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Standards-based assessment and Instruction


Archive for August, 2012

Using Anchor Papers to Help Teachers and Students Understand the Common Core

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

By: Ross Brewer, Ph.D., Exemplars President

Assessing what our students know and are able to do, where they stand with regard to meeting the standards, and how teaching and learning activities might be improved are among the most common uses for evaluating student work. Key to this is creating sets of anchor papers. With the new standards and learning expectations outlined in the Common Core, anchor papers can be a useful tool for helping your teachers and students see and understand what meeting the new standards will “look” like in their classrooms.

What are anchor papers?

Anchor papers are examples of student work at different levels of performance that, along with rubrics, guide formative and summative assessments. Schools and districts can either build their own collections of anchor papers over time or reference examples like those provided by Exemplars.

How can they help?

In addition to identifying where students are in terms of meeting a particular standard, anchor papers can be examined as a way to understand the learning opportunities we are, and are not, giving our students. These can also be used to train school and district assessment teams as well as evaluate how accurately and consistently teachers are assessing students. One way to do this is to ask teachers to assess previously assessed work and compare their scores to the “approved” scores. There are guides and protocols for these types of activities, which are, no doubt, the most important uses of student work. For specific examples and to learn more, visit the Looking at Student Work Web site.

Becca Lindahl, formerly the School Improvement Coordinator for the Diocese of Des Moines Catholic Schools, describes her diocesan’s professional development “scoring” days in the following manner:

Our diocesan’s grades four and eight scoring days are some of the best professional learning we do. Teachers, with their scorers’ hats on, learn about students’ math thinking. At the end of the day, we turn back into teachers and discuss what the data is telling us and how we can perhaps make instructional decisions from the data.

This technique can be used with teachers, schools and districts.

There are many effective ways to use anchor papers.

What does meeting the standard look like at my grade level?

Written standards and rubrics define these expectations, but student work samples help make them concrete. Having teachers analyze student work from several grade levels can answer the question “Where did my students come from and where are they going?” An example of this can be seen in the Exemplars task, Marshmallow Peeps, which provides student work samples from grades: two, four, six and at the high school level.

 This technique can be used with teachers, schools and districts.

Solving problems and studying previously solved problems.

A report published by the U.S. Department of Education titled Organizing Instruction and Study to Improve Student Learning states that students learn more by alternating between studying problems that have already been solved and solving their own problems, as opposed to just solving problems. (NCER 2007-2004, U.S. Department of Education, available online from the Institute of Education Sciences)

A large number of laboratory experiments and a smaller number of classroom examples have demonstrated that students learn more by alternating between studying examples of worked-out problem solutions and solving similar problems on their own than they do when just given problems to solve on their own. (9)

According to the report, using anchor papers with students addresses two classroom challenges. It saves time, as fewer problems need to be worked out, and eases the burden of assessing additional work. It also tackles the shortage of good problem-solving material that is available.

This technique can be used by teachers and students.

Teaching students to self- and peer-assess: using anchor papers as a tool.

In an earlier blog, we discussed research that showed the power of student self- and peer-assessment. Anchor papers may be used to help students learn to be successful self- and peer-assessors. After your teachers have introduced the assessment rubric to students, try putting a piece of anonymous student work on the overhead. Ask students to solve the original task (making sure they understand the solution). Then, using the assessment rubric ask students to assess the piece and share their analysis once everyone has finished. As they discuss various perspectives, students learn what work meets the standard and what work doesn’t. A great deal is also learned about problem solving.

To further extend this exercise, you could ask students how they might improve upon weaker samples so that they meet the standard. Teachers can also take work that meets the standard and ask students how they would turn it into work that exceeds the standard. By doing this, students will learn what meeting and exceeding the standard looks like.

This technique can be used by teachers and students.

Providing guidelines for students.

Anchor papers can provide students with examples of the kind of work their teachers expect. Ask your teachers make copies of student work samples for a set of problems. Include anchor papers that don’t quite meet the standard as well as work that meets and exceeds the standard. Have them discuss these pieces and link each of the solutions to the parts of the rubric that are applicable. Doing so will enable students to have a much clearer understanding of the work that is expected.

This technique can be used by teachers and students.

Making use of errors.

By highlighting errors in anchor papers, teachers can create learning opportunities for their students. In Japanese classrooms teachers use errors in student work as a teaching opportunity, whereas in American classrooms this is rarely done. In the U.S., teachers tend to continue polling students in search of the correct solution, generally ignoring errors.

Discussing errors helps to clarify misunderstandings, encourage argument and justification, and involve students in the exciting quest of assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the various alternative solutions that have been proposed. The Learning Gap (Summit Books, 1992) p. 191

 This technique can be used by teachers and students.

Anchor papers to support the Common Core.

The essence of the anchor paper is to provide an accurate picture of what student work looks like at various performance levels with regard to a specific standard. Working with real student samples can help both teachers and students visualize the new learning expectations set forth by the Common Core.

