification of it.  The pictures included come from the EOC report received by the parent.  In this case the parent’s experience allowed for easy navigation but the entry does raise the question as to whether or not all of our stakeholders truly know what this information means.  This EOC parent also added a few questions that arose as a result of looking at their student’s data.  Are we prepared to answer these types of questions?  You will also find short answers to each question included.

As always, identifying information has been changed or deleted but the reflection piece itself remains as intended by its author.

 

 

As an educator with a freshman son, I humorously referred to myself last year as an EOC Mom.  My son didn’t quite take the arrival of this new assessment as I did.  I sat him down last fall and showed him the PowerPoint posted on the Region 13 website that gave a general overview of what was going to be required of him at the end of the 2012 school year.  He didn’t seem so concerned about our little review and told me he wasn’t that worried about it.  It was a fairly typical response from an overly confident 15 year old, but he shared with me that it wasn’t that he didn’t care, but rather that he had passed all his TAKS tests in the past.  He had a reasonable point and a good history of doing fairly well in school with A’s and B’s.  I still tried to show him the released sample assessments to further expose him to the format of the test, but again he brushed it off and was less than enthusiastic to take a look.  In an effort to not be the “helicopter” parent, I backed off and decided to let him do it his way, on his own.  This was the case until about February when we started to see some of his writing assignments and noticed his writing still hadn’t improved much from the beginning of the year.  On Saturdays after he finished all of his regular homework, we would have him write. We didn’t go the route of having him write to a possible STAAR prompt, but rather held him to writing pieces of whatever he wanted with the intent of getting him to write and reflect on the revision process.  He needed help on the basics of thesis development, writing organization, sentence structure, and grammar.  This went on for about two months and we just hoped that our time working with him would help him with his writing.  So here’s how he did on the 2012 EOC Assessments:

 

World Geography

Algebra I

English I Reading

English I Writing

 Biology

I’m obviously ecstatic that he passed all of his EOCs for his freshman year, but I have a number of questions after reading these scores.

  1. On the Biology EOC I see two areas that he appeared to struggle in: Biological Processes and Systems and Mechanisms of Genetics.  Could this impact him on the Chemistry EOC he will have to take this year or the Physics EOC his junior year?

A: Probably not.  The high school science courses are very distinct from one another and the content student expectations that will be assessed on Chemistry EOC and Physics EOC will be different.  It is important to note that much of what he was assessed on the Biology EOC was built upon in middle school.  The Grade 8 Science STAAR would be a really good indicator on how he might do on the high school Biology EOC. 

 

  1. On the Algebra I EOC he struggled most with Quadratic and Nonlinear Functions.  Will this impact him on the Geometry EOC or Algebra II EOC he will have to take?

A: Probably. The math courses build upon knowledge learned in previous courses.  About 40% of what is learned in Algebra I is incorporated in Geometry. Algebra II is really Algebra I + more, so 100% of what he learned in Algebra I will be cycled into the Algebra II EOC. 

 

  1. He knocked World Geography out of the park with Level III Advanced Academic Performance, but will he do the same for World History or U.S. History?

A: Not necessarily.  The tested high school Social Studies courses have differing student expectations per course. Much of the same process skills may be assessed on the World Geography EOC, World History EOC, and U.S. History EOC, but not necessarily the same content. 

 

  1. On English I Reading he had difficulty on Understanding/Analysis Across Genres: Paired Short Answer Selections.  What does this indicate for English II Reading EOC and English III Reading EOC?

A: Although this section evaluates reading, it also evaluates writing.  The paired short answer selection requires the student to compare two genres of reading.  The student then has to write a short answer response to the selection.  He will see this again on the English II and III Reading EOCs.  It is important to note that last year was the first year freshmen students in Texas were assessed in a short answer response format.

 

  1. Just as we anticipated, he struggled with the English I Writing EOC in comparison to the other subject areas.  It looks like there is room for improvement in Written Composition, so will he be tested like this again on the English II EOC or III EOC?

A: While he needs improvement on Literary Composition portion, he will not be tested on it again.  He will be tested again sophomore year on Expository Composition along with the newly incorporated Persuasive Composition.  On the English III Writing EOC he will have to write another Persuasive Composition and an Analytical Composition.

 

**An interesting aspect for further discussion on a campus level is to examine student’s scale score outcomes in comparison to the projected 2016 Final Recommended Level II Satisfactory scale scores.

