V. Supporting and Extending Professional Development

"Policies, by themselves, don't impart new knowledge; they create the occasion for educators to seek new knowledge and turn that knowledge into new practice. Hence, the main link between policy and practice, in education reform, is professional development" (Elmore, 1996, p. 3).

Professional development focused on mathematics assessment is a necessary but not sufficient support for changes in classroom practice. The experience reflected in this document, both of the authors and of those practitioners interviewed, suggests that assessment-focused staff development can be a powerful lever for change if it is done in a thorough fashion, and in combination with other supports for change. In particular, the success of an assessment-focused staff-development program in effecting widespread changes in assessment practice depends on

  • the systematic development of teacher expertise within a school or district around improved practice in assessment;

  • the depth of support for assessment change that is expressed by district and building administrators and is expressed through the integration of assessment changes into other system efforts;

  • the potential for the program to reach all the teachers in a building or all teachers in a district; and

  • the depth of support and understanding in the community for the changes in assessment practice, demonstrated both by those citizens who have children in the schools and those who do not.



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Learning About Assessment, Learning Through Assessment V. Supporting and Extending Professional Development "Policies, by themselves, don't impart new knowledge; they create the occasion for educators to seek new knowledge and turn that knowledge into new practice. Hence, the main link between policy and practice, in education reform, is professional development" (Elmore, 1996, p. 3). Professional development focused on mathematics assessment is a necessary but not sufficient support for changes in classroom practice. The experience reflected in this document, both of the authors and of those practitioners interviewed, suggests that assessment-focused staff development can be a powerful lever for change if it is done in a thorough fashion, and in combination with other supports for change. In particular, the success of an assessment-focused staff-development program in effecting widespread changes in assessment practice depends on the systematic development of teacher expertise within a school or district around improved practice in assessment; the depth of support for assessment change that is expressed by district and building administrators and is expressed through the integration of assessment changes into other system efforts; the potential for the program to reach all the teachers in a building or all teachers in a district; and the depth of support and understanding in the community for the changes in assessment practice, demonstrated both by those citizens who have children in the schools and those who do not.

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Learning About Assessment, Learning Through Assessment For the administrator interested in supporting teachers in improving their classroom assessment practices, these criteria suggest a set of roles that extend beyond the design of effective professional development experiences. Developing expertise of lead teachers There is a growing knowledge base about classroom assessment in mathematics, and we recommend that a district or school should support lead teachers in efforts to understand and contribute to that knowledge base. Lead teachers should be supported in their experimentation with and reflection on improvements in classroom assessment practice. "I'm firmly convinced you need practicing teachers leading staff development. Start with a small group of teacher leaders, whom their peers respect, who will in time be able to get buy-in from other teachers in the field. That kind of buy-in doesn't come from efforts led by the superintendent. You have to build capacity among your teacher leaders. They have to be teachers that other teachers respect. You let them try things, and let them "sell" it—for lack of a better word—to other teachers. "You have got to build that capacity, it makes it much more believable. It's much more powerful. We used to rely on outside staff developers. . . . And now I think it's more powerful if it comes from teachers rather than outside experts. There's still a role for those folks in helping to develop the capacity with the teacher leaders, so that we have that capacity within the school building. We never really thought about it before, what teacher leaders need to know about staff development, what techniques and strategies." Mathematics supervisor for large urban district in the west "I think a good approach is teachers mentoring teachers. You need to start with the mentor, provide the release time so that person comes to believe in it and is good at it, and then the quickest way to get others involved is to have that person, the mentor, working with others." A teacher who is a veteran of portfolio-scoring teams Our experience in assessment-focused groups makes us believe that expertise does not come without experimentation. And so an essential element of support is to nurture an experimental mind-set among teachers and to provide them the latitude and time in their schools and districts to experiment. Supporting lead teachers in working with others Many teachers and administrators speak to the power of teacher-led staff development efforts. A cadre of well-informed and experienced lead teachers can work, over time, with a larger

