Friday, March 18, 2016

Thinking About Assessment: Shifting Our Conversations

Take a moment to look at this picture.  What do you think you see?

I'll wait...

At first glance, one might think this is a photo across a pond or a lake.  The sun reflects off the water from the distance.  It might surprise you to know that this water isn't really supposed to be here.  This is our backyard after melting snow is followed by too much rain.  Any time we get too much rain our backyard floods and our sump pump works overtime.

Collecting Information
In education we collect a lot of data.  As an intervention teacher, I use Fountas and Pinnell assessment data, Rigby assessment data, Concepts of Print, Hearing Sounds in Words, Developmental Spelling Assessment, running records from books, observation notes, and other forms of assessment to find out information.  Classroom teachers use a variety of assessments as well to determine assessment needs and monitor progress of students across the year in reading, writing, math and content areas.  

In our building, one assessment we look to often is our Fountas and Pinnell benchmark assessments.  These assessments give us much information about our students as readers.  Our literacy team meets each time teachers complete benchmark reading assessments.  As a team we look at the data to be sure we are properly supporting students.  These conversations focus on students we are currently serving in intervention and those we have been watching.  These conversations are always preceded and followed by conversations with classroom teachers because data only tells one story.

Changing Our Question 
Changing our question from "what do we notice" to "what questions do we have now as a result of this information" can shift conversations about information obtained.  Recently our team met to discuss the latest nonfiction assessment information entered by teachers.  As we looked at the information we started by looking at the levels reported at the benchmark for readers.  However, it wasn't long until we found ourselves considering accuracy scores, fluency scores, and comprehension scores.  It isn't long until we find ourselves moving from what we notice to the new questions we have.

To make instructional decisions we need to widen our lens looking for patterns, commonalities, and differences.  Then we need to zoom back in again.  If the picture above was taken from greater distance you'd make new observations.  If you walked around in our backyard at the time, you'd ask different questions.  If you looked at pictures of the same space across time, you'd ask even more questions and likely come to better conclusions.  One data point, one piece of information, is never enough; it's a starting point.  Collecting information should push us toward asking new questions about what we notice.   It should push us to look a little more closely, to dig a little deeper, and consider other pieces of information.  Shifting our conversations from what we notice to the new questions we have can move us toward action.  

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