With Assessment Literacy Training, Oregon Teachers See New Ways to Help Students

This post was written by Jessica Arnold, Senior Program Associate at WestEd.

Today, we’re announcing a report that shows that when teachers are given time and training to dig into the Smarter Balanced assessment, they begin to see new ways to help their students learn the problem-solving, critical thinking, and writing skills they need for success in college and careers.

More than 260 Oregon educators participated in a pilot workshop series in January and February of 2015 that gave them in-depth, hands-on training designed to help them better understand the Smarter Balanced performance tasks and how they relate to the Common Core Standards.

Named Building Educator Assessment Literacy (BEAL), the sessions were led by Oregon teachers who had gone through a “train the trainer” program. The Oregon Department of Education assisted with teacher recruitment and implementation of the project.

After the workshop, participants said that the additional professional development helped them see a stronger connection between the needs of their students and the challenging academic standards measured by the Smarter Balanced tests. In addition, their opinion of the tests’ value for helping student learning improved.

Here are some teacher responses to the training:

“I am very encouraged and excited because I feel that I can change my curriculum and lessons to mirror the rigor of the performance tasks and it will give my students a deeper understanding of the math concepts, thereby connecting their learning even closer with the Common Core State Standards.”

“There’s a lot of bad press out there [about the Smarter Balanced assessment] and I think that once people take the time to learn about it, they realize that, oh, well this is really going to be a good measure of what my students know and can do.”

Before and after surveys of teachers participating in the training showed that they made large leaps in their understanding of the test, their preparedness to teach, and their ability to help their students do well on the performance tasks.

Before the training, only about 52% of the teachers reported that they were familiar with the criteria for high-quality performance assessment. After the training, that number increased to nearly 93%. Before the training, less than half of the teachers felt that they had sufficient professional training to support the shift to Smarter Balanced. After the training, more than 82% reported they felt sufficiently prepared. The training also gave the teachers a 23% increase in confidence that their classroom instruction will help their students perform well on Smarter Balanced performance tasks.

This pilot project has important implications for an approach to professional development that is educator driven, educator responsive, and designed to help students better prepare for their futures. It also showcases the importance of helping teachers strengthen their own “assessment literacy” so they can use Smarter Balanced and other assessments as important sources of information for improving curricular planning.

The BEAL work was funded by the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Stuart Foundation, and the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, and developed by WestEd together with the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity (SCALE).

Find the report here.

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