Ohio’s move toward embedded assessments

State officials say curriculum-embedded performance assessments help improve teaching and learning outcomes

curriculum-assessmentThe state of Ohio is taking steps to ensure that students enter college and the workforce with the ability to apply critical skills to real-world problems.

Through the Ohio Performance Assessment Pilot Project (OPAPP), Ohio educators are using curriculum-embedded performance assessments to help students learn and demonstrate deeper learning competencies.

State education leaders hope that this deeper understanding of content will give students the ability to use that knowledge to think critically and solve problems, said Mariana Haynes, a senior fellow at the Alliance for Excellent Education, during a webinar that spotlighted Ohio’s latest efforts.

“Ohio has taken a unique approach to piloting curriculum embedded performance assessment,” Haynes said. “This includes a system of learning tasks for formative purposes, and assessment tasks.” The tasks are aligned with the Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards, and sustained, collaborative professional learning.

(Next page: More on OPAPP and embedded assessments)

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

As the pilot expands, the state will follow a model in which teachers create learning task shells at summer institutes, vendors finish those learning tasks and create assessment tasks, and teachers receiving training to score the assessment tasks.

Ohio is working with Measured Progress, a developer of K-12 student assessments, to create the learning and assessment tasks.

Measured Progress staff work with Ohio teachers to expand professional learning and train them to create these tasks.

State education leaders’ goal is that the learning and assessment tasks “go far beyond a string of open-response questions. The call is for students to demonstrate their mastery in ways other than writing, such as hands-on tasks.”

Curriculum-embedded performance assessment is only successful if many other parts of an education system are run correctly.

“Curriculum-embedded performance assessment is something that, if it’s done right, you must be doing a lot of other things right,” said Stuart Kahl, a founding principal of Measured Progress. “It requires an awful lot of other things to be going well.”

States are moving to deeper learning because there’s a demand for it from political and education leaders, as well as from new standards like the Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards, Kahl said. In addition, “it’s good practice. We’ve been here before and we’ve seen the need for students to have higher-order skills.” The goal, he added, is having students apply the skills they’ve learned.

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Laura Ascione

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