Angela Robinson is principal at Munford Elementary School, a pre-K through fifth grade school with 730 students. As a former reading specialist and technology integration specialist, providing quality instruction is and will always remain Angela’s passion. As an administrator, Angela support teachers as they meet the needs of their students and provide opportunities for her school’s staff to continue to grow and excel.

As an administrator, I am continually looking for teachers in our building who are both teaching and assessing students in ways that motivate them to become self-directed learners. I desire for our students to set goals, have engaging learning experiences as they advance towards those goals, and be assessed in ways that show progress over time as they achieve the goals they have set.

When I observe teachers at MES who are creating assessments that spark students’ interests while determining their depth of knowledge towards current standards, those teachers are put in the limelight.

  1. I ask them to share the assessments they’ve created with their colleagues at faculty meetings and PD sessions.
  2. I schedule other teachers to observe in their classrooms to see what they are doing.
  3. I share their lessons and pictures of students’ products on social media.
  4. I find professional development opportunities to help those teachers to continue to grow.

Some examples of authentic assessment at MES include:

  • Kindergarten students learned about what plants need to survive and grow. As part of the PBL unit, the students planted their own lettuce garden and celebrated their learning with a salad feast using their homegrown lettuce.
  • First grade students learned that sound works by making vibrations. They were assessed by making their own percussion instruments from classroom materials and used their instruments to perform Jingle Bell Rock.
  • Students in 5th grade learned about irrigation and farming. They applied their learning by creating a robot designed to help evolve the farming process to provide more food for families in need.
  • Students in 4th grade who were learning about energy and collision designed a restraint system with unique safety features they had invented.
  • 3rd grade students who were learning about stability, motion, forces, and interactions designed and built a device that would rescue a trapped tiger.

These types of assessments take much longer for teachers to plan and develop. The time spent in preparation is well worth the effort. Here are a few benefits we’ve experienced first hand:

  • Students are more engaged in the learning process. Students know they will be challenged to be creative; however, they also know they will have opportunities to customize their final products. Thus, they are more actively learning during the entire process.
  • Students who are accustomed to authentic assessments have more positive relationships with their teachers. The teachers listen to students conversations while they work in groups and ask them questions about their learning. These teachers make anecdotal notes as students’ thinking and evidence of learning evolve over time. They adapt their instruction and provide quality feedback to help guide their students.
  • Students have fewer discipline problems. I rarely have students who demonstrate inappropriate behaviors when they are creating  and designing products and learning in innovative ways. Students don’t want to miss out on these opportunities, so you find them more engaged and on-task.

For nearly a decade, the teachers at our school have taught a large majority of their standards through project based learning units. Teachers and staff have been trained on the PBL Gold Standards following the Buck Institute Model. Even with the training and knowledge of what PBL is and how to develop authentic assessments for students, as an administrator, there are steps I take to support teachers as they plan to develop more engaging and innovative learning opportunities and assessments for students.

  1. Each year at MES, we budget money to pay teachers a stipend to meet in the summer to review and revise their scope and sequence for teaching PBL units and STEAM lessons.
  2. During this summer planning session, teachers write plans, develop assessments and determine end products that students will create to demonstrate their learning.
  3. Time is devoted during our summer planning sessions for teachers to work creatively in grade level teams and departments to develop assessments.
  4. Teachers are asked what resources they need. If there is a need for additional resources or  professional development, as an administrator, I do my best to meet that need.
  5. Throughout the school year, we meet in grade level and departmental groups to discuss assessment and seek ways to improve how we are assessing students.
  6. Teachers are given anonymous surveys regarding assessments so they can openly and honestly reflect on the topic.
  7. We create a digital space for teachers to share their assessments, rubrics, and checklists with each other.

As I visit classrooms and talk to students during the school day, the answers I am seeking lie with what the students convey when asked about their experiences. Some of the questions I ask students to gauge the value in their assessments:

What are you learning?

Why are you learning this?

How will you know when you have learned it? What evidence will you have to show others and teach others what you have learned?

Students who can easily answer these questions are in classrooms where teachers “began with the end in mind.” Before teachers start teaching a standard or unit, they need time to develop an assessment that will engage the student and spark a curiosity in the student to learn the content necessary to complete, design, or create a product that allows for student voice and choice. It is my privilege as an administrator to support teachers as they reach towards their goals to design and develop quality assessments that help students become critical thinkers and problem solvers who find solutions to real world issues.

Angela’s post is part of CTQ’s blogging roundtable on authentic assessment. To join the conversation, comment on this blog and read the other blogs in this series. You can find an updated list of all posts on this page. Follow CTQ on Facebook and Twitter to see when each new blog is posted, and use #CTQCollab to join the conversation on social media.

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