Assessment: The Game Changer
At Moriarty Elementary School in Moriarty, New Mexico, our process of collaborating professionally has changed dramatically over the past 18 months. When we began the journey, the idea of gathering grade-level members together was not frightening; however, our typically brief conversations were not deeply academic or very student centered. Teams did not run from the idea of functioning as a learning community but, in hindsight, none of us really had a clear picture of the depth to which clear and collaborative discussions about instruction and student learning could improve achievement or change us.
Searching for something more, our guiding coalition worked together over the summer to develop a teaching schedule with dedicated intervention time and 90 minutes of collaboration time within each week to support the PLC journey. School started with a rush, and teams became obsessed with data. Weekly data results from textbook assessments were analyzed in PLC meetings to determine instantaneous interventions. This process was a great improvement to our PLC process, and although achievement improved schoolwide, it still felt as though there was something missing.
It turns out that the missing link—our “game changer”—was quality assessment. Although teams were assessing weekly, our assessments were not focused or, in most cases, strong. We entered into deep discussions with outside mentoring from an assessment expert and soon began to evaluate each question on each assessment so we could measure the value and validity of the assessments we were planning to employ. Teachers began adding, modifying, and even deleting assessment questions from the provided curriculum resources and, in some cases, creating their own strong assessment options that were more aligned with the essential standards.
When teams began to better understand the purpose, the quality features, and the process of productive assessments, they were better able to create and employ the meaningful, targeted tools in accurate ways. At that point, we truly brought our “game” to a new level of PLC work. Over the last semester, our teams placed rigor and assessment design and use at the forefront of instruction. Today, students are participating in the process of creating rubrics in many classes and even scoring each other’s assessments. End-of-year assessments showed a 22% increase in reading proficiency in kindergarten through third grade, and an average increase of 21% math proficiency in third through fifth grade. We now understand that when we focus on assessment, we can truly focus on quality learning by student, by standard, and even by the types of errors being made within each standard; which leads to the natural extension of better instruction in each classroom. Our data prove that when teams focus on specific areas and make them priorities, they can enjoy dramatic results in very short periods of time. For the PLC process at Moriarty Elementary, team-developed common assessments are our game changer and will remain our priority focus as we move forward to ensure high levels of learning for all.