Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Four Things to Love about Next Generation ELA Assessments...(and one thing to hate)

I had the good fortune to attend the PARCC ELC meeting in Chicago on October 8-9, and here are my takeaways about the upcoming ELA assessments.

What to love:

4.  Practice with question stems won't help.   My former teaching partner used to say, "Once January hits, every learning resource in the classroom comes with a staple."  It's true, too often teachers faced pressure to spend an inordinate amount of time on practice tests, practice question stems, practice answer documents, practice test the exclusion of authentic and engaging learning tasks that did not come fresh from the copier with a staple.  The best preparation for Next Generation Assessments is rich and varied reading, writing, listening, and speaking tasks, such as authentic research, Socratic Seminar, student presentations, debate, and crafting digital presentations.  Do the good stuff with a clear conscience right up until assessment day.

3.  Spelling lists and disconnected vocabulary lists also won't help much with test prep.  Vocabulary is tested, but the words chosen will be words that are central to the text, and contribute to deep comprehension of the author's purpose in writing the text.  So, toss out the old test prep lists, and instead, choose text worth reading to put in front of students.  Choose fewer vocab words, but make those choices count. Teach students how to understand words in context--a generative skill that can be used to understand any text.  And, know that there is a spell checker available to every student taking the PARCC NGAs, along with other accessibility tools. Does this mean we don't teach spelling patterns and strategies?  NO.  Does this mean that writing instruction is more than grammar and conventions, with a focus on crafting clear and coherent pieces?  YES.

2. Ollie Ollie In for all content areas.  Social Studies, Science, Music, Art, Business, Wellness, World Languages and all the other content areas have meaningful contributions to make to the literacy of our students.  The ELA assessments award points for reading comprehension, written expression, and language and conventions.  These are the "ins" to student learning in all disciplines, especially when taking a broad definition of texts, including multimedia, artwork, music, blueprints, business plans, and the whole gamut of what college and career ready students need to be able to read and write.

1.  The assessment itself promises to be a learning opportunity.  Gone are the days of the random ordering of random questions about random details from a random story.  The texts chosen are always of high thinkability, and sometimes texts are paired to provide deeper thinking.  The order in which short answer questions are presented scaffolds students up to the final task of writing an essay by providing the impetus to read the text closely for deeper comprehension--during the assessment itself.  By the time the student gets to the writing of the Prose Constructed Response, the meaning of the text will be more apparent than it was after the first read, intentionally helping the student to plan the writing.

...and one more thing, to hate...
Well, hate is a strong word, but it is very difficult to be in this period of transition.  The intent of next generation assessments is to bring authentic teaching and learning back!  The more closely we cling to our powerful new standards, the more comfortable it will be to work on developing real readers, writers, and thinkers, without the distraction of hoop jumping for test preparation.  It is hard to be patient while waiting, but more information is available almost daily on
The changes we seek are consequential, and making the incremental march toward them sometimes seem maddeningly slow, but staying the course for the long haul is worth it.  When you have moments of doubt, reread Ohio's New Learning Standards to remind yourself of the good outcomes we are seeking.

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