This particular entry is quite comprehensive in that we are able to see a glimpse of pre-administration, actual results, and questions that came to exist after reviewing the results. This is certainly not an exhaustive list of questions that students and families may have.  They may not even be questions that some students and families think or know to ask due to concentrating more on the “How do I read this?” and the more general “So what does this mean?” type of questions. If a question isn’t directly asked does that mean it should not be answered?  Regardless, it is in our best interest to think ahead and be prepared to address potential questions and to do so in a manner that is clear and effective.

 

  • What is this parent really telling us; what concerns can be heard?
  • Can you identify or empathize with the parent?
  • How well do you think ________________________.
  • How well do we consider those parents with additional challenges, such as language or education level barriers?
  • Can we be more purposeful in helping our communities learn and grow with us in today’s educational environment?

Reflections from an EOC Parent, Part 2

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

Author:  Collections compiled from a team of Education Specialists

 Our first InSight Newsletter for 2012-2013 introduced this new series focused on sharing voices of EOC parents with the hope that educators remember to take a moment and reflect upon the point of view held by one of education’s most important stakeholders, the parent.  As we learn and respond to our new state assessment program, we must remember to extend the line of communication and empathy beyond our campus walls. Some of our parents have experience with TAKS, some have no experiences with Texas’ assessments and most are simply trying to keep up with profession-specific jargon and various media reports in order to remain informed and make the best decisions for and with their students.

As with our first reflection, the entry shared remains as originally captured, changing only identity information.  It is important to listen to the author’s intent and emotion rather than dwell on any particular word or phrasing.  While the words themselves are chosen by just one, it is imperative to remember the sentiment is likely shared by many. By doing so we can then choose our information, sharing, discussions, and planning on the basis of the information receiver, the “end user” as it were.  Use the questions that follow the entry to guide this thinking and planning as we navigate this change and assist our stakeholders in doing the same.

 

“Scared, frustrated, nervous, anxious, and overwhelmed” are only a few words to describe how my daughter and I are feeling about her being an STAAR EOC student. Not only has the STAAR exam scared us from the jump, but it’s more frustrating to me as a parent to see how unprepared some of our teachers and districts really are.  

As a parent I would love to be able to sit with my district administrators and/or my child’s teacher to receive information regarding the details of being a STAAR EOC student, but if the information is not there how am I to obtain the information and ensure my EOC student all will be ok? Perhaps more trainings on the district and parent levels are needed in order to “calm” the fears of everyone involved. If not, the next round of STAAR testing will have the same amount of “panic” as it did when first administered.

 As with anything, we will come to adjust to what is required for our STAAR EOC students, but in that adjustment guidance on all levels would help with the fears and uncertainty of the districts, parents, and STAAR EOC students.

 

  • What is this parent really telling us; what concerns can be heard?
  • Can you identify with or empathize with the parent?
  • How well do you think ________________________?
  • How well do we consider those parents with additional challenges, such as language or education level barriers?
  • How can we be more purposeful in helping our communities learn and grow with us in today’s educational environment?

It’s Your Year, World History!

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

Author: Rachel Hernandez – Social Studies Education Specialist

Tags: World History, Social Studies, STAAR

According to the 2012 STAAR Summary Reports released by TEA, 28,625 students took the World History End-of-Course assessment last year.  Since there is no set rule on how schools establish their course matriculation in Social Studies, all End-of-Course tests were operational in May of 2012.  Most schools in Texas have freshmen starting in World Geography, World History sophomore year, U.S. History junior year, and Government/Economics rounding out senior year.  As expected, World Geography accounted for the largest amount of Social Studies test takers with 320,966 students.  Now that last year’s freshmen have the World Geography End-of-Course under their belt, 2013 is the true year for World History.  Preparation is in order for World History teachers and students.

Now that we are refocused with a few cheerful thoughts, let’s take a look at what we know.  With the 2010 Social Studies TEKS adoption, the World History Studies course was restructured into six time periods that serve as the framework and organization: 8000 BC-500 BC (Development of River Valley Civilizations); 500 BC-AD 600 (Classical Era); 600-1450 (Post-Classical Era); 1450-1750 (Connecting Hemispheres); 1750-1914 (Age of Revolutions); and 1914-Present (20th Century to the Present).  Additionally, the World History course has changed in the number of historical individuals.  The course went from 22 historical individuals in the old standards to 50 individuals in the 2010 standards. Groups such as Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo and Chinese student protestors in Tiananmen Square were also added.