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Learning About Assessment, Learning Through Assessment population of teachers, as a start to scaling up those changes in practice. Below are selected comments from those interviewed for this publication on the power of teachers leading professional development efforts. "You need to start instead with some people who are doing this stuff, start from the grassroots. Get your cadre of people, they're the ones that bring it to others, and then you're the support for that, but you're not the one stirring it up. Then movements get their ultimate validity from classroom use." Mathematics supervisor, large urban district in the Midwest "I would recommend a 'foot in the door' approach where you find or foster a couple of hotbeds of activity and build on and expand on that. You need to build it up with a grass roots base. If you call teachers all together, and tell them you've got the greatest thing since sliced bread, it's an external push, and it's going to fail." Mathematics supervisor of large urban Midwestern district The words of these two interviewees, both large-district mathematics supervisors, speak volumes about the value of stepping aside and letting teacher expertise become the catalyst for the development of other teachers' expertise. Again, however, this kind of teacher leadership and change agency isn't self-activating nor is it self-supporting. Teachers who take the risk of engaging, challenging, and changing mindsets among their colleagues require the close support of administrators. Aligning policies and practice Classroom assessment practices need to consistent with other forms of assessment as well as system-wide policies. This may entail working toward alignment of district or state-mandated testing, protocols for school and teacher evaluation, and curriculum and instruction with the desired changes in assessment practice. "We can't do the traditional course, algebra 1, algebra 2, geometry, and add other subjects, and use performance tasks, and portfolios, and everything else. You have to couple the curriculum and the assessments. . . I am convinced in many ways that we need to do this kind of assessment, but I am convinced that it can't be business as usual with just a change in the testing format." Teacher who is a veteran of portfolio scoring teams "In order to get things really moving in changing assessment in the classroom, there has to be some other leverage, like a state assessment, moving in the same direction. When CLAS (California Learning Assessment System) was moving, that helped us get things moving with teachers and schools. In other states, where testing is focused on computation, then the state test is an impediment. When a test is high stakes, like the state test, it has to be aligned with what you want to happen in the classroom." Mathe-

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Learning About Assessment, Learning Through Assessment matics supervisor of an urban California district Something mentioned earlier bears repeating in this context. When teacher assessment groups are designed with a continuous-learning model of professional development, affording teachers regular cycling back to revise interests and learning goals, there are unprecedented opportunities for the teachers to broaden their perspectives on systemic thinking. As the teacher quoted earlier asked, ''Now that we know how much our students don't know, what do we do instructionally?'' In similar fashion, teachers will ask, "Now that I've bought into trying to incorporate more open-ended questioning into my teaching, where are the curriculum materials that can support this?" Piece by piece, in this fashion, a more systemically sound picture can evolve for teachers and administrators. Communicating with the public Changes in assessment are very public, particularly when they involve high stakes for students and schools. Ongoing communication with the public about changes in assessment practice is necessary, in order to develop a wide base of support among parents and other community members. Below, an administrator for the mathematics program in a large urban midwestern district shares concerns about public awareness, understanding and support. "My biggest concern right now is how do we educate the public. 32% of (our district's) citizens have kids in school. That means 68% of the public has no direct contact with the schools. So the question is, how do you get the word out? Our proficiency exam, when they printed it in the paper, opened people's eyes on what we were really expecting in the schools. Some people wrote into the paper saying, I couldn't do those problems, those are high expectations. Others said, wait, you're letting them use calculators?! The major support for schools, in terms of tax dollars, is uninformed about what goes on there. Why should dollars go into schools? These are issues in public awareness." Urban mathematics supervisor in the midwest Luckily for teachers and administrators who want to embark on assessment-focused professional development, there is a growing knowledge base on building support among parents and other community members (NCTM, 1993). Public exhibitions of student work on high-quality mathematics tasks can make inroads. Parent meetings to discuss standards for performance are important. In general, it seems wise for teachers and administrators to take every opportunity to advocate for what they believe is important in mathematics assessment, and to invite, rather than discourage, discourse about and challenges to the values and principles they advocate.

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