Assessment Diaries: Aligning Classwork to the New Assessments

Assessment Diaries

Editor’s Note: Teaching Channel has partnered with Student Achievement Partners on a blog series about the new assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards. Learn more about this series.


How do Common Core-aligned assessments relate to your work in the classroom?


Cay Freeman: Grade 6-8 math intervention teacher and 28-year veteran teacher in Windsor, Connecticut

Cay Freeman

I have tried to make formative assessments the backbone of my lesson planning and the linchpins of my instruction. A big part of my planning is considering when and how to assess student understanding — and misunderstanding — as they progress toward mastery of a concept.

The formative assessments are now even more important with the creation of summative assessments — the PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests. Admittedly, my students are still struggling with procedural fluency, but I am now requiring my students to use computational skills in higher level work. I am also aligning my formative assessments with the type of higher level thinking called for in the standards. I ask my math students questions such as “What would happen if I changed this?” and they work collaboratively to “play” with the numbers or draw models to figure out what would happen.

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Videos and Resources for Making STEM Come Alive

DOWNLOAD a PDF of this STEM Playlist

Over the next several years, 80% of the fastest growing occupations in the United States depend on employees skilled in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). To maintain our global competitiveness and leadership in these fields, our students must become proficient in STEM concepts, and more importantly, they must want to learn more. This playlist features classroom projects that students will remember long after a class is over.

See how you can make STEM come alive in the classroom:

1. STEM Design Challenge: Edible Cars: In this video students engineer cars using different types of food. Students gain experience with various STEM-related skills, such as problem-solving, working collaboratively, research, and planning and executing a design process.

2. Experimenting with STEM: The Barbie Bungee Jump: Mr. Roda’s class uses Barbie dolls and rubber bands to perform experiments and calculate the line of best fit.

3. The Heat Loss Project: A STEM Exploration: This project combines technology and engineering to explore the abstract concept of thermal energy and how it works.

More STEM Resources

A Secret to Great Teaching: Maintain a Beginner’s Mindset

“In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” — Zen monk Shunryu Suzuki

Twenty-eight boundless students have just left my classroom. Some of their energy still hangs in the ceiling tiles after 48 minutes of planning, plotting, and scheming to carry out their idea to put on a Literary Character Dinner Party featuring figures we’ve read throughout the year. With my head spinning and my hand frantically capturing a list of all the details to work out in the next couple of weeks, I sent a message to a colleague: “What did I get myself into? This Literary Character Party is taking on a life of its own!” He quickly responded: “You knew this was going to happen. It always does.” Right. It does.

It happens because I leap. There’s an idea, a need, a way to turn senioritis on its head and with an amateur’s heart, I jump right in. Of course, that means I might kill myself working through all the details, but I think this is what keeps me growing and getting better as a teacher — the belief that I’m not an expert, I’m an amateur. And this is how I like it: seeing possibility in new places, asking questions, throwing out ten bad ideas to find the seed of a good one. Herein also lies a crucial misconception about teachers who have been recognized for their practice: it’s not because they’re perfect or experts, it’s because they embody Shunryu Suzuki’s Beginner’s Mind and possess an aspiration to see infinite possibility.

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Assessment Diaries: Incorporate Technology Into Your Assessment Practices

Assessment Diaries

Editor’s Note: Teaching Channel has partnered with Student Achievement Partners on a blog series about the new assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards. Learn more about this series.


How have you and your school helped students prepare for computer-based assessments this spring? What have you learned as you have incorporated technology into your assessment practices? How have your students responded?


Tricia Ebner: Gifted and talented middle school teacher in an ELA-based program in Hartville, Ohio

Tricia EbnerComputer-based testing is going to be a change for my students, who are used to the paper-and-pencil approach of our current assessments. I’ve been transitioning my students by encouraging them to do all of their writing on computers. For years, I followed the paper-and-pencil writing approach: kids drafted by hand, made revisions by hand, gave each other feedback by hand, made edits by hand, and then typed their final drafts on the computer.

Two years ago, I started using a collaborative folder on the computer. Students access each other’s papers and use the “review” ribbon in Word to give praise and suggest changes. What I am asking kids to do with their writing — drafting, revising, editing — is no different than before, but my students’ view of writing is so much more positive and enthusiastic. They are excited about having rough drafts ready to share with peers and they give each other more feedback (and higher-quality feedback) than before. Instead of seeing my students breeze through peers’ papers and slap Post-it notes with “Good job!” scrawled across them, I’m watching my students spend time carefully reading papers, pausing to make specific suggestions, or asking questions to help each other make the writing stronger. In fact, I’ve watched the kids create a dialogue based on other kids’ comments, adding an “I agree with her!” or “I’m not sure I would make that specific change, but I agree the word needs to be changed.” This is the kind of feedback I have always encouraged my students to give, but technology makes it so much easier. The quality of the kids’ writing is improving so much through this.

