Friday, April 11, 2014

So Who's Failing

It's that time again, the end of the unit. You pass out your multiple choice assessment, confident in knowing you've taught your students everything they needed to know. You've shown them everything you could to make them understand the unit's concepts. You even supplied students with a study guide mirroring the unit assessment and went through every question on the study guide prior to the test. 

After taking the time to analyze the data from your assessment you're stunned by the results. 

How could this be?! More than half of your students are not proficient on the unit assessment. You think to yourself, "They failed.  These kids just don't get it.  I need to assign more homework.  They just don't listen to me!" All while you are denying any wrong doing on your part. 

As an effective teacher, you watch for pitfalls, wrong way turns and plain out misunderstanding along the way. This is hard to do when you are cruising through the pages of a textbook, covering the content superficially. It's hard to do when the only assessments you administer come at the beginning and end of the unit. It's also hard to do when you implement 20 question tests which take several days for you to grade. 

What's a better alternative to ensure at the end of the unit journey you haven't left half your class behind?  Observation rubrics.  As students are working through a task, the teacher circulates listening to math discussions, looking at student work and asking guiding questions.  The rubric has predetermined expectations based on the standards and related to the task. Once the teacher has checked on a student's thinking, the student's name is recorded next to the appropriate level of understanding. 

In this example you can clearly see which students are on target to master the standard and which are not quite ready. You can vary the task students will complete the next day or pull small groups to remediate and accelerate students. This process is continuous through the unit and provides a better idea of how you adjust your instructional strategies to meet students' needs. 

If you come to the end of a unit and half of your students still lack understanding, you haven't met their needs. The use of informal assessments such as an observation rubric is an extremely effective way to gauge where students are and what you need to change about your instructional practices.  Because my friends, if half of your students lack understanding at the end of the unit, they haven't failed, you have.

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