Reflections from an EOC Parent, Part 1

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Author:  Collections compiled from a team of Education Specialists

Educators in the state of Texas have undergone quite a few transitions as of late, none-the-least of which was the implementation of STAAR, the new state assessment program.  STAAR arrived with its own unique set of acronyms, characteristics, rules, guidelines, training modules, passing labels and much more. The implications from STAAR reach to graduation plans, course selections, grade point averages, instruction and even course grades (sooner or later).  Along with all of these new details surrounding the assessment itself, we can also add the need to learn new grade level or course TEKS; to revisit the TEKS to be sure our teaching is at the proper depth and complexity; to implement the ELPS and CCRS; to adjust to changes in Special Education, 504, local policy and perhaps even the most pressing: moving into a new classroom. No one is arguing that all of this comes easily; on the contrary, we readily admit our profession can seem overwhelming at times and changes can be clear as mud.  However, as professionals we approach these changes armed with our educational background, varied resources and profession-specific jargon.

Now, let’s consider our parents. 

As we throw around language such as allowable accommodations, EOC, AYP, TEKS, Readiness and Supporting standards, cumulative scores, scale scores, minimum scores, Advanced Performance and myriad other related terms, we sometimes even confuse ourselves. After all, it is similar to learning a new language.  With this in mind, we must be that much more diligent in helping our students and parents understand what is going on and what it means for THEM.

While it takes a village to raise a child, when it comes right down to it most parents, understandably so, are concerned with THEIR child.  Have you found yourself on the delivery side of an explanation sounding something like this yet?

“Well, your student met minimum… but no, that does not mean that they passed the EOC.  No, they are not required to retake the exam even though they did not pass the exam.  However, they may need to retake it in two years. Yes, meeting minimum can be beneficial because if they do well on the next two EOC exams and reach an appropriate cumulative scale score they will not have to retake this exam.  The scale score, however, for your eldest child is this value but your scale score for your next child is actually going to be this. “

Similar conversations will play out in many different ways for many different students and many different circumstances.  Do you remember the Choose Your Own Adventure books? We all have the best of intentions and are doing our very best to communicate relevant information in a timely fashion.   In doing so, however, are we certain we aren’t presenting based upon what WE know and the language WE use in our profession more than what may actually be received by those without the same background?

With this in mind, we wondered what the unique point of view of a 1st time EOC parent might be.  This InSight series, “Reflections from an EOC Parent,” aims to offer a glimpse into the minds of those outside of our daily jargon. This, in turn, may offer some insight to help us guide our communication as well as travel this path and learn together.  While all identifying names and institutions have been altered to protect the author’s anonymity, the pure reflection remains the same.  Additionally, the length of the article will vary as a result of the actual parent submissions. Here is the first of our parent reflections on STAAR.

“Initially, I didn’t think that the STAAR/EOC changes this year would impact my family any differently than state testing has in the past. However it did and upon reflection, we are left with question and concern.

First, let me share that my family is made up of three teenage kids. Our oldest is a girl and will be a senior for the year 12-13. We have two 15 year old twin boys who will be sophomores for the year 12-13. With this dynamic, we get to experience navigating school through our daughter two years prior to preparing our sons for what is to be expected. This has been to everyone’s benefit as our daughter is pretty responsible and motivated in school. She doesn’t need a lot of parental guidance to meet the demands of a teenage student. She is for the most part independent. The same cannot be stated for the boys. They are much more reliant on outside support from us as parents to make sure that they are meeting all of the school requirements to be a good student. Due to this pattern, we as parents try our best to anticipate the needs of the boys. Another note worth knowing is that my daughter and one of the twins do very well on the state assessments. However, the other twin struggles in his classes as well as on the state assessments. He skims by most of the state passing criteria in most subjects and has failed the state math (TAKS) every year since 5th grade. He finally passed the math TAKS his 8th grade year on the 2nd attempt.

This year was more difficult because we were not able to follow the lead that our daughter had experienced in STAAR/EOC/TAKS. Since the changes were made after her, we didn’t know what to expect, resulting in more confusion than usual and less ability to support the boys from a parental perspective. The school and district have provided information about the STAAR/EOC assessments on their web pages and through email. However, these are usually copy and paste narratives from TEA or links to the TEA information. This is not “parent friendly” reading in my opinion. When we ask our boys what they know, it is very difficult for them to share any information with us outside of… “I will be taking a test in Math.” They say they were told that the tests were going to be more difficult and they would have to solve more multi-step problems. As far as being able to help the boys study, we were at a disadvantage. We had no way to figure out what they needed to study and what they didn’t. Benchmark tests results were not shared with us (that may be because the boys didn’t share them) so we didn’t know where to spend any study focus. At this point we were left to trust that the school and the teachers were making sure things were in place at school. When I would call and visit to discuss extra tutoring opportunities for the twin that struggles and needed more, I was given dates for\ the week prior to the tests. Since we knew that he needed more than that, we had him tutored privately after school once a week for the entire 2nd semester. I had to come up with my own curriculum of study that I aligned to the TEKs that I knew he would be tested on.

