By: Virginia Ressa
When I wrote my blog entry last month, I didn’t plan on writing a follow up, but assessment is just one of those topics educators can discuss and debate forever. As educators, we each have our own personal theories and experiences that color our assessment practices. Even the language we use when talking about assessment can differ. Our professional lexicon is full of synonyms, maybe euphemisms, for assessment: test, quiz, written response, essay, performance, project, presentation, etc. You get the idea, right? At the essence of all of these tasks — whatever you call them — is the goal of collecting evidence that will tell us where students are in their learning.
I know the phrase “collecting evidence of student learning” is a mouthful; assessment and test are both a lot shorter and easier to use. So, what’s the difference? Why bother with the long phrase? The difference is in what kind of information we want and how we plan to use it. The term “assessment” carries with it a connotation of a singular event, while the phrase “collecting evidence of student learning” suggests a process of ongoing assessment that seeks to track student growth over time.
The purpose of assessment has traditionally been to assess students’ knowledge and skills against a set of norms or standards. We’ve given these types of assessments in Ohio for many years. Districts and schools use these types of assessments at the local level, too. For example, career-tech students know they’ve got to exhibit proficiency in order to earn their credentials. These types of assessments provide a snapshot of what a student can do at a certain point in time, not unlike your school picture from eighth grade. It provides us with important, but limited, information about who you were at that point in time — braces and all.
Each assessment event provides us with a snapshot of student knowledge and skills at a particular time and place. But, can one photograph show us a complete picture? Of course not. Take a minute and think about your high school yearbook photo. It provides a lot of information about you on the day the picture was taken, but the information is limited to that one piece of evidence. We know it doesn’t represent how you changed throughout high school, how you got taller or cut your hair to look like your favorite musician. It doesn’t explain why you chose those glasses and that tie. And, unfortunately, that one picture might not accurately represent you. Maybe you had a bad hair day or the photographer didn’t tell you when to smile. One snapshot can only provide a limited amount of information, and sometimes it may not be reliable.
In our classrooms, it is often more useful to think of assessment with the purpose of measuring student growth. Measuring growth requires us to envision assessment as a series of events over time rather than as singular, isolated events. What if we took a series of photographs over time? How would a series of photos give us different information than the single snapshot? When we have evidence we’ve collected over time, we can compare current performance to past performance to look for change, hopefully in the right direction. We can look for patterns of misconceptions, strengths and weaknesses or opportunities for acceleration — all of which can inform our instruction in order to meet the needs of our students.
If a snapshot is a single assessment event that measures achievement, then a series of snapshots of student learning is a process of assessment that encourages us to measure and respond to growth. Collecting evidence of student learning over time and in different formats provides us with more details about what students know and can do. If we only have that one photo of you in your high school yearbook, we have no way of knowing if the picture is reliable. Why weren’t you smiling? Was your hair always that long? Multiple pieces of evidence help us to identify and account for evidence that isn’t reliable: a misleading test question, homework completed by a parent or maybe just a bad day for that student. Each photo we take can’t possibly tell others all they need to know about us at that point in time, and no single assessment event can tell us enough about student learning to inform our instruction.
Ohio’s Formative Instructional Practices modules include a course on measuring student growth. Click here to access the Department’s Learning Management System, which is free to all Ohio teachers.
Virginia Ressa is an education program specialist at the Ohio Department of Education, where she focuses on helping schools and educators meet the needs of diverse learners through professional learning. You can learn more about Virginia by clicking here.
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By: Paolo DeMaria
One of the things I love about my job is traveling to different schools around Ohio and seeing education policies in action. On April 4, Gov. John Kasich’s annual State of the State Address was held in Sandusky, Ohio. In events leading up to the address, I visited several northern Ohio schools and got a glimpse of just a few of the outstanding education programs offered in our schools.
One of my first stops was to Tiffin Middle School, where I spoke with students and mentors in the Seneca Mentoring Youth Links program, made possible by a Community Connectors mentoring grant. Students in the program otherwise may not have positive adult role models in their lives. It was encouraging to hear directly from students and mentors about the roles they play in one another’s lives. Particularly notable was the observation that mentors learned and grew almost as much as their student mentees.
