Saturday, July 25, 2015


OK, so I was supposed to have this read and written a post by the middle of the week and it's Saturday and I'm just now getting to it, but hey, better late than never, right?

Several years ago, my state encouraged teachers to use a new computerized assessment tool. This tool, which shall remain nameless, was touted as the be all and end all, it could differentiate, diagnose kids' reading needs, and prescribe instruction. I was teaching fourth grade that year. Every six weeks, we would march off to the library, where a bank of computers was set up, and children would take the assessment. Some children took it very seriously. I still remember Alicia's look of consternation as she told me, "I knew, right away, that I had chosen the wrong answer for the first question. But it wouldn't let me go back and fix it." That time she dropped two years, then made a remarkable gain, four years growth, six weeks later.

And I remember Taylor, a great big Saint Bernard puppy of a guy, who had never read a book but read his way through the entire STINK series that year, then graduated to BIG NATE. He finished in about three minutes every time. "I hate those tests," he said. "The words (font) are too little."

Mostly I remember the post-test data review meetings. We'd review the scores one child at a time. They varied wildly from one administration to the next. I was supposed to be able to tell why. And mostly I couldn't. I didn't think I was doing anything differently, except maybe worrying more, during the six weeks when kids did well, than I was in the six week blocks when they did poorly. I had other sources of data-- running records, reading logs, reading responses, anecdotal notes-- but those didn't hold the legitimacy of this test.

We gave those tests for two more years after I left fourth grade. I had moved to a coaching position and helped administer the test to everyone from kindergarten to fifth grade. I saw similar trends with the older kids. With our kindergarten and first grade kiddos, it was a disaster. They weren't used to headphones. They didn't know how to use the mouse. The test didn't measure, at all, what they knew about early literacy skills. Instead it totally measured their technology skills. We ended up using the DRA/EDL word analysis tasks to get the data we actually needed.

I thought of this experience as I read Chapter Six. On page 92, Franki and Bill state, "We must ensure that we are assessing students' growth as readers and writers rather than assessing isolated technology skills." So, so, so true. I would add, "And when we use technology, we must triangulate the data with information from other sources, just like we always have." 

And we must receive the data in a timely fashion. Like so many others, we administered the PARCC last year. We haven't seen any results. We don't have any information we can use.  So why are we giving it.

I do think, though, that there is a positive side to assessment with technology. On page 93 and 94, Franki and Bill share several tools. At my school, we have been using Google Docs for the past several years. We use it to compile data, to track progress in reading, writing and math, and to keep notes on behavior. I don't think we have arrived, though. Teachers dutifully enter the data, but I don't think they always see it as useful, or use it to guide their instruction. We have a ways to go in that area. I want to try Evernote and see if they like that better. And I bought an iPhone, so I can start taking pictures and videos of student learning.

As I read this chapter, I also thought about the whole aspect of monitoring student growth in using technology. We need to being the year by figuring out what role technology plays in kids' lives. For that reason, I loved the digital reading interview on page 89. If we really are helping our students to become college and career ready, they have to know how to use technology. They have to be able to do internet research, to analyze the credibility of sources, to annotate text, to compare sources, to use information they find, etc. They have to be able to collaborate, and to write and create. It seems to me that we need to somehow keep track of whether we are helping them do that.

And yes, I agree with Franki and Bill, that we have to bring families into the mix, just like we always have with "more traditional" forms of learning. We have to know what access kids have at home. I really couldn't say how many of my students have computers and internet at their houses, but most of them have smart phones. And they have social media accounts. This week, I was floored when a teacher showed me a fifth grader's Facebook page. This little guy is very, very shy. He struggles and struggles and struggles in school. And yet he creates incredible graphics on his Facebook page. And I wonder why we never knew about this strength. Or tapped into it.

I wonder how we can use social media with our parents. Our assistant principal created a Facebook page. I wanted to post on it several times a week this summer, but I haven't done as much as I had hoped. When we do post, we don't get lots and lots of hits from parents, so I wonder if they look at it, and if it's worth our time.

