How do we Assess Cohorts?

You go to the doctor because you have a nasty cold. Your throat is on fire. Your doctor does a quick swab test for strep. Before you leave the doctor’s office you get a diagnosis. The doctor tells you it’s a strep infection and you need to take antibiotics for a period of time. You need to finish the pills, then come back for a follow-up check-up. The medical profession provides feedback to patients as quick as possible.

Your son or daughter takes the New York State math and ELA exams in late April/early May of grade 3. State exams put fear in teachers and students; and for that reason, many parents opt out of the exam. Your child is then passed onto grade four, where teachers are expected to differentiate instruction based on what your child has not mastered in grade 3! Or, your child is on the mastery level and has to sit through lessons he/she already knows. The material is much too easy, and your child is not challenged. The teacher has no data upon which to adjust instruction the child needs.

One would think that the state tests would help in assessing where the students are as far as mastering grade level 3 skills. No, In New York State the state tests scores for May, 2019 will not be returned to the schools until October 2019. A gap of five months occurs! Grade 4 teachers have very little data to help them differentiate instruction for their students. The horror of the situation is that students who have not passed (level 3) or mastered (level 4) of the grade 3 concepts and skills cannot be academically successful in grade 4. The gap widens as the student moved through the grades because the next year’s work depends on mastery of this grade’s concepts and skills. At risk students almost never get a chance to catch up.

Can you imagine if your strep test took five months to be returned? Yet, important feedback, both formative (daily in a class) and summative (unit tests) are often slow to be returned. Students have no idea what they know or don’t know; and homework is one-size-fits all, and not prescriptive for what the student needs to improve on.

For example, if a student takes a sport lesson, say tennis, the instructor will assess the student – “great serves, but needs work on the backhand stroke.” The student leaves with a series of strategies to practice his/her backhand. The student’s homework is to practice his/her backhand. And that’s how the student can improve. At the next session with the instructor the student is given feedback again.

If the teacher gets data five months after the student has taken the state test, it is difficult to develop and design a learning program specifically for each student. Poor or lack of assessment further spreads the learning gap of the cohort. Even though the students are the same age in a grade doesn’t mean they are at the same level of mastery of a subject.

What does assessment look like in a 21st century school? Ongoing and immediate.

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