6-12 Curriculum Newsletter

February 2018

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The theme of this month's newsletter is Assessment. All of the curriculum supervisors have written an original piece about their practice area. Please take time to reflect with your grade level or PLC about the content of one of the articles and how it impacts your classroom, grade level, and/or school.

Here is the order of the articles:

  • Moving Away from Multiple Choice: Creating a Three-Dimensional Science Assessment
  • Beyond the Test: Ways to Incorporate Writing Assessments into Content Area Classrooms
  • Alternative Assessments: Why Use a Performance Based Task?
  • Assessment in the Social Studies Classroom
  • Assessments in the Arts
  • Assessing English Language Learners
  • Stop, Communicate, and Assess in World Language Classrooms
  • Using Assessment Tools in Physical Education
  • Benchmark Assessments
  • 7 Technology Enhanced Item Types on Common Core Testing
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Moving Away from Multiple Choice: Creating a Three-Dimensional Science Assessment

By Kirsten Pendleton

The new science standards are written as Performance Expectations (PE)-- what students should be able to do by the end of the year. How students go about getting there are known as the Three Dimensions: the Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI--the subject matter), the Science and Engineering Practices (SEP--how to go about studying the DCIs), and the Crosscutting Concepts (CCC-the big ideas across the sciences).

Traditionally the focus has been on assessing student knowledge of the DCIs. Focus needs to shift from memorization of facts to students using the information. The evidence statements for each PE (found at nextgenscience.org) give teachers the information they need to teach and assess. For example, a fourth-grade PE asks students to apply scientific ideas to design, test, and refine a device that converts energy from one form to another. In the SEPs students are asked to construct explanations and design solutions. The evidence statement gives direction on getting students to accomplish this, beginning with an initial problem to solve, such as how can we make a s’more using light energy, or how can we get a rubber-band powered vehicle to go four yards, no more, no less?

More information is provided on having students describe their solutions, evaluate them against provided constraints (such as size, shape, cost of materials) and having them modify their designs to improve them. The crosscutting concept of energy will come up again and again. Then the activity can be modified to create your summative assessment of student learning, asking students to use their evidence to analyze data or solve a similar problem.

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Beyond the Test: Ways to Incorporate Writing Assessments into Content Area Classrooms

By Francesca Miraglia

Learning to write, and write well, is an essential life skill. When our students enter the workforce, they will be expected to know how to write no matter what field they’re in.

Studies have shown that writing helps boost student achievement across the board. Writing develops critical thinking skills and promotes independent thinking; after all, you need to have a point of view in order to write! Because writing is an active form of learning, it also aids with retention. As an added benefit, writing activities help teachers engage ALL students -- not just the ones who raise their hands --and adds to the diversity of the ‘voices heard’!

Here are some low-prep/easy-to-grade assessments to consider. Always remember to model / ’think aloud’ a new strategy to ensure students understand the task-at-hand.

3 Way Summarizing: Ask students to summarize a selection in 10-15, 25-35, or 45-50 words. As an option, have different groups tackle different summary lengths. Or, have students summarize an article using 10-15 words, then allow them to add content in order to reach 25-35 words, etc.

Word Bank Writing/Take 5: Ask students to write a paragraph using five words preselected by the teacher (try this with vocabulary words, words that explain a scientific process, or even words used to describe a math concept).

Written Conversation: After reading, performing an experiment, or watching a short video, ask student pairs to write short notes back and forth to each other about the experience. Read the protocol from EngageNY here.

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Alternative Assessments: Why Use a Performance Based Task?

By Karen Gronikowski

One way for students to demonstrate what they’ve learned is through performance-based assessments. Rather than a traditional test, these tasks determine how well a student can use or apply knowledge, often in a real-world situation. The most genuine assessments require students to complete a task that closely mirrors the responsibilities of a professional, e.g., artist, engineer, laboratory technician, financial analyst, or consumer advocate.

