Friday, November 11, 2011

Paradigm Shifting Teachers!

Back in September I wrote a blog entry titled “Ready-Set-Action” about the formative assessment efforts of many of the mathematics teachers and teacher leaders in Phoenix Union High School District. Well, their moment of accountability (and celebration) occurred last Wednesday as they gathered together to share their formative assessment stories, highlight samples of student reflection and action, and begin to re-shape the district assessment paradigm for quizzes and tests.

Why do tens of thousands of grades 6-12 mathematics teachers give tests and quizzes (assessment instruments) every week?  Surprise - Not to assign grades - although that might be a secondary reason. The paradigm shift that is and needs to occur across the country is that the primary reason you or I prepare and assign our students an in-class assessment (and in a PLC, a common assessment at that) is for the formative purpose of students embracing their errors, identifying their strengths and weaknesses on various learning targets and then taking action (often action required by the teacher or teacher team) to act on that evidence in the pursuit of proficiency on the learning targets. Got all that?

In short, the Phoenix Union mathematics team leaders were given this task:

Every high school’s mathematics PLC collaborative team in the district would commit to using the following assessment process: 

1) Write and design Unit (or Chapter) quiz and test instruments together. 
2) Agree upon the scoring rubrics to be used to grade the exams. 
3) Grade a sampling of student papers together to ensure inter-rater reliability and improved accuracy of the feedback and the grades assigned students.  
4) Create a student reflective worksheet, and require this worksheet be completed as part of the student self-reflection and goal setting process when a quiz or testis handed back to the student. 
5) Provide specific student practice action materials (worksheets), for the learning targets self-identified as in need of continuous student focus. That is, provide a venue for the student to do more than just make a decision about what they do or don't know, but to take some type of action to get better.

Thus, their assessment instruments would no longer be the "End" but would become the middle of a Teaching - Assessing- Learning never ending cycle for students and for teachers.  

And the PUHSD teacher leaders response to this challenge was awesome. They will all readily admit that it is not easy. That it is hard work to create the exams, ensure fidelity to the grading process and to create opportunities to for students to perform meaningful reflection and action on results. It is messy and they are all learning how to improve the process so that it works well for the teacher team as well as the students. For more examples of their assessment work, you can visit the PUHSD Mathematics blog at where samples will be posted in the next week or so. 

And the beneficiaries are of course the students. As first Semester final exams are about 5 weeks around the corner, it will be interesting to find out the impact this effort will have on student performance overall. Pretty exciting isn’t it?

In the meantime three cheers again for the PLC collaborative mathematics teams in Phoenix Union. It is courageous to step out of their comfort zone and commit holistically to the new mindset about the primary reason why they give quizzes and tests to their students. And to stay strong in that commitment – when some of their colleagues might want to do so.

When we met this past week, for continued professional development together, they took on another major common collaborative team task – that if not addressed leaves these huge inequity gaps in what students learn in mathematics. And if not addressed will leave students far behind in preparation for the CCSS mathematics rigor coming right around the proverbial corner.

But they are a courageous bunch and they dug in willingly. The pictures you see in this blog is the team sharing that took place as they worked together to create high cognitive demand rich mathematical tasks for their next unit of study. Detail on how to do that really well within your collaborative team is for another blog…

These teacher leaders are learning to share their stories and their artifacts – their successes and their failures – as they risk and learn from the reality of paradigm shifting implementation. Will you join them? 

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