Over time, your teachers can work together to build collections of student work. Exemplars also offers a large library of problem-solving tasks that are aligned to the Common Core. Each of our performance tasks include annotated anchor papers that correspond to the four levels of our assessment rubric. These are a great resource that schools and districts can use to get started.

To learn more about our performance material or view sample tasks with anchor papers select from these grade levels K–2, 3–5, 6–8 and scroll down to the links in the “Task-Specific Assessment Notes.”

Preparing for the Common Core: Using Rubrics to Guide Teachers and Students

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

By: Ross Brewer, Ph.D., Exemplars President

As you begin preparing your staff to focus on the Common Core this year, rubrics should play a key role in terms of helping your teachers and students achieve success with the new standards.

 What are rubrics?

A rubric is a guide used for assessing student work. It consists of criteria that describe what is being assessed as well as different levels of performance.

Rubrics do three things:

  1. The criteria in a rubric tell us what is considered important enough to assess.
  2. The levels of performance in a rubric allow us to determine work that meets the standard and that which does not.
  3. The levels of performance in a rubric also allow us to distinguish between different levels of student achievement among the set criteria.

Why should teachers use them?

The Common Core assessment shifts posed challenges for many students. The use of rubrics allow teachers to more easily identify these areas and address them.

For Consistency. Rubrics help teachers consistently assess students from problem to problem and with other teachers through a common lens. As a result, both teachers and students have a much better sense of where students stand with regard to meeting the standards.

 To Guide Instruction. Because rubrics focus on different dimensions of performance, teachers gain important, more precise information about how they need to adjust their teaching and learning activities to close the gap between a student’s performance and meeting the standard.

To Guide Feedback. Similarly, the criteria of the rubric guides teachers in the kind of feedback they offer students in order to help them improve performance. Here are four guiding questions that teachers can use as part of this process:

  • What do we know the student knows?
  • What are they ready to learn?
  • What do they need to practice?
  • What do they need to be retaught?

How do students benefit?

Rubrics provide students with important information about what is expected and what kind of work meets the standard. Rubrics allow students to self-assess as they work on and complete problems. Meeting the standard becomes a process in which students can understand where they have been, where they are now and where they need to go. A rubric is a guide for this journey rather than a blind walk through an assessment maze.

Important research shows that teaching students to be strong self-assessors and peer-assessors are among the most effective educational interventions that teachers can take. If students know what is expected and how to assess their effort as they complete their work, they will perform at much higher levels than students who do not have this knowledge. Similarly, if students assess one another’s work they learn from each other as they describe and discuss their solutions. Research indicates that lower performing students benefit the most from these strategies.

Rubrics to Support the Common Core.

Exemplars assessment rubric criteria reflect the Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice and parallel the NCTM Process Standards. Exemplars rubric consists of four performance levels (Novice, Apprentice, Practitioner (meets standard) and Expert) and five assessment categories (Problem Solving, Reasoning and Proof, Communication, Connections and Representation).

Our rubrics are a free resource. To help teachers see the connection between our assessment rubric and the eight Standards for Mathematical Practice, we have developed two alignment documents:

Which alignment one uses will depend on the intended purpose of the user.

It’s never too young to start.

Students can begin to self-assess in Kindergarten. At Exemplars, we encourage younger students to start by using a simple thumbs up, thumbs sideways, thumbs down assessment as seen in the video at the bottom of the page.

Our most popular student rubric is the Exemplars Jigsaw Rubric. This rubric has visual and  verbal descriptions of each criterion in the Exemplars Standard Rubric along with the four levels of performance. Using this rubric, students are able to:

  • Self-monitor.
  • Self-correct.
  • Use feedback to guide their learning process.

How to introduce rubrics into the classroom.

In order for students to fully understand the rubric that is being used to assess their performance, they need to be introduced to the general concept first. Teachers often begin this process by developing rubrics with students that do not address a specific content area. Instead, they create rubrics around classroom management, playground behavior, homework, lunchroom behavior, following criteria with a substitute teacher, etc. For specific tips and examples, click here.

After building a number of rubrics with students, a teacher can introduce the Exemplars assessment rubric. To do this effectively, we suggest that teachers discuss the various criteria and levels of performance with their class. Once this has been done,  a piece of student work can be put on an overhead. Then, using our assessment rubric, ask students to assess it. Let them discuss any difference in opinion so they may better understand each criterion and the four performance levels. Going through this process helps students develop a solid understanding of what an assessment guide is and allows them to focus on the set criteria and performance levels.

Deidre Greer, professor at Columbus State University, works with students at a Title I elementary school in Georgia. Greer states that in her experience,

The Exemplars tasks have proven to be engaging for our Title I students. Use of the student-scoring rubric helps students understand exactly what is expected of them as they solve problems. This knowledge then carries over to other mathematics tasks.

At Exemplars, we believe that rubrics are an effective tool for teachers and students alike. In order to be successful with the new learning expectations set forth by the Common Core, it is important for students to understand what is required of them and for teachers to be on the same “assessment” page. Rubrics can help.

To learn more about Exemplars rubrics and to view additional samples, click here.

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