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Learning About Assessment, Learning Through Assessment III. Planning and Organizing Professional Development "We found that supportive environment—where time, professional development, and informal assistance were available to teachers—was an important factor in helping work with the assessment. At such schools, teachers met on a regular basis—during or after school or at professional development sessions—to discuss assessments and instruction" (Khattri et al., 1995). This section offers a view of professional development as continuous learning, discusses the role of the facilitator as an advocate for principles of good assessment as well as a supporter of inquiry into teachers' concerns, interests, and learnings, offers a discussion of the features of effective assessment-focused professional development experiences, and provides a suggested core sequence of professional development activities. As mentioned in the previous section, the assessment process represents a simple message about teaching and learning: that a teacher's classroom actions should be based on a thoughtful analysis of student understanding. There is an analogue for teachers' professional development: that the design and implementation of teachers' learning experiences should reflect a thoughtful analysis of their understanding of the subject matter at hand. By emphasizing the ongoing use of feedback, the 4-part model suggests a way to think of teachers' professional development as a continuous learning cycle, shown in Figure 10 and elaborated below. Plan staff-development events with an eye toward meeting teachers' current learning goals, needs, concerns. As assessment-focused groups develop, perspectives about assessment broaden
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Learning About Assessment, Learning Through Assessment Figure 10. Continuous learning cycle Expanded with permission from Assessment Standards for School Mathematics, NCTM, 1995, p. 4. from attention to testing and grading to seeing assessment as an ongoing process and to considering actions, like the use of open-ended questions, that support both assessment and instruction. Gather evidence—before, during, and after the event—about teacher learning, through observation, discussion, and written evaluation. The more that staff development allows teachers to experiment actively with assessment, the more accurate will be the appraisal of their learning and their concerns about assessment. Just as the learning of mathematics needs a heavy dose of active investigation by the learner, so too does learning about assessment. Interpret the evidence to determine what has been learned, and what are lingering or new concerns. As we will explore more deeply in Section VI, concerns about an innovation like alternative assessment change over time and require flexibility and a listening stance on the part of those who plan and deliver professional development. The following are some personal changes we have heard expressed:
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Learning About Assessment, Learning Through Assessment ''I wanted to see a sampling of new assessments, and now I want to figure out which ones are realistic for me to adopt.'' "Now that we know how much our students don't know, what do we do instructionally?" "I was focused on preparing for the new state test, and now I want to see whether I can use the state scoring guides to improve the quality of my students' explanations." Use the evidence to chart implications for future staff-development sessions. This application of the assessment process to teachers' professional development holds value whether the focus of the professional development is assessment or not. However, when the focus is improving the assessment of student learning, with attendant messages about the importance of a standards-based approach to gathering, interpreting, and using evidence, it is especially valuable to model the process for the teachers' own learning. The role of the facilitator In the organization of assessment-focused learning experiences, the facilitator has three overarching goals: to identify and advocate for what he or she deems important—his/her own interests, values, and beliefs—with regards to principles of good assessment, to support inquiry into the interests and concerns of the teachers in the group, and to design effective professional learning experiences that balance attention to both. Advocate for principles of good assessment. An effective facilitator is clear about his or her own interests in leading the group. Is it to raise the quality of mathematics contained in the assessments currently used? Is it to bring coherence to the links among assessment, curriculum, and instruction? Is it to raise awareness about equity issues? To be fully effective, the facilitator needs to be forthright in advocating for these interests. Assessment is all about judgment and values, so there is a natural place in the group for the interests of the facilitator to be expressed and discussed. Several kinds of resources can help facilitators identify and articulate those interests, in particular, the various state frameworks and the several NCTM standards documents. The NCTM Assessment Standards for School Mathematics (1995) is a particularly helpful resource for facilitators: The document outlines six standards for assessment that can support a facilitator in determining what is important to advocate for in mathematics assessment. Below we list the assessment standards, and with each, provide examples of related advocacy statements we have made as facilitators.
