I recently had the chance to meet with teachers, administrators, parents and community members from all over the United States to set cut scores for Smarter Balanced (SBAC’s) ELA and Mathematics assessments. I was assigned to work on the 3rd grade math assessment’s cut scores, but the same process was happening for every grade level in both content areas at the same time. The process included looking at the standards, field test results, and description of achievement levels to recommend minimum scores for each performance level.
Having the opportunity to have direct impact on making clear cut distinctions about student performance levels was incredible. For one, I was able to network and collaborate with amazing educators from all over our country that are all trying to do the same thing – teach students to be ‘College and Career Ready’ – within the schema of CCSS. Secondly, microscopic examination of what distinguishes between performance levels on SBAC is impactful to my teaching. While my primary goal is to teach well-rounded children, it is important to understand what performance will be expected on the assessment by which they are measured. To predict student success, it is not enough to have a strong understanding of the CCSS. Teachers also need to know exactly what evidence a student will need to provide to demonstrate mastery of grade-level content.
Because CCSS was adopted by many states, and most of those states are adopting one of two assessment tools, a strong understanding of the measurement means is important. Both assessment tools, SBAC and PARCC, are assessing students with a test that is not hundreds of pages long. If questions were simply asked about each skill required at any given grade level in the CCSS, an assessment would be a logistical nightmare. It would be unreasonable for children to test on every minute detail. Both assessments group standards together and measure multiple levels of understanding with one question or scenario.
Because Washington State uses the SBAC’s assessment, I was participating in the Achievement Level Setting for SBAC. Going into the process of recommending minimal performance for each achievement level, we were provided with the Achievement Level Descriptors, or ALDs. This document lays out exactly what a student needs to do in order to reach levels 1, 2, 3, or 4 in any given standard within the CCSS. I found the document essential in looking at and judging student work.
Teachers are good at collaboration. We know how to meet with colleagues and discuss consistent scoring. We know how to find released problems and anchor sets. We know how to score student work in relation to the standards as a team. However, when student work is present that either does not have exact anchor sets or does not match a given example, we are left to our own best judgment. The ALDs have helped me to examine what exactly students must do to enter an achievement level. You might imagine how this could be impactful to my teaching. When I have clear guidelines of how the CCSS will be assessed and score, I can plan my instruction around providing students opportunities to work at a level of mastery. Needless to say, these documents have become my go-to guide book!
I encourage you to take a look at both the Math ALDs and the ELA ALDs. While some things might show up as expected, you will probably be surprised to see some expectations of students are not exactly as you may have imagined.
I grew up here in Western Washington, wanting to be a teacher for as long as I can remember. As the oldest child in my family, I had plenty of opportunities to "practice" teaching my younger siblings. I enjoyed this. They may not have. :) When I'm not working, I enjoy outdoor activities with my husband and our two Australian Shepherds (whom are far too spoiled for their own good!). I also love spending time with my family, being an auntie (to the cutest kids ever to grace this planet!), hosting dinner parties for friends, crafting, taking photographs and shopping.