Alternative Journal #3--Spring Quarter '99 : LUSENET : M.Ed./International Falls : One Thread

Sperling, Doris, H. (1994, October). Assessment and Reporting: A Natural Pair. Educational Leadership, 10-13.

In 1991, Ann Arbor, Michigan Public School district developed an alternative method to measuring student achievement and reporting it to parents. The original methods of assessment were standardized achievement tests given in each subject area. Student progress reports would be sent home three times a year, which contained a letter grade representing how well that student was doing. Teachers at the K-2 levels, felt that achievement tests were inappropriate for students at these levels and felt that there needed to be a better tie-in with outcomes established for each grade level. Considering the fact that all learners do not learn at the same rate, they wanted the progress reports to reflect specifically what objective a student was trying to reach and how close each was to reaching it.

In order to begin, teachers at each grade level had to establish the outcomes for the most critical subject areas. Clear criteria for teachers to use in evaluating and documenting mastery of each outcome was then established, as well as a continuum of three performance levels. They decided on the terms: (1) Not Yet which meant that a student was not meeting the objective or was uninterested. (2) Developing meant that the student was trying to meet the objective and had met some of the criteria. (3) Achieving meant that the student reached the stated goal. (4) Extending meant that a student used the mastered skills to go above and beyond what was expected.

The new report goes out to parents three times a year. It states the various outcomes, the assessment criteria and the students' progress in meeting the anticipated goals. The Developing section has three boxes to show gradual growth for children who remain in this category for most of the year.

At first parents were confused about this new way of assessing and reporting because it was so different from the traditional letter grades. They needed a lot of clarification of what the report meant, but after understanding, preferred it to the old method. It enabled them to work cooperatively with the teacher and take a more active role in their child's education because they could see exactly where their child's needs were.

The teachers were happier with their new system because it allowed them to monitor students more closely and refine their teaching methods to help students achieve their outcomes. Once the new system was in place, the reality of time constraints became apparent. Teachers were then provided seven half days each school year for more time to talk to and observe individual students.

"These promising results have led the Ann Arbor Public School staff to three convictions: First, a performance assessment program and meaningful parent report form, must be conceived together; second, teachers must take a lead role in their ongoing development, and third, by systematically monitoring students' progress, teachers can more effectively meet the children's individual needs." (Spering, p. 10)

Our kindergarten teachers base their assessment of students using checklists similar in concept, to the system in the article. The progress report shows exactly what has been mastered and/or what has not been mastered. Like the teachers in Ann Arbor, our kindergarten teachers feel that this is a very effective method of assessment and reporting.

The concept of developing more appropriate assessment for students is something that our first and second grades have been thinking about for some time. When students reach first grade, standardized tests are used to measure achievement and the traditional method of letter grades is used. Unfortunately, this system does not give a clear picture of what students' goals are and where they are in terms of reaching those goals. Parents often want to know how they can help their children and it is difficult to give them very specific information about their child's needs and how those needs change. For example a student may receive "G" due to performance on a test, which means "excellent" but there may be certain skills that the student still needs to practice. What does excellent mean, beyond "very good?" With a more specific method of assessment, the teacher and the parents will know exactly which skills are mastered and which still need practice. This seems more effective.

I appreciated the fact that the teachers in Ann Arbor were given additional time to evaluate students in this manner. The issue of time would be crucial to the success of such a system. The teachers' initiative demonstrated their commitment to quality by working to develop a more effective system. The administration responded to their need for more time, in an appropriate and professional manner.

In discussing this issue with colleagues, I presented this article as an example of a system we could model, modifying it to our own objectives. After some discussion we all agreed to explore other methods, to broaden our knowledge of all the alternatives before making a decision.

-- Anonymous, April 10, 1999

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