Frustration grew as we quickly figured out that the delay in test results would not be available until the last week of school and in some subjects after school was out. This is extremely difficult for a family because it impacts summer plans that may be interrupted by the potential of summer school, test study sessions, or test retakes. Not to mention, we won’t know if a student who doesn’t pass the STAAR or EOC could be promoted to the next grade. All of this was left up in the air causing anxiety and stress for a child that already finds school frustrating. We received a letter in the mail June 10th with test results for all three kids. Our daughter and one twin did very well. The other twin PASSED the math test. YAY!!! However, he did not pass the reading or geography tests. He failed two out of four tests. That letter also gave us a study session date for each test he needed to retake as well as dates for the test retake. We are still waiting to hear if he passed those test on his second attempt.

My perspective as a parent is that if all three of my children where typical learners, we would have felt that the experience of STAAR/EOC change was not significant. However, we cannot say the same for my son who is a struggling learner. It has been confusing and frustrating trying to make sure we provide what he needs to succeed in school. Even with a twin who experiences everything at the same time as he does, we are still left with questions. There were many times when I would ask questions and the school would respond with, “This is all new and we are learning the processes as we go.” Don’t get me wrong, they are very kind and want to help my son, but it is difficult when even they are not informed very efficiently. The last conversation that I had with the school is that my son will in fact be promoted to sophomore status and will not have to retake courses. However, they also stated that this can only happen this year because the test is new and the district approved promotion of failures. It is anticipated that will change starting next year.

I plan to continue to learn as much as I can about the processes of EOC so that I can provide the support my children need. I want to be clear that I am an advocate of state standards and assessments. I think they are worthy and important. I think we are on our way to creating an assessment system that works, but we are not there yet. It seems to me that the system is working for the average and above average students, but our students at risk and struggling learners are at a real disadvantage. AYP is more informative in my opinion and I would like to see more emphasis and attention in that area.” (Parent reflection, received July, 2012)

  • What is this parent really telling us?
  • Can you identify or empathize with the parent?
  • How well do we consider those parents with additional challenges, such as language or education level barriers?
  • Can we be more purposeful in helping our communities learn and grow with us in today’s educational environment?

Using Released Test Items to Design Justified Lists and Card Sorts for Science

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

Assessment seems to be all anyone is talking about in education these days.  Well, okay, a few people might have mentioned school financing, but STAAR, EOC, Reference Documents (the documents previously known as formula charts), and the just-released STAAR sample items… oh you hadn’t heard about those?  Yes, they were released by TEA on September 30, 2011, and can be found online.  And, since I know teachers in tested grades are going to want to look at those, go ahead.  Visit http://www.tea.state.tx.us/student.assessment/staar/ and look them over, then come back and finish this article in which I am going to give suggestions on utilizing standardized questions to design formative assessment experiences which can be integrated into student notebooks.

Standardized assessments serve a purpose in that they help to judge the effectiveness of different curricula and approaches to instruction, districts, and even teachers; but the results often inform us as to which TEKS a group of students or even an individual student have not mastered without providing insight as to what they do not understand or why.  In order to understand students’ thought processes, assessments must be written that allow for open-ended response, problem solving steps to be shown, and for students to be forced to confront common misconceptions side-by-side with the scientifically- based explanation of a phenomena and decide which explanation they hold to be true.  When these types of assessments are conducted throughout the learning process for the benefit of both teacher and student, then we call them formative assessments.  Renowned National Science Teacher Association (NSTA) author Page Keeley in her book Science Formative Assessment: 75 Practical Strategies for Linking Assessment, Instruction, and Learning, defines formative assessment as “assessment for learning” (Keeley, 2008).  Summative exams such as STAAR are considered to be assessments of learning in that they do not provide learning opportunities to students.  Both types of assessments may provide information that informs curriculum and instruction, but it is how the assessments impact a student that is the key.  In her book Keeley provides 75 Formative Assessment Classroom Techniques (FACTs).   Two types I have chosen to focus on are justified lists and card sorts.

