As part of our commitment to innovation, we have created an inclusive STEAM program where all students can participate, regardless of their learning differences. We have accomplished this by extensively training our staff about how to utilize STEAM processes in all facets of the students’ learning. We have also created targeted cross-curricular planning segments for all of our content and electives teachers so that purposeful STEAM elements will be evident in all courses, not just Science and Mathematics.
Best Practices Pivotal for Success
Major Elements Include:
Types of Assessments
Informal, Formal, Self-Assessments, Reflective Assessments, Surveys
Infinite Campus, Other Ways for Reporting
How Assessments Work Now
Where Assessments Are Going
Types of Assessments
At Tapestry we define informal assessments as a tool to evaluate student progress and current level of understanding in a non-threatening or detrimental environment. This provides teachers with a view of student ability that is unaffected by test anxiety or other unknowns that can affect reliability and validity of formal assessments. Informal assessment opportunities provide for teachers to evaluate student progress on a given subject.
On the other side, formal assessments are defined at Tapestry as a tool to evaluate student progress and current level of understanding in an official environment. This can look like a traditional testing environment, or it could be a project-based learning opportunity that is defined from the beginning to the students as a final project on the unit to demonstrate their content mastery. This results in providing teachers with information about the students’ current level of understanding with the class content.
Tapestry also uses student, and teacher, self-assessment opportunities because we believe that self-evaluation is critical for developing independence and ownership over student learning. Students are more engaged and invested in their own growth and learning when they have a say over what it is they know or don’t know about a topic of learning. Self-evaluation assessments at Tapestry are defined as a tool for students to take stock of their progress and current level of understanding internally. These assessment opportunities provide teachers extremely valuable information about the student’s own evaluation of their knowledge in a subject area that may or may not be revealed through traditional assessment opportunities.
Students also participate in reflective assessment opportunities in order to take next steps in their own learning. Reflective assessment opportunities are defined as an evaluation tool that allows students time to take stock of their learning and make next steps to continue their own learning in a way that is specifically tailored to them. At Tapestry, this looks like student-led goal setting conferences with the content teachers and special education teachers using previous informal, formal, and self-assessments to inform the decisions made in the conference.
The last type of assessment utilized frequently at Tapestry is a survey assessment. Survey assessments are defined as an assessment that gives the teachers a snapshot view of the current level of understanding or knowledge of the class as a whole. This is then used to help inform the next steps of the class and what they need to focus on in their learning.
Assessments at Tapestry are primarily communicated to students and families via our portal Infinite Campus. Students have access to their grades via this portal 24/7 and are encouraged to use this tool as a means of keeping up with their grades. Additionally, progress reports are sent out every four and a half weeks via mail to the families with a snapshot of how students are doing in their classes.
Other Ways for Reporting
Families also receive a copy of their child’s MAP test results, ALEKS results, and Read Naturally results three times a year via mail. This allows parents to see how students are progressing in their learning from a variety of different research-based platforms.
Google Classroom is another platform that teachers use to communicate assessment results and to provide students feedback on their work via the grading system and the comment system that is tied to each assignment students are assigned via this portal. Parents also can elect to receive a report from Google Classroom regarding their child’s progress in class that day, that week, or that month.
Ghosts of Assessments Past: What We Used Originally
At the advent of Tapestry’s development as a school, we utilized a variety of traditional assessment types to collect data on student progress and achievement. Informal assessment (as defined above) types that were utilized initially included teacher check-ins with students for understanding on a topic along with a end of class discussion to review the material covered in the class that day. Formal assessments included quizzes, tests, projects, and writing samples evaluated with rubrics. There was little formal self-evaluation or reflection assessments utilized at this time. The need to collect and include this information in our assessment practices became clear as we moved through the year. Teachers recognized a need for more informal assessment strategies and self-evaluation and reflective assessments to create a clearer portrait of what students knew and what they needed more support with to achieve. There was a clear need to provide instruction and assessment at a variety of levels so that we could meet the needs of all of the students within our inclusion classrooms.
As a result, Tapestry began looking into strategies for further individualizing and tailoring the learning process for our students. This led to the development of a new individualized learning strategy at Tapestry utilizing pre-assessments and student-focused unit maps to guide the learning process for students. Pre-assessments are assessments designed to determine what students do or do not know about a topic prior to teaching that topic in class. Our first iteration of pre-assessments in the individualized learning process used multiple choice questions. Students utilized an item analysis document to score themselves on their prior knowledge of the unit topic. Students took ownership over their learning by scoring their own pre-assessment and identifying their starting place, with the support of the teacher and the item analysis document. Students then begin the unit map activities at the appropriate level for their own understanding of a topic.
