Responding to the learning progress of every student is a crucial step of successful teaching and can improve instruction in multiple ways; teachers must use standards based assessment that can be used for both formative and summative outcomes; students should use these same standards for self-assessment (P3).
My eighth grade drama class is currently working on scenes from “Merchant of Venice.” In the previous year, they passed the eighth grade Essential Academic Learning Requirements (EALR) standards, dictated by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). This year, they are working towards basic high school proficiency (9th and 10th grade EALR levels). To do this they must pass a series of Grade Level Expectations and OSPI Assessments. These assessments cover areas of character physicality and speech. Both of these components are tested in a summative rubric used at the end of the 10-week long unit. This summative rubric is derived from the EALR standards at the desired grade level.
Prior to this year the student skill level was assessed qualitatively, in comparison to state EALR, without the OSPI Assessments. This year, the rubric is completely derived from these assessments. In doing so, I improve the reliability of the student outcomes.
This year, to help my students achieve this substantial jump in skill level, from eighth grade to tenth, they are taking the OSPI Assessments throughout the unit in a formative format. I do not attach a grade to the assessments because I want the students to remain focused on their progress and their abilities. Removing any graded portion gives students the permission to take creative risks in the assessment (which is a central skill in drama). The skills that are evaluated (such as facial expression as a part of character physicality and enunciation as a part of speech) appear multiple times in rubrics and lessons throughout the semester.
For formative assessments that occur at regular intervals throughout the unit, students receive assessment scores (based on a common rubric), from four peers and myself. They also complete a self-assessment.
Through the lessons that follow the formative assessments, students are able to work on the areas that they can continue to improve in. The students have also expressed an appreciation for this approach because they do not have the pressure of a grade bearing down on their work as they develop new skills. Yet, they get to benefit from the feedback from their peers and myself in addition to their self-reflection.
As the progress evolves so do the lessons. Content can be more or less advanced based on student progress. Advanced students can assist by demonstrating examples. Students that need additional help have concrete skills to pursue.
A side benefit of the peer assessments is that I have an informal assessment of student learning. Because students are assessing the same skills that they are working on, I get a clear picture of their command of the content concepts (regardless of their ability to perform the concepts).
This combined approach of summative assessment at the end of the unit and formative assessment throughout the unit allows students to clearly understand their ability level and growth throughout their learning process. Using a standards based approach allows the activities of the students to remain focused on the skills they are building.
Implementing this standards and assessment-based approach has allowed me to clearly track the progress and achievement of every student in the class. In past years, student development has been exclusively qualitative and based on my own observations. I am now able to combine a qualitative assessment with the quantitative assessment. The narrative of the qualitative assessment is supported by the assessment data from both formative and summative outcomes. This data adds validity to my raw observations of student progress.
In future years, I anticipate an approach that continues to empower students to focus on the skills they are building through the class work. Using formative assessments throughout the curriculum has proven to be a powerful teaching tool. Because of the success in the eighth grade, I anticipate a similar approach to sixth and seventh grade unit plans.