I would love to encourage teachers to set up websites, but I wonder about that too. This week, I watched a teacher update a class website. It was beautiful and looked pretty functional too. There was a button for a weekly newsletter, for class assignments, for kids' work. When I commented on her website, she said her principal requires her to have a website, but she doesn't think parents use it much. She teaches at one of the most affluent schools in Denver and I wonder what it would be like at my school, where the parents are far less educated.

Lots to think about in Chapters 6 and 7. I am left with many more questions than answers…


Elisabeth Ellington said...

Ah, assessment. Effective teachers assess every day, yet so often what we know to do that will tell us what we need to know about our learners and our teaching is not valued by administration and instead, we're asked to waste time and money with assessment tools that tell us absolutely nothing. I definitely appreciated the logic and rationality of the approach to assessment in Digital Reading. Thinking about the final chapter, your post made me realize I should put my two roles together--as teacher and parent--and think about what works for me as a parent. I like to receive information straight to my inbox or as updates on FB or Twitter, but I don't want to make the effort of regularly seeking out websites that may not be updated. My son's school relies primarily on the Internet to share messages with parents, yet many families in our town don't have access to computers at home. These parents have no way of knowing about events or even keeping up with their children's academic progress. I'm wondering what schools can do to bridge that gap.

Linda B said...

I enjoyed your examples about that earlier 'six-week' testing that you did. It sounds like the kids were very good at assessing the technology (couldn't change answers, small font), but that other part, what they knew about reading, didn't seem as important. That interests me, because what if kids at times don't realize that reading is everywhere, not just in print text? That's the part that Franki & Bill are talking about, the online reading seems so separated, and it is what teachers need to figure out, how to include ALL of it in their reading teaching. I'm not sure about FB pages or websites either. Our population probably all have tech at home, but it looks to me like few access the school's page. I did a newsletter direct to parents' e-mail, & they did tell me it was appreciated. Google plus helped a lot with student work, but there again, access is so key. Late or not, I enjoyed what you shared about your hopes and concerns, Carol. Thank you!

Michelle said...

Always better late than never! And I was so curious about the purchase of the iPhone! You did it! You'll be amazed at the opportunities! I think many of us have the same struggles and frustrations with assessment. I'm not sure if anyone has an answer for when that is going to change ... I also understand your wondering about sharing information with parents using social media. I think what is key is sharing in a variety of ways: e-newsletter posted on classroom website that is then also posted on Facebook/Twitter. Providing our families various options is important to staying connected!

Thanks for sharing your thoughts Carol! Good luck figuring out the iPhone .... let me know if I can help answer any questions! :)


Cathy said...

There are definitely two sides to technology. Your conversation around assessment is a perfect example. Students working through programs with multiple choice questions is very different from collecting snippets of student learning across the days and weeks of a school year. Which one really tells us more about our learners? The same is true with technology in the classroom. I walk into classrooms where students are using tools to reflect on their reading, to share with others, and to learn more. Then I walk into classrooms where students are reading an assigned text from a website or working through multiple choice questions on a reading program. Again, very different experiences. I have many concerns about the word blended as often when I read about "blended learning" students are using particular programs to free up teachers to do other work. As someone who lives in a world of digital literacy as a reader and writer, I think our tools offer so much more possibility. Through digital tools/sites I have been able to collect, learn, connect, create and become part of communities that continually push my thinking. I want my students to have these same authentic experiences in learning and assessment.

By the way, I'm glad you posted. Late never matters in the digital world!


LitProfSuz said...

Yes, our standardized tests don't really measure what they portend. It is a lot more about the technology skills of the children, the mood and motivation of the children, and the biases of the test creators. Why are we still giving them, when rich data is available through teacher observation and documentation? Because, as you stated, it isn't "valid" enough. But, schools are businesses and we are not creating widgets that all need the same treatment. We are guiding and supporting human individuals, who need individual attention and coaching. As teachers and parents are seeing the detrimental effects of massive testing, I'm hoping we will return to a humane form of educating our youth.