Below are three "snapshots" of Ms. Rodriguez's fourth-grade class from the beginning, middle, and end of the school year. Following each is a synopsis of how she is using the principles of good authentic assessment.
At the same time, she has all the children participate in a mini-theme, a beginning of the year warm-up unit. The students read, discuss, and write about an authentic piece of literature, Hurray for Ali Baba Bernstein by Johanna Hurwitz. Ms. Rodriguez engages the students in discussions about the story, characters, and plot, focusing on the clues and the inferences the characters made to solve the mystery. She explores various reading strategies with the students, discussing their strategies and watching them apply strategies as they read. They talk about which theme activities were interesting, easy, or difficult and why. Students also complete a short writing activity related to their reading. During this week-long theme, Ms. Rodriguez observes and notes the students' literacy abilities and work strategies. She also introduces portfolios to her class, drawing from what some students already know about portfolios; they discuss what portfolios are and why they are important. She explains that they will keep all their work from the mini-theme in a collection folder. Later, both she and they will select work from the collections to place in their portfolios.
Ms. Rodriguez uses her mini-theme instructional observations and student work, together with conference information, to determine any additional information she needs for particular children. She reviews the formal assessment materials that accompany her published language arts program and identifies those children who need an individualized informal reading inventory, those who might take a group placement test, and those who need no further special testing. Based on all these sources of information, Ms. Rodriguez develops a plan for her literacy program.
Ms. Rodriguez has implemented several assessment principles within the first two weeks of school. She has used a variety of types of information -- informal and formal, individual and group -- to help her get to know each child and to plan reading and writing instruction. She has immediately established a collaborative learning and evaluation environment by setting up a portfolio culture and valuing students' individual interests and goals. She has communicated clearly to students that she and the students will both contribute to the portfolio -- both are responsible for assessment. She has also reinforced the concept that assessment is an authentic, ongoing part of classroom life. The work that students do in class will be used to determine how well they are learning important outcomes. They understand too, that reflection on learning is a habit that is valued and nurtured in discussion, assessment, and goal-setting.
Ms. Rodriguez has the students attend and lead a portion of the parent conference. To help the students prepare for the conference, Ms. Rodriguez guides the students in a review of their work, helping them focus on how they have changed as readers and writers and what personal goals they want to work on. She reminds them of how they have been learning to think about their work as they do their class assignments. She has the students spend time analyzing their portfolios. Then they role-play in pairs to explain their most important ideas succinctly. Students also show their parents a few pieces of their work. During the actual conference, the student leads the first ten minutes. Then Ms. Rodriguez joins the discussion, using her notes, checklists, and observations to add her professional insights. The last part of the conference includes only Ms. Rodriguez and the parents to be sure parents' questions and concerns have been addressed. Ms. Rodriguez uses both formal and informal assessment information that she has assembled to help parents understand their children's strengths and needs. Some of the work, such as theme tests and some activity pages, is graded; other work, such as reading logs, writing, response journals, and activities, is not. She encourages parents to look closely at the work and to share their own expectations and insights.
Ms. Rodriguez has prepared and enlisted her students as collaborators in assessment. The message is clear to both the students and the parents. She has taught students how to think about and evaluate their own work and requested that they take seriously their responsibility to set personal goals. She also has taken her role seriously by supplementing students' findings with her own documentation and professional judgment. In addition, the portfolio work is aligned with the instructional emphasis of the recent themes, reading and writing narratives. The work chosen to go in the portfolios is authentic evidence of progress toward this goal. Both process and products of learning are included. Finally, as she did in September, Ms. Rodriguez is relying on multiple, ongoing indicators of student performance.
Ms. Rodriguez gives an end-of-year benchmark test that comes with her language arts program. She had given one in October and is eager to see her students' overall growth in reading and writing. She also reviews the theme tests and performance assessment the students have completed to gauge how well students are able to apply the skills and strategies they have learned in the themes. Informal assessments are also very important to Ms. Rodriguez. She reviews her students' portfolios, as well as her observation checklists, looking closely for specific changes over time. She is especially pleased, for example, about the growth of a second-language learner who could barely speak English in September, but now is reading short chapter books and writing and illustrating stories in English and in his native language. Another student, she notes, has shifted interests from reading and writing fantasy to nonfiction and biographies. A third has developed a strong voice and style in writing, but is still struggling with editing for mechanics.
Because Ms. Rodriguez views assessment as a shared responsibility, she has the students participate in end-of-year evaluation. After consulting with the fifth-grade teachers, she has decided to weed the portfolios, saving a limited number of pieces, and sending the rest home. Ms. Rodriguez identifies several pieces all students should keep in their portfolios. Then she helps the students systematically review their work. During this process, they discuss changes in their reading and writing over the year, using examples from their portfolios. Students individually select five pieces to keep in the portfolio and write letters to next year's teacher, telling a bit about themselves. Ms. Rodriguez holds a class celebration of students' accomplishments before the rest of the portfolio work is sent home.
Ms. Rodriguez has again used a combination of formal and informal assessments to evaluate students' progress. This combination guards against any one piece of evidence carrying too much importance and allows individual differences to be honored. Because Ms. Rodriguez and her students have systematically collected evidence of learning and used their portfolios throughout the year, they have concrete examples of growth and a way to talk about changes in their reading and writing.
The shared responsibility for assessment is confirmed by having both the teacher and student select work to send on to the next grade. The new teacher receives important information about the students' learning and also gains insight into what individual students value and what they judge to be good work. The celebration acknowledges pride in growth and learning, and it reaffirms the students' role in the assessment process.
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