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Learning About Assessment, Learning Through Assessment Mathematics. Assessment should reflect the mathematics that all students need to know and be able to do. It is not enough for students to find tasks engaging. It is essential that they and their teachers find important mathematical concepts and/or processes through the tasks. Learning. Assessment should enhance mathematics learning. Students should be able to learn from being assessed. For example, if the focus is making convincing arguments, then they should learn something in the aftermath of the assessment about standards for making convincing arguments. Equity. Assessment should promote equity. All students deserve regular work on open and challenging tasks. Openness. Assessment should be an open process. Students need to know what standards they are being held accountable for, and how well they are progressing toward them. Inferences. Assessment should promote valid inferences about mathematics learning. The processes by which we go from evidence to conclusions about student work need to be explicit. Coherence. Assessment should be a coherent process. In order for students to succeed in assessment that asks them to construct their own solutions, they need instruction that encourages them to explore and construct their own mathematical meaning for concepts. Many of the educators we interviewed recommended that facilitators make an early case for the value and importance of teachers becoming more actively involved in improving assessment, in particular, as a way of aligning classroom experience with external assessments. At the same time, honest statements are needed about the challenges inherent in improving assessment. "I tell the teachers that there are larger shifts happening in the world of assessment, and what we are about to do is meant to be aligned with those shifts. . . . I tell them that working on alternative assessment is 'professional problem solving,' the analogue of what we want students to be doing in the mathematics classroom. Just as we want students to be problem solvers and not just algorithm users, we want teachers to be assessment problem solvers and not just test users. . . . I think it's important to provide examples that can lead to consensus that, under current assessments, we are not getting what we need." Mathematics supervisor in mid-sized district Supporting inquiry. In any given group of teachers, there may be a range of knowledge and experience related to mathematics assessment, thus bringing a range of concerns to the group. It is important for facilitators to elicit the knowledge and the concerns. (Section V describes a framework for identifying and managing
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Learning About Assessment, Learning Through Assessment such concerns.) Further, at the root of effective assessment change is a careful examination of values, and a determination of what values are shared. Each teacher brings to assessment-based staff development a distinctive set of mindsets values, opinions, and feelings, often looking very different from—perhaps in conflict with—those held by others. As a consequence, the facilitator needs to infuse a spirit of inquiry into his or her facilitation, and to create the space in which participating teachers can both share their own perspectives and hear the perspectives of others. One of the assessment leaders we interviewed related: "A good structure will make feedback to teachers a regular feature, so they can mark change and make adjustments. A good structure can magnify and help broadcast small improvements. A good structure can help teachers synthesize the individual achievements of group members, so not everyone has to do everything." Often, when the facilitator successfully inquires into the multiple perspectives of group members, participants discover that the key to addressing individual concerns is to tap into the experience within the group. "I try to listen to the teachers' concerns. And teachers do start to figure out how to make it reasonable: don't read all 180 papers on a single night, don't read every single journal entry, have kids read one another's papers, have them write group responses. Teachers need to work this stuff out, to develop ways." Mathematics supervisor of large urban district "You need to be practical and reasonable, and to let the teachers know you are. You need to help teachers picture that much of what is 'alternative' builds on what they are already doing. In other words, you need to give credence to informed judgment." Leader in rural statewide systemic initiative The facilitator's sustained inquiry into the perspectives and concerns of participating teachers creates a public discussion that can shed light both on what is being learned and how the concerns of the group are evolving. This approach provides facilitators the data they need to continue to adapt professional development experiences to best meet the needs of the teacher-learners involved. Designing professional development to balance attention to both Inquiry and advocacy. Facilitation of effective professional development must include both sustained inquiry into participants' perspectives, and advocacy for principles of good assessment. Neither alone is sufficient for good facilitation. The challenge for the facilitator is to bring balanced attention to both. There are several features of professional development that can support facilitators in balancing the two.
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Learning About Assessment, Learning Through Assessment Design features of effective professional development What characterizes groups that productively focus on assessment in their professional development? Below we offer a characterization of design features that, in our experience, contribute to effective assessment-focused professional development. What these design features have in common is that they are consistent with good learning practices and emphasize the importance of the learners' construction of meaning and knowledge: Professional development experiences should be consistent with the kinds of classroom experiences we want for students. Applying the principles of effective learning implies that teachers are provided active-learning opportunities for constructing and testing meaning and for exercising judgment, in particular, in the area of mathematics assessment. (Other useful characterizations of the features of effective professional development include Loucks-Horsley, Stiles, & Hewson, 1996; and NCTM, 1991). Clarity of outcomes and purposes. Choices made on the content and design of professional development experiences should be consistent with the overall desired outcomes and purposes. The facilitator should be clear about his or her intended outcomes and purposes and communicate these clearly to participating teachers. The facilitator should also seek to understand teachers' expectations for participation in professional development activities. Ongoing. Professional development should reflect a commitment to continuous learning. Groups that explore assessment together on an ongoing basis, with a clearly defined workscope, can make deeper inroads than groups that meet infrequently or with no clear agendas. Client-driven and concerns-based. Designers of effective professional development experiences pay close attention to the expressed interests and needs of the participating teachers. Teachers' concerns will vary within the group, and will likely change over time. So facilitators need to be flexible about addressing concerns as they arise (Loucks-Horsley and Stiegelbauer, 1991). It is often helpful for the facilitator to make regular use of evaluation forms for feedback on professional development sessions. Even a very simple form, consisting of three questions (What did you like about today's session? What do you wish had been done differently? Today's session made me think about . . .) has proved useful for the authors as feedback. However collected, the important points are that facilitators should periodically gather evidence about teachers' concerns, and use that information in planning future professional development experiences. Moreover, facilitators should be explicit about the way they are
