OPAPP, funded by Race to the Top, involves piloting performance-based assessments in English, math, science, social studies, and career and technical classes in grades 3-12. The pilot also aims to define “the nature and implementation of the tasks to be used as statewide test instruments,” according to the program’s website.
OPAPP’s performance assessments include both learning and assessment tasks. The learning tasks are used as formative tools and are integrated into the curriculum. Students use the learning tasks to build the knowledge to be assessed in the assessment task.
Assessment tasks, then, are shorter and controlled, related to the learning tasks, and given within a certain period of time.
“The intent is to ensure that all students have an opportunity to learn,” said Lauren Manowar-Jones, program coordinator of performance assessment in the Ohio Department of Education’s Office of Curriculum and Assessment. “The objective is not to catch the student ‘not’ knowing during the assessment, but to catch the student showing that he or she has the skills.”
This system has been piloted with six different groups of teachers across the grades and subjects included in this phase, and Manowar-Jones said the state has plans to scale up the pilot and be in full operational mode by the spring of 2015.
As part of the integrated professional learning, teachers are trained to score the assessment tasks. Education officials debated the merits of having teachers score the assessments and wondered if it would be too time-consuming, but Manowar-Jones said scoring events only take one day and benefit teachers.
When teachers score the assessments, they see content or perspectives in student responses that they can relay to their own students. They also understand the learning tasks better because they know, from scoring the assessments, what the learning goals are and how to best approach instruction, she said.
State education leaders learned a number of lessons as they implemented the curriculum-embedded performance assessments, Manowar-Jones said, including:
- Face-to-face professional learning emerged as most effective for Ohio’s pilot. Education leaders found that online professional learning is most effective when it includes a group work component.
- Technology is a big challenge. Teachers and technology specialists must embrace technology access for all students. But that goal quickly hits limitations, because providing technology access—and internet access—for all students is a real challenge for states and districts across the nation.
- When teachers score student work, their own teaching improves. This realization struck pilot leaders in a “light bulb moment,” she said. “When teachers score student work, the next time they do a learning task, their students do significantly better because the teachers know how to teach it. They understand the lesson in a better way.”
- Students love technology, and teachers must learn how to use technology effectively to support learning.
- Curriculum-embedded performance assessments require best practices in order to be effective. It’s important that teachers use all of the resources available to them to truly engage students. Teachers need training that supports using those practices, and they also need time to reflect on their own professional progress and learning.
Comments from actual Ohio teachers involved in OPAPP indicated that:
- They think about their lessons in a more in-depth manner and strive to integrate technology more
- They focus on deep questioning and strive to answer more “why”-based questions
- They analyze their instructional methods and respond to students’ needs
- They consider their role to be a facilitator of learning
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