I visited a preschool at Bellevue Elementary school. This amazing program earned five stars — the highest rating — in Ohio’s Step Up To Quality rating system. I was impressed with how these students are already developing a sophisticated academic vocabulary. During one activity, they were naming shapes like “sphere,” “cone,” “cylinder,” etc. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t doing that when I was 4 years old! The district’s investment in its youngest students — many from low-income backgrounds and who may have other special needs — will lay the foundation for future success in school, including giving them a leg up on meeting the Third Grade Reading Guarantee. My visit concluded with a discussion with the students’ families, where they shared with me the powerful impact the program has made in their children’s lives.
At Terra State Community College, President Jerome Webster hosted a great event that highlighted the power of partnerships. I heard from panelists representing businesses, colleges, high schools and education partners. The panelists talked about how the partnerships they formed are meeting the area’s workforce needs and creating hope and opportunity for adult learners. Programs like the Ohio Adult Diploma and College Credit Plus are helping Ohioans, young and old, find paths to better employment or advanced education. College Credit Plus helps students get some college credits while in high school. The program is free and can help students reduce student loan debt and begin their college freshman year ahead of their peers. Earning an Ohio Adult Diploma can be life changing for the 1 million adults in Ohio who do not have high school diplomas. It opens new doors to better jobs and, for many, it offers a pathway out of poverty.
Culinary students at EHOVE Career Center treated me to a fantastic lunch, where school leaders joined me to discuss programs at the career center. We toured the school and experienced 21st century learning as I tried out the school’s fascinating virtual reality model of a human heart. The school exemplifies project-based learning in its Fab Lab. It was phenomenal to see what students were able to create here! The lab lets students identify engineering projects and see them through from concept to design to production using a wide variety of high-tech equipment (laser cutters, 3-D printers, etc.). Students have fabricated everything from engines to a huge version of Ohio’s state seal — all while gaining STEM skills and exploring in-demand jobs. Superintendent Mastroianni is providing great leadership at one of Ohio’s great career centers.
Next, I visited Perkins High School in Sandusky. At an Ohio Business Roundtable discussion, business and community leaders talked about how to develop a skilled workforce that can grow Ohio’s economy. We learned about programs in Perkins Local School District and Sandusky City Schools that are creating partnerships with businesses, as well as opportunities for students to make connections to careers. Students made presentations about how the skills they are developing now will help them in the future. It was inspiring to see students making those career connections early on and taking full advantage of their high school experiences to get ready for the future.
My final visit was to Sandusky High School. Sandusky City Schools received Straight A Funds that they used to create internship opportunities for students. The students are interning at local companies and organizations that are connected to the global economy, such as NASA, PNC Bank and the Ohio Army National Guard. I very much enjoyed talking with students in the program. They have great insight and they tell it like it is — one student asked me about the emerging alternative graduation requirements, wondering what motivation students would have to attend classes and do their best if we make graduation easier. I also enjoyed talking with teachers about the joys and challenges of teaching in high school.
It was really neat to see so many aspects of Ohio’s education system in a single day! My colleagues on the State Board of Education, President Tess Elshoff and Board Member Linda Haycock, joined me for several events. At every event, we were able to have meaningful, engaging dialogue with educators, students, families and citizens. It was clear to me that we all want the very best for our children. Educational opportunity is critical to advancing individual students and Ohio’s economy as a whole. I genuinely appreciate all of the teachers, administrators and school personnel who work every day in the best interests of our students. I also want to thank all of the schools and districts who hosted these events. There are some truly fabulous things going on in our schools. It was an incredible experience, and I learned so much in our conversations.
You can follow State Board of Education President Tess Elshoff at twitter.com/Tess_Elshoff and Board Member Linda Haycock at twitter.com/linda_haycock.
Paolo DeMaria is superintendent of public instruction of Ohio, where he works to support an education system of nearly 3,600 public schools and more than 1.6 million students.