Justified List

One type of formative assessment is the justified list, in which students are presented with a question such as, “Which of the following are producers?” and then a list that might include, “oak tree, mushroom, grass, algae, duckweed, corn, and dog.”  Students are tasked with checking off those things on the list that are considered producers and then asked to, “Write the rule by which you decided if something is a producer or not.”  We could also ask students to write three characteristics they use to determine if something is a producer.  The important task here is that students are examining their thinking about what are examples and non-examples and then explaining and justifying the characteristics they used.  The example I described using producers would be a great formative assessment to go along with TEKS 5.9(B) which is the TEKS assessed in question number 12 of the 2011 5th grade released questions.  Students should recognize and explain that they did not choose a mushroom because it breaks down nutrients from decaying organisms and thus cannot serve as the basis of a food chain. A chemistry example (see question number 1 of the 2011 Chemistry released questions) might be, “Which of the following are considered extensive properties?”

Justified lists can be used as pre-assessments (for example, a biology teacher might ask about producers before beginning a lesson on food webs) or to assess learning after the explanation phase of instruction (as would be the case when a 5th grade teacher uses the producer list).  They can be conducted in tandem with a think, pair, share to allow students to discuss and refine their ideas or they can be integrated into a unit assessment in which case the list should include some new examples the students might not have previously been confronted with.

Integrating justified lists into science notebooks is easy.  The question, justified list and prompt can be made to fit on half a sheet of paper which students can glue or tape into their notebook at the top so the paper can be lifted up and the rule which the student used and their justification can then be written directly on the notebook paper.

In addition to Science Formative Assessment, Keeley has written a series of books entitled Uncovering Student Ideas is Science.  All are available through NSTA at http://www.nsta.org/store/.  An example chapter from one of Keeley’s probe books that includes a justified list can be found online at http://www.nsta.org/store/product_detail.aspx?id=10.2505/9780873552554.  Scroll down just a bit under details and click on the link next to Read Inside.

Card Sort

Another type of formative assessment is a card sort. Card sorts are designed in such a way that students sort a set of cards with either terms or pictures on them into two or more categories.  For example, during an 8th grade lesson utilizing the periodic table students might sort terms such as metallic appearance, non-metal, semiconductors, conductors, non-conductors, etc. onto an outline of the periodic table that has been divided into non-metals, metals, and metalloids such as that seen in the 8th grade 2011 Released Question number 3.  The cards that students sort could also include the symbols or names of some elements they are familiar with and pictures of some of the more common elements.

To really make students think, make the number of cards unequal in each category.  For example have 7 cards belong under non-metals, while only 6 belong under metals.  Another way of making the activity more rigorous is to include cards that will not be used.  When I taught Biology I included two cards that said “Does Not Contain DNA” and four cards that said “Does Contain DNA” for my sort of characteristics and example organisms for the six kingdoms. When students said they seemed to be missing “Does Contain DNA” cards and that they had cards that didn’t belong anywhere (such as the “HIV” card) they were demonstrating understanding and mastery on a higher level than if they had done a one-to-one matching activity.

Card sorts can be integrated into notebooks through questions or stems about why certain cards were put into categories, such as having students complete the statement, “I placed ________________ in the kingdom _____________ because…”  or  “We had the hardest time deciding where ____________ goes because…” You can also make the sort one that students cut apart themselves and then glue into a graphic organizer in their notebook so students can review their written justifications while observing the results of their sort.  Alternatively, you can use pockets where students can replicate the sort and practice on their own.  This is especially useful for more difficult concepts or content that is being introduced for the first time.

Tips for using card sorts:

  • Provide a key so students can check their sorting even if they are away from the classroom
  • Students can work in pairs or small groups
  • Ensure students discuss and reflect on why cards were sorted in certain ways
  • Use sentence stems to ensure English Language Learners participate in these discussions
  • Encourage students to distribute the cards between all members of the group and to take turns placing the cards

Example science card sorts produced by ESC Region XIII are available online at http://www5.esc13.net/science/resources/manipulatives.html.

 

Conclusion

Notice how, regardless of which formative assessment strategy or technique is chosen, it is the way in which the strategy is utilized and the guiding and probing questions asked by the teacher that provide the depth and rigor required by STAAR.  Formative assessments must be developed and designed in such a way that yes, informs instruction, but the main purpose should be for students to recognize and confront their own misunderstandings and begin to correct them.  A quiz, given to students working silently and independently that is then graded by the teacher with the only feedback to the student being a grade, is not considered formative.

Resources:

Keeley, Page. (2008). Science Formative Assessment: 75 practical strategies for linking assessment, instruction, and learning.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

STAAR 2011 Released Test Questions.  Accessed online at http://www.tea.state.tx.us/student.assessment/staar/, October 1, 2011.