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Learning About Assessment, Learning Through Assessment using this evidence to adjust instruction, to assist teachers in understanding how assessment can be used for this purpose. Opportunities for developing judgment. Learning experiences should create opportunities, through interaction and discussion among teachers, for addressing the challenges and developing judgment in the areas described earlier in this publication: judgment about the quality of mathematics in tasks, judgment about the appropriateness of tasks, judgment about the quality of student responses, and judgment about consequent actions. Activities such as working on tasks together and discussing the mathematics required by the task, analyzing student work, scoring student work on a rubric, developing rubrics, creating or adapting tasks, and planning diagnostic interventions are examples of such opportunities. Evidence-based. Learning activities should be based on examining common evidence (e.g., student work, examples of mathematical tasks, case studies) and support discussion of the variety of inferences made from that evidence (Bryant and Driscoll, 1998). The use of common evidence can ground discussion and decision making in the interpretation of data and lessen the risks that decisions will be based on unexamined opinion. Connected to classroom practice. Professional development experiences should connect to participants' classroom practice in ways that encourage teachers to transfer learning to changes in classroom practice. Connections to practice can be made when, for example, teachers collect and share their own student work, try new tasks and assessment methods in their classrooms, or participate in discussion of classroom-based challenges and concerns. Opportunities for reflection. Opportunities for individual and group reflection on learning should be provided. Reflection opportunities may include periodic individual reflective writing on selected prompts, sharing reflections verbally in pairs, or teachers creating their own portfolios of work from an ongoing professional development experience. Collegial. Sessions should be designed to provide the opportunity for participants to learn from one another's perspectives through collegial discussion (Miller, Lord, and Dorney, 1994). Instituting a set of ground rules for discussion supports this collegiality, emphasizing the importance of maintaining such habits as listening, expressing concerns openly, and making underlying assumptions clear. Of particular importance in assessment-related professional development are ground rules that guide the ways in which teachers talk about each other's student work. If the work is offered by a teacher for the purpose of analyzing students'
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Learning About Assessment, Learning Through Assessment mathematical efforts, it is essential that the focus be on the evidence of learning and understanding in the work, and not on the effectiveness of the teacher's instruction. Teachers take risks in offering student work for analysis, and it is important to support them in their risk taking. Relevant information. Information, including readings and resources such as sample tasks, should be provided to teachers whenever relevant. The references section at the end of this publication can serve as a useful starting point in locating appropriate resources for use with teachers. Organized to support learning. Professional development experiences should reflect good organizational and logistical practices. For example, materials such as handouts and overhead transparencies should be clear and readable, and should provide adequate information; the room set-up should be conducive to the experience (for example, teachers sitting in groups around tables rather than theater style); and ample time should be provided to accomplish the tasks. A suggested core sequence of activities It helps to adopt a core sequence of activities to engage teachers in analyzing tasks and student work. We suggest a sequence below that does just this. Repeated periodically, this sequence can lead to a variety of ancillary activities, and fits nicely within a continuous learning view of professional development. One commonly used core sequence has four steps (see Figure 11), and allows teachers to focus on the challenges named earlier in this document and to develop skills and exercise judgment collegially. The participants investigate several tasks, all similar in content area—e.g., place value, proportional reasoning, or similarity. By investigate we mean that teachers do the mathematics themselves as learners. Participants discuss the various opinions in the group regarding what mathematics the tasks are likely to elicit. This supports teachers' exercising of judgment about the quality of the mathematics and the appropriateness of the task for eliciting that mathematics in an equitable and accessible way. On one of the more open-ended tasks, which is deemed accessible to students at all grade levels represented, participants collect student work to be brought to the group. In the group, participants analyze the student work and discuss what kinds of evidence about student understanding are accessible through this task. This conversation supports the
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Learning About Assessment, Learning Through Assessment Figure 11. A suggested core sequence exercise of judgment about the quality of student responses and consequent actions. It can also cycle back to the appropriateness of the task in eliciting student responses. The student-work discussions will lead to inferences about student understanding and/or to inferences about the demand and quality of the tasks. On the basis of these discussions, the group facilitator can suggest some next steps for group activity. For example, if the group discussion leans toward student understanding, the group can plan to engage in a variety of activities, such as: engaging in case discussions based on instructional dilemmas (e.g., Barnett et al., 1994); using performance standards to sort student work for instructional needs; and designing or adapting schemes for classroom observation of problem solving.
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Learning About Assessment, Learning Through Assessment Alternatively, if the discussion leans toward task demand and quality, then the group can plan to engage in activities that cover creating tasks that fit the purposes for which they are intended; and developing rubrics. "First start with open-ended problems that the presenter has practiced with, has tried. For newcomers, start with problems that can be completed in one class period. I see too many problems that are problems of the week, that take two or three days to do plus homework, they're too intimidating. Not that they're not useful, just not the best thing for newcomers. They may be more exciting and juicy, but they won't be used as frequently." High-school mathematics teacher
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