Performance-based assessments are a pathway to higher order thinking; after all, students might evaluate the reliability of information, synthesize data to draw conclusions, or even solve a problem with deductive or inductive reasoning.

A well-crafted performance-based assessment will be complex, authentic, process or product-oriented, and open-ended (have more than one acceptable solution).

Performance-based assessments will look different in each content area. For example, in history, students might conduct a debate or even perform a mock trial. In environmental science, students might be asked to determine the impact of fertilizer on groundwater and then report the findings. In English, students might create a newsletter or write an editorial to a local newspaper. In a finance class, students could be given a mock budget and be asked to choose investments based on long-term goals. For examples of performance tasks for mathematics, click here.

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Assessment in the Social Studies Classroom

By Erick Shio

Assessment is a vital component in any learning environment. Evaluating student learning is often seen as an integral part of the classroom because students must be graded for report card purposes, but with so many different types of assessment utilized in education it’s important to keep in mind the overall purpose of assessment beyond the report card. The main purpose of assessment is to gather relevant data on student performance and/or progress. After gathering this data, teachers can use this information collected to reflect and plan for future instruction.

As we continue to evolve as an educational community, we must ask ourselves is the purpose of assessment to assign a grade or to measure how much of the content students have retained on a giving day? In Social Studies, let’s focus not just on the content taught in each course, but also on the skills students should be learning that will apply to all aspects of their lives such as citing textual evidence to support arguments, analyzing primary and secondary sources, determining an author’s perspective, and developing well written arguments. When assessing our students let’s provide feedback that they can use to strengthen these transferable real life skills.

It is imperative that we continue to evolve our instructional practices so that we can teach our students of today and tomorrow to move beyond rote memorization and become independent critical thinkers. Sam Wineburg, author of Reading Like a Historian and founder of Stanford History Education Group (SHEG), identified specific Social Studies skills that all students should be developing on a regular basis. Let’s challenge ourselves to create lessons and assessments that incorporate these skills.

Social Studies Skills Students Should Practice

  • Sourcing
    Think about a document’s author and its creation.

  • Contextualizing
    Situate the document and its events in time and place

  • Close Reading
    Carefully consider what the document says and the language used to say it.

  • Using Background Knowledge
    Use historical information and knowledge to read and understand the document.

  • Reading the Silences
    Identify what has been left out or is missing from the document by asking questions of its account.

  • Corroborating
    Ask questions about important details across multiple sources to determine points of agreement and disagreement.

Be sure to visit Stanford History Education Group to find Reading Like a Historian Lessons and Beyond the Bubble Assessments, which measure students' historical thinking, rather than just the recall of facts. Teachers are also provided with rubrics that provide scoring levels and level descriptors to aid in scoring each History Assessment of Thinking (HAT).

For some great formative assessment ideas for Social Studies click here.
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Assessments in the Arts

By Danielle Tan

Assessment is an integral part of the artistic process that can increase teacher effectiveness and improve student achievement. Assessment activities facilitate teaching and learning by offering descriptive feedback to students and providing information that prompts teachers to make adjustments to future instructional activities. Effective arts teachers promote achievement by continually assessing their students and transforming their practices.

Assessments in the arts should address both process and product and measure knowledge of content and artistic performance. Assessments must be considerate of differences and inequities in resources and conditions related to achievement. Effective arts assessments will prompt critical and creative-thinking skills, perseverance, flexibility, self-discipline, self-esteem, and collaboration. Where possible, the assessment can encourage students to recognize the connections with other disciplines.

  • Summative assessments are carried out over several days or weeks and can include: skits, models, musical scores and performances, and art projects.

  • Formative assessments can include discussion, rehearsals, drafts, writing exercises, and self/peer critique.

  • These assessments should examine and report on developing abilities. A great way to assist students in recognizing improvement is to collect and periodically review work in a portfolio.

At the start of a lesson, teachers should produce rubrics which outline clear expectations for students to understand how they will be assessed. Rubrics are an essential part of assessment which students will refer to for guidance.

