Sunday, August 26, 2007

Are Common Assessments Valuable?

As we prepared for the start of the new year, my colleagues and I got into a discussion about common assessments and their value.

Our math department does quite a good job collaborating and using common assessments, and we were lauded as a good example by our administrators and others during the school-wide training meetings that happen the week before students come back. This was fine, but then we were informed that we did not meet AYP due to our math scores. In fact, we had a 47% pass rate for 2006 and a 34% pass rate for 2007. If I understand correctly, we were supposed to have improved by at least 10%, not dropped by 13%.

This was the news that prompted a few of us to start talking about what to do and how the results of the common assessments should be used. One fellow math teacher pointed out that as long as we are giving common assessments we should also be using the results of these assessments to guide our instruction. As we discussed the different approaches we are taking in our Algebra 1 classes she mentioned that having a common assessment may prove more valuable now that different approaches are being taken, as long as the results are being reviewed. If it turns out that one class does much better on the common assessments then we should consider the approach that teacher and class took, and the rest of us should adjust our teaching accordingly.

I am excited to see what happens. Last year we gave common assessments and, once they were given, we decided that the majority of students were doing poorly. Those of us teaching Algebra 1 were taking the same approach to teaching and getting the same results. We did nothing to change what we were doing, we just kept going because that was the way it worked. The common assessments didn't do much for us because we didn't do anything to respond to the results they showed. This year we will be looking at the results and seeing what was happening that made the difference between the successful classes and the less successful classes.

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