Tapestry also began implementing additional informal assessments, self-assessment, and reflective assessments strategies to inform teacher decisions regarding compacting or extension of classroom learning opportunities. Daily exit slips were utilized as an informal assessment to determine student takeaways from the day’s lesson and also as an opportunity for student reflection on their learning from class. Formal assessments added a stronger focus on project-based learning summative projects at the end of each unit in addition to traditional multiple choice tests. An overall push for a diverse range of informal and formal opportunities and opportunities for student self-evaluation and reflection on their learning resulted in a number of assessment strategies that will be described in the next section.
How Assessments Work Now
After a year of implementation, Tapestry sat down to look at how we can improve the assessment practices utilized with the individualized learning process. As a result, several key changes have been enacted to improve our assessment practices. Firstly, pre-assessments moved from being primarily multiple choice questions to open-ended questions. This change resulted in a greater understanding of what students actually know about a topic. Instead of students potentially guessing answers on the pre-assessment, we get a clear picture of what students already understand about the topic before they begin a unit. Additionally, multiple choice ended up boxing students into predetermined answers, whereas open ended assessment allowed students to demonstrate their knowledge in a more relevant and comprehensive fashion.
This change in the pre-assessment formatting resulted in a shift in how students self-evaluated and reflected on their own knowledge. Due to the nature of open-ended questions and the formatting of the item analysis sheet, student self-evaluation and reflection is hard to conduct in a meaningful way without the support of a teacher. For this reason, we have shifted away from students completing self-evaluation utilizing the item analysis format and instead are using mini-conferencing to help students evaluate their own needs and how to move forward in their own learning. Teachers are also using a larger variety of informal assessments throughout the unit map to keep a closer eye on student development in a non-threatening environment. Reducing anxiety and stress around assessments is key for ensuring an accurate depiction of what our students know about any given topic.
Where Assessments Are Going
Our major goal in regards to assessments at Tapestry is ensuring a rigorous, appropriate, and equitable assessment environment for all our students with all of their diverse learning strengths and needs. As we continue forward in the process of updating and revising our assessment strategies, we are looking to ensure that our assessments are valid, reliable, and accessible for students of all types.
One resource that we are using to evaluate and shift our assessments at Tapestry is through Lee Ann Jung and Thomas R. Guskey’s research and thinking around equitable grading systems. In particular, we are looking at incorporating Product, Process, and Progress into our assessment practices. Jung and Guskey define Product goals as “[describing] the major cognitive and academic learning outcomes being sought” in a unit of study, Process goals as “classroom behaviors and activities that enable learning,” and Progress goals as “how much students actually gain from their learning experiences” (2012, p. 17). We believe that reporting on these three areas within our assessment system will provide students, parents, and others with more accurate and usable information regarding a student’s progress in any given class.
In addition, we recognize the high pressure on students, parents, and teachers alike to achieve high grades in their classes as a determinant of student success in the classroom. In an effort to alleviate that pressure and the associated negative impacts this pressure can have on a student’s self esteem and work ethic, we believe a shift towards the Three P’s defined by Jung and Guskey within our assessments and reporting philosophy will reward student effort while providing accurate, non-value based, information to students about their knowledge on grade-specific content.
One way that we hope to incorporate the Three P’s defined by Jung and Guskey is through an increase in self-evaluation and reflective assessment techniques. These assessment types will continue to grow in their importance in the classroom as students learn the necessary skills required to accurate complete these assessments of themselves and identify their own progress and process through a unit of study.
Conducting mini conferences between student and teacher will become a central means of self-evaluation and reflective assessments in the classroom. These conferences will revolve around personal student goals and an artifact selected by a student that they believe demonstrates their work towards this goal in their class. This gives ownership of the learning process to the student, an element of independence and advocacy that we want our students to achieve through their tenure at Tapestry. Ultimately, assessment is a tool for the teachers, students, and families of our students to understand where they stand in relation to the standards of each subject of school. Our objective is to make this process as equitable, accurate, and valid as possible considering the diverse needs and learning styles of the students in attendance at Tapestry Public Charter School.