Throughout the lesson, students should receive descriptive feedback from their peers and teacher, and should have an opportunity to self-assess. Then, students should reflect on their feedback and decide how to respond to and revise their work.

More information on New Jersey Student Learning Standards and assessments for visual and performing arts can be found here.
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Benchmark Assessments

By Kevin Bobetich

What is a benchmark assessment?

“Benchmark assessments are short tests administered throughout the school year that give teachers immediate feedback on how students are meeting academic standards. Regular use of benchmark assessments is seen by many as a tool to measure student growth and design curriculum to meet individual learning needs.”

In the Hamilton Public Schools, we utilize benchmark assessments to measure student performance in Kindergarten to 9th grade in English Language Arts, and Mathematics. We have been using the i-Ready benchmark assessments for about 2 years. Prior to utilizing i-Ready, we used Linkit’s benchmark assessments. Over time this information has helped our classroom teachers, principals, and administration gauge student performance relative to other students in the state, as well as students in our own district. We also analyze this information at an administrative level to make academic decisions.

Benchmark assessments are one tool all subject teachers should utilize to gauge a student’s academic level. Besides benchmarks, all teachers should create rigorous formative and summative assessments to provide immediate feedback on how students are meeting academic standards. Best practice is to grade the tests right away and put the scores into PowerSchool and/or return assessment home so parents can also be partners in their child’s education. At a building level, it is important to compare grade level performance both vertically and horizontally in order to adjust instruction.

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Assessing English Language Learners

By May Fermin-Cannon

Assessing English Language Learners (ELLs) or gathering information is an important piece of everyday instruction. The process by which we go about doing so can take many forms. In this article you will find tips on how to get started with assessment design to gather evidence of student learning while monitoring their progress.

I have a new ELL, where do I begin? As we know, there’s a time and place for everything. When a new ELL arrives in your class, conducting a simple informal assessment can prove to be extremely helpful. Start by collaborating with the ESL teacher and speaking with the student to learn about their formal education experiences, proficiency in the native language, other languages spoken at home, and their English Language Proficiency (ELP) level. Reviewing the student’s record in the main office can also help you gather additional information as you prepare to teach. Once you have these pieces, arrange or document them in a manner that helps you see the bigger picture. Their native language literacy or lack of formal education will be the big picture or baseline data to guide your instruction. Having information on a student’s native language literacy will help you deliver instruction that allows students to make connections to their primary language as they learn English. In the event a student has a gap in formal education of six months or more, individualized instruction will be the most appropriate path to take.

How do I design valid and reliable assessments for ELLs? When designing assessment for ELLs keep in mind language load, context, and cultural biases. As far as language load, ensure the directions are presented in a manner the student understands. If the wording or directions present an obstacle for the student to respond, then you will not be able to obtain the information you need. In terms of context, ensure the student can relate at some level to what is being asked. If they can’t make connections to their background or own experiences, then the test item will not make sense. Most importantly, avoid questions, pictures or items that might be culturally biased. If, for example, the test features a question or picture of a bicycle, students who have never owned or used a bike would be at a disadvantage because they wouldn’t be able to relate to this experience. Even if the student can read every word in the question, a bike might be foreign to them.

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Stop, Communicate, and Assess in World Language Classrooms

By Alejandro Batlle

The ultimate goal for many teachers in a world language classroom is to get the student to communicate in another language. Teachers may be assessing for vocabulary acquisition as well as fluency and can implement a variety of assessment tools to keep track of student progress. Below are a few examples of assessments world language teachers can use in their classrooms in multiple communication modes:

Google voice: Students can record their phone calls on google voice for teachers to listen to at a later date. Teachers can provide feedback to students.

Poll Everywhere: You can create online polls that students can answer by texting and online messaging. Instant results are available, so students can see their responses immediately if you have a LCD projector attached to your computer.