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By: Guest Blogger
Editor’s Note: An industry-recognized credential is verification of an individual’s competence in a specific trade or skill. They are issued by authorized third parties such as business or trade associations. To learn more about Ohio's Industry Credential Program, click here.
High school students earning industry credentials is not a new concept. Career-technical high schools and comprehensive high schools have been doing it, and doing it well, for years. What is new is the attention these industry credentials are receiving by becoming part of the graduation pathways for the classes of 2018 and beyond. With industry credentials being clearly identified as an option toward graduation, it has many parents and educators asking questions about what they are, who can earn them and why they may be the best options for some students.
The first two questions are easily answered. Industry credentials are the certifications needed to hold particular positions in virtually every trade in business and industry. As educators, we have had to earn specific licensures and certifications in order to perform our given roles; our licenses are our “industry credentials.” Parallel to this are cosmetologists who earn their state board licenses or auto body technicians who earn their iCAR certifications. When students leave high school with these credentials, they are ready to enter the workforce, working meaningful jobs that have higher income levels and great ability for upward mobility.
All high school students have access to vocational training that leads to industry credentials. The vast majority of career-tech programs are designed for 11th and 12th grade students. Through career exploration activities starting as early as elementary school, students are exposed to career options that can begin with earning industry credentials while in high school. Students can choose, usually during their 10th grade years, to begin direct, relevant education that will lead to industry credentials and employment in locally identified, in-demand careers.
The question as to why the industry credential route may be the best option for the student is much more difficult to answer. This is due to the fact that there are so many reasons that this may be the best option for a particular student. There is an often-used quote in education that states, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life thinking it is stupid.” The career-tech industry credential route speaks directly to this idea. Students are able to get out from behind their desks and engage in real, relevant skills training. Many students who find it difficult to thrive in traditional classroom settings blossom when they are given the opportunities to showcase their own specific strengths and intelligences.
For many of our students, the traditional college and university track is something they do not desire. Media’s depiction of the soaring costs of attendance at traditional universities, anecdotal tales of college grads taking all of the minimum wage jobs in an area, cultural backgrounds that emphasize skilled trades, and individual career interests in career-tech fields all contribute to students looking to get jumpstarts on their careers. Ohio’s inclusion of these career paths as a means to graduation has further legitimized these students’ and families’ choices.
For me, the validation of these choices is evidenced by the growth I witness in my students. People like to be useful. It is a widely accepted idea. Our students are no different. I have the opportunity to witness these students thrive as they strive to meet attainable, meaningful goals. Instead of the anxiety and frustration they may have faced when their days consisted of being measured strictly on academic prowess, students are encouraged and excited to be able to showcase their unique skills. In the end, these students get to experience pride and achievement where, previously, they may have fallen short. This sense of efficacy is priceless moving forward into adulthood. These students know they CAN achieve and they CAN succeed; they have worth.
This is not to say that students can’t have the best of both worlds. Most programs leading to industry credentials also include articulated and/or transcripted college credit. The articulations these programs offer can vastly decrease the amount of time students must spend on their postsecondary training — sometimes earning as much as a year’s worth of college credits. We have one motivated student who is currently on track to finish her high school career with an industry credential in the transportation field and an associate degree in business from our local community college. For this student, earning an industry credential is a critical piece to a comprehensive career plan.
The world of industry credentials in the high school setting is ever-changing. The Ohio Department of Education encourages local stakeholders from education, business and industry, and economic development to advocate for the credentials that are vital to their regions. More and more certifications and licenses are being acknowledged every day. If you haven’t taken the time to explore the options your local career-tech schools or comprehensive high schools have to offer, do so. If not for your own education and knowledge, do it for all of those fish in our schools (no pun intended) still trying to climb that tree.
Christopher Wilde was a high school English language arts teacher for three years. After referring countless students to the school counselor, he decided he wanted to be that support and has now been a school counselor at Lorain County Joint Vocational School for eight years. You can contact Christopher by clicking here.
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