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Assessing the Digital Native Student

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May 09, 2013 09:45 pm

It’s Thursday and it’s time to talk digital learning! The following blog post comes from Rebecca McLelland-Crawley, one of the Project 24 Team of Experts and the K-12 Science Supervisor at West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District in New Jersey. 
When we think about assessments, it is really easy to pull up an image of multiple choice questions and Ticonderoga pencils en masse. However, my stance on assessment is quite different. Most of the tests created by others and scored with a machine did not capture the strengths of my students. As a matter of fact, I doubt that most tests of this nature can really identify what we truly want our students to do in a global society of the 21st Century. So, how do we as educators design assessments that are capable of capturing their essence? Do not let the era of high-stakes testing make you lose sight of the individual students sitting in your classroom.  
As educators we need to think systematically about our students. Data provides us with an opportunity to help our students become more successful in our classes. In professional learning community (PLC) meetings, we can discuss whether students are able to apply the knowledge they are acquiring and what interventions need to occur. We are also able to brainstorm ways to differentiate for the students who need remediation and for those who need more of a challenge. None of these conversations can occur effectively within a PLC without an initial conversation about data and assessment focused on two fundamental questions:
1. What do we want our students to learn and do?
2. How do we know they do not already know it and can do it?
Before designing any assessment, I find it critical to ask myself and others question #1. Like many other teachers, I wanted my students to think critically, creatively apply their content knowledge, and demonstrate their skills as effective problem-solvers and communicators. I am focused on presenting students with as many authentic problems as they can handle.
Once I shifted my classroom mindset to project-based learning and authentic assessments, I saw the greatest growth in my students with regard to retention and engagement. Looking at things from a practical standpoint, there are simple changes teachers can make when designing assessments. For example, rather than relying on a test about facts related to evolution, the students could be assigned to research something like the fastest case of human evolution and have the students create a social media campaign to educate others. The teachers can include all of the required content as part of the campaign, but in this example, deeper learning competencies are infused as well.
A great resource for designing scoring rubrics on these competencies is the Association of American Colleges and Universities Value Rubrics site. You can download the existing rubrics and work with your PLC to determine what areas a task will assess. A “techie” way to integrate these into your classes is to create a Google Form and have the students self- and peer-assess. Teachers can also add their scores and provide instant feedback for the students.
I’ll admit that I am a data junkie. I like to know where my students stand before I begin a unit and I like to check in often to know if misconceptions are being dispelled and if they are really progressing in their knowledge acquisition and application. I encourage the science teachers in my school district to use the AAA Science Assessment website to create quick surveys on student misconceptions. Teachers can use the website question bank to design quick pre-tests on highly researched student misconceptions. This helps identify strengths and weaknesses in order to differentiate the activities of our classrooms. It is also paramount to everything we do as educators because if we do not address their misconceptions in a concerted manner, they will harbor these ideas throughout their lifetime.
We are in a time of substantial change for educators. Districts administrators need to be aware of the stress that many educators are experiencing and provide them with the opportunity to meet and discuss the data of their students so they can remain focused on students. When we reframe the conversation about data to focus on the progress of the students, teachers will rise to the challenge of creating meaningful assessments to fully represent their students.
(image source: cover art, AACU Peer Review.) 
Rebecca McLelland-Crawley has been a science educator for 15 years and is a member of the Project 24 Team of Experts. She is currently the Science Supervisor for the West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District. Previously, Rebecca taught Biology, Marine Science, and Advanced Placement Environmental Science for the Perth Amboy School District. Field trips, authentic investigations, and technology play key roles in her instructional strategies. Through a service learning project, her students adopted a local pond and restored the habitat with a $700,000 Green Acres Grant. Her students also taught environmental stewardship to elementary students through Skype, podcasts, and face-to-face mentoring. Rebecca is past president of the Biology Teachers Association of New Jersey and has presented at numerous conferences on topics such as professional learning communities, the flipped classroom, bioscience career awareness, and the New Jersey science curriculums. In 2005, Rebecca was recognized as Teacher of the Year for Perth Amboy High School and named the New Jersey Phi Delta Kappa/Wal-Mart Teacher of the Year. You can follow her on Twitter at @WWPscience.  
Digital Learning Series, Gear: Data & Assessment

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