Puppet Pals: This is an Ipad App that lets your students create unique animations and capture them to video. Have students record audio for their plays for a great presentational method of learning.

Book Creator: You or your students can create their own books for use in the classroom. Afterwards, you can submit them to the world book store!

Rubrics: Create different criteria and evaluate where students fall (for example: advanced, proficient, basic, in progress, unacceptable) for those given skills.

Flip Grid: Build student confidence and engagement in speaking the target language when they get a chance to create their own video clips and share with the class.

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Using Assessment Tools in Physical Education

By Alejandro Battle

In a class setting that is constantly in motion, it may seem difficult to find the time to perform assessments in Physical Education with attempting to maximize your lessons with movement. PE teachers need to check for student understanding and growth on a consistent basis throughout a student's K-12 Health and Physical Education experience. In order to constantly check for understanding and keep track of these skills, there are a multitude of assessments Health and PE teachers can adopt to check for student understanding.

Simple checklists: Teachers can create a checklist of skills and check off which skills are completed, in progress, or needing improvement.

Performance tasks: In this type of assessment, students will physically perform a specific skill that a teacher would like to assess. These can be used for both informal and formal assessments.

Portfolio tasks: In this assessment, teachers need to create a portfolio for each individual student. This type of assessment will track student growth over time. All student work will remain in the portfolio and is a great way to see student’s individual progress over time.

Rating scales/rubrics: Rubrics can be created for achieving certain skills, such as locomotor skills. Students are rated accordingly.

Written tests/ worksheets: Traditional pen/paper assessments can be created for skills learned at the end of units. Tests can be specific to different sports, skills, etc.

There is always a worry of losing time. The focus should be on how to assess effectively without losing physical activity time. Implementation is key and planning properly to match an assessment with your classroom routine will assist in making your assessment implementation a successful one.

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Next Generation Assessments

The next generation of assessments require students to perform and respond differently. As a teacher in any subject area, it is important to see what is expected of students on the state assessments. While we are not teaching to the test, we want to mirror the level of rigor in our own classroom assessments so students are best prepared to take the state assessments.

Familiarize your students with these PARCC Resources

  • ReadWriteThink: These student interactives cover topics from inquiry to summarization and include many of the technology enhanced item types on the PARCC and SBAC tests.

  • The Mathematics Common Core Toolbox: On this site you can choose your grade span and complete anywhere from 5 to 8 practice items modeled on the PARCC test. Items include most of the new technology enhanced functionality.

  • Edcite: This is a free site for teachers, which allows you to create your own technology-enhanced items. You also get access to items created by other teachers. Highlighting, graphing, and drag and drop are just a few of the functionalities available on the site.

  • NJ Science Released items: Over the weekend the State of NJ released practice science tests for grades 5, 8, and 11. No log-in is needed; you simply enter as 'guest'. Samples with accommodations will be released over the next few weeks.
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Notes from Mr. Scotto

A few years ago I had the honor to hear Rick Wormeli speak to a group of K-12 educators. Rick is the author of Fair Isn't Always Equal. One section of his book (1st edition) talks about the importance of "good" assessment.

I'd like to share a few fast facts about how Wormeli defines good assessment. They are as follows:

  • Good assessment provides enough information to the teacher to inform instructional practice;
  • Good assessment does not happen on the same day, every week, because that's test day;
  • Good assessment often calls for the use of different tools and products;
  • Good assessment often uses tasks that reveal misunderstandings so teachers can see whether students have truly learned the material.

Excerpt Source: Wormeli 2006

Hamilton Township School District

Anthony Scotto, Director of Curriculum & Instruction


Alejandro Batlle, Health/PE and World Language

Kevin Bobetich, Testing/Assessment

Mayreni Fermin-Cannon, ESL

Karen Gronikowski, Mathematics

Francesca Miraglia, English Language Arts

Kirsten Pendleton, Science and Technology

Erick Shio, Social Studies and Business

Danielle Tan, Visual and Performing Arts