Do you finish a unit of learning by giving a test and racing to start the next unit of learning as quickly as possible? After giving your test, do you realize that some of your students did not comprehend some (or most?!?) of the major goals and significant concepts from the unit? Do you think about changes you should make before teaching this unit again, yet zip along to the next unit presuming that you’ll remember your good intentions?
If you are saying yes to any of these questions, then you are not completing the assessment cycle. You are skipping one of the most important stages of assessment that will propel your success and satisfaction and prepare you and your students for future teaching and learning.
Reviewing the Assessment Cycle
The assessment cycle includes conducting a preassessment, formative assessments, at least one summative assessment, and a postassessment. It is essential that every assessment is followed with two steps: (1) analyzing data and (2) modifying practices. When you skip the two steps involving data analyses and practice modifications, the outcomes that occurred when you taught this unit of learning in the past will most likely be the same outcomes that occur when you teach this unit of learning in the future.
Remember these words from Einstein:
“Insanity is repeating the same actions and expecting different results.”
If you want to increase your students’ engagement and achievement, you must analyze the data and modify your practices and revising your practices while you are involved in your unit of learning is much more productive than waiting until some later date.
Conducting the Postassessment
The most frequently skipped stage of the assessment cycle is conducting the postassessment. You need to conduct a postassessment after completing every unit of learning. The postassessment is the same instrument you used for the preassessment, so you already have it ready to administer and, hopefully, your preassessment requires only approximately 15-20 minutes for your students to complete.
The preassessment should have included a mix of selected answer items and constructed response items. Selected answer items include items for which you provided the possible answers and the students had to pick the best outcome by matching, multiple choice, true/false, etc. Constructed response items include items for which you have not provided the possible answers and the students were had to write their own responses using words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, etc. Most preassessments (and the corresponding postassessments) do not include demonstrated performances for which students show an outcome in ways that are not written, nor do they include spoken communications for which students explain an outcome. Usually, demonstrated performances and spoken communications used for preassessments and postassessments are limited to specific students for specific reasons based on learning styles, age groups, academic outcomes, and so forth.
I suggest that you administer your postassessment toward the beginning of the last class period for the finished unit of learning so you have time to analyze the data prior to starting your new unit of learning. Then you are encouraged to administer the preassessment for your new unit of learning on the same day so you are ready to start your new unit.
Analyzing Postassessment Data
The most convenient approach to analyze data is to create a table with the item numbers along the x-axis and the students’ codes along the y-axis. Insert an x for every item each student’s correct outcome. This display allows you to see the full picture of the preassessment scores, as shown here:
Then, use an Excel spread sheet to enter the scores to generate two bar graphs. One bar graph, the Postassessment by Item Number (Figure 3 below) shows the item numbers along the x-axis and the number of correct outcomes on the y-axis.
The other bar graph, the Postassessment by Student Code (see Figure 4 below) shows the student codes along the x-axis the number of correct outcomes on the y-axis as shown.
Finally, you can create bar graphs that compare and contrast change over time by placing the data from your preassessments next to your postassessments as shown in Figures 5 and 6.
CAUTION: You should not redevelop the preassessment items during the unit of learning. If you redevelop the items, your data will not align and your postassessment analyses will not be helpful.
The six facets can be modified independently or interdependently by modifying other facets (perhaps all six facets) at once. The advantage of modifying only one facet of your practices allows you to analyze the one modification for its individual strengths and weaknesses. However, the disadvantage of modifying only one facet of your practices is the time required for you to experience the improvements to your students’ engagement and achievement that you want to gain.
Each of the six different facets of practices is described below. You will need to contextualize the recommendations to your grade level(s), content subject area(s), and students as a member of a group as well as individuals.
Six Facets of Teaching, Learning, and Schooling
- Curricular Content—all of the information, materials, and resources used to prepare content, share with students, provide to students, guide students in finding and/or accessing, etc. Curricular Content includes the state standards and academic expectations along with textbooks, workbooks, websites, videos, and so forth.
- Curricular Content answers the question, “What is being taught and learned?”
- Instructional Strategies—all of the approaches, methods, ways, etc., that you plan, prepare, communicate, and reflect upon the Curricular Content to determine the most effective means to facilitate learning to increase student engagement and achievement. Instructional Strategies include (but are not limited to) direct instruction, whole group discussions, cooperative learning, guided practice, problem-based learning, project-based learning, and so forth.
- Instructional Strategies answer the question, “How will Curricular Content be taught and learned?”
- Assessment Techniques—incorporate three procedures: watching demonstrated performances, listening to spoken communications, and reading written products. The variety of demonstrated performances, spoken communications, and written products is endless, especially with the ever-evolving uses of technology. Assessment Techniques also include teacher assessments, self assessments, and peer assessments. It is vital for students to be informed of the assessment techniques and the specific goals and objectives prior to being assessed.
- Assessment Techniques align directly with the Curricular Content to answer the question, “Why am I teaching and are students learning an identified objective?”
- Assessment Tools—the mechanisms that you use to plan, organize, and conduct assessments along with the mechanisms you use record data for analysis leading to your modification of practices. Assessment Tools include rubrics, checklists, class rosters, grade books, etc. Some Assessment Tools are shared with students before they are assessed. For example, students should not only be given rubrics, they should be included in both the co-construction and the co-completion of the rubrics. Assessment Tools such as checklists and grade books, however, are not shared with students either before or after they are assessed. When assessment tools are not given to students prior to being assessed, students should be informed of the tools as well as the techniques that correspond to the specific goals and objectives.
- Assessment Tools align directly with the Instructional Strategies to answer the question, “Why am I monitoring and measuring progress and students are sharing their outcomes in the ways I have determined?”
- In-class Activities—all the academic endeavors that occur during class. These start the moment students enter the classroom; instructions may be handed to students as they walk through the door, written on the board, or placed on their desks. Established procedures generally frame in-class activities as students proceed from the opening activity (usually a review of the previous day’s objectives linked with a preview of the current day’s objectives) to content exploration, guided practice, independent practice, formative assessment, and closure. Everything that happens from bell-to-bell is considered an In-class Activity.
- Analyzing In-class Activities aligns directly with Instructional Strategies and answers the question, “What else could have happened during class that would have increased student engagement and achievement?”
- Out-of-class Connections—what bridges classroom with community. Out-of-class Connections may include unfinished in-class activities or new assignments, ranging from looking for a particular item or event, holding specific conversations, asking specific questions, completing a written assignment, etc. Out-of-class Connections should not be assigned lightly. They must be purposeful and reasonable. Students’ lives out-of-class frequently are more complex and demanding than your lives. They are balancing expectations from many different classes, after-school care, extra-curricular sports, lessons, classes, clubs, part-time jobs, as well as family, home, and community responsibilities. Plus, when you establish an Out-of-class Connection, you must follow-up the next day or the assignment loses it worth and value and you lose your students’ respect. As with all expectations, you must assess the expectation and provide appropriate feedback. When you fail to follow-up on your expectations, your students most likely will not fulfill your expectation or honor your word.
- Analyzing Out-of-class Activities aligns directly with Assessment Techniques and answers the question, “What other expectation could have been made as an out-of-class connection to increase student engagement and achievement?”