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Assessment Diaries: Why New Assessments?

Assessment Diaries

Editor’s Note: Teaching Channel has partnered with Student Achievement Partners on a blog series about the new assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards. Learn more about this series


As a teacher, why do you think we need new assessments? What needs to be true of these new assessments so that they reward the work you and your students are doing in your classroom?


Em LeBlanc: Grade 3 math, science, and social studies teacher in
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Em LeBlanc

This might be kind of embarrassing to admit, but I think I have been assessing my students incorrectly. As teachers, we have taught test-taking strategies and formats of tests so our kids were familiar with thinking about questions in different ways. That was fine, but the tests never assessed what my students actually knew—just that they actually knew test-taking strategies.

I have had some a-ha moments lately thinking about this. My assessments didn’t really match what I expected of my students during instruction. I’ve always had high expectations for them—I expect them to think critically, explain their thinking, and show different ways to solve a problem. Honestly, my tests didn’t have those same expectations.

With this realization, and the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, I started to ask myself: I already make sure my math lessons are rigorous and involve fluency, conceptual understanding, and application to real life, so why not assess that?

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How Do You Survive the Co-Teaching Marriage?


Can educators really be expected to survive a “co-teaching marriage” if nearly half of real marriages end in divorce? It’s not easy. But with the right approach and hard work, I have found the answer is yes! Real synergy can be created where each co-teacher can feed off of the positive energy and ideas that they get from the other. This collegiality can be another major way teachers can enjoy their career, in addition to the satisfaction of seeing their students succeed. Here’s how to have a successful co-teaching experience:


You can survive, and even thrive, in a co-teaching marriage if you make sure that you and your co-teacher are clear on the educational goals. As long as both of you can agree on the learning standards that need to be met, and the content and skills that need to be covered in a project, then all decisions should be measured by how well the plans for the class/project meet those goals.

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My Brother’s Keeper Initiative: Raising Student Achievement for Boys of Color

Standing in front of a group of determined young men of color at the White House, President Obama described his new initiative, “My Brother’s Keeper.” I heard his words, felt his conviction, and strong emotions surged within me – anger and exasperation, deepening my unwavering resolve. The call to end disparities in education and the criminal justice system for boys and young men of color, is a personal, professional, and moral one for me.

As an African American man and father of a two-year-old boy, the predictable outcomes that lie ahead for him – and other boys of varied brown hues – weigh heavily on me. My son has yet to encounter the subtle and sometimes blatant obstacles, but I know he will. This is a painful realization for any father or mother to carry. The cradle to prison pipeline, as well as the economic, educational, and violence statistics for black and brown boys in our country is devastating. And as President Obama said, many people in our country have “become numb to these statistics.”

We as educators must ask ourselves difficult questions to fight this numbness. Why have we grown so comfortable and accustomed to the current state of black and brown boys? How can we not see our failures to engage and authenticate their learning experience? Do we fear a society that has strong, educated, and fearless black men?

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What Do 500,000 Teachers Have In Common?

We are all members of the Teaching Channel community! Just today registration passed the half million mark. And there is something else 500,000 of us share: a passionate belief that teachers should be honored for the hard work and dedication demanded by this profession.

Teachers RockThe 22 of us who work at Teaching Channel are committed to celebrating your work with the videos we create. Even with nearly 900 videos on the site, we haven’t even scratched the surface on showcasing the amazing people who work so hard everyday to lift student achievement.

As we approach Teacher Appreciation Week (May 5-9), we want to start the festivities early. We’ve created three special videos celebrating great teaching. Pick a video below and share it with at least one teacher you think is doing great work. Tell them when you watch these videos, you’re reminded of them.

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The Assessment Diaries: Teacher Perspectives on How New Assessments Can Fuel Learning

Assessment Diaries - Teachers on Field Tests

Editor’s Note: Teaching Channel has partnered with Student Achievement Partners on a blog series about the new assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards. They have assembled a group of teachers who have either tried aligned sample assessment questions with their students or have participated in field testing of the new consortia (PARCC/Smarter Balanced) assessments this spring. Throughout the month of April, these teachers will share their thoughts, concerns, and optimism for what new assessments can mean for their classrooms. We hope this series will help ease fears and give teachers a platform for honest discussion.

Assessment season can bring on sweaty palms and racing hearts… for teachers. This year, there is an additional level of uncertainty as the Common Core State Standards are rolled out across the county and new assessments are being field tested or administered. This may feel like the moment of truth (how will my students do? how will that reflect on my teaching?), but it is just the beginning of the process of making sure our students are on track for success in college and beyond.

As teachers across the country are partaking in opportunities to understand, prepare for, and try new assessments in their classrooms, many are excited by what they’re seeing and how their students are responding. Like you, some have tried Common Core-aligned sample mini assessments and exercises from in their classrooms, as well as sample items and tasks released by both assessment consortia, PARCC and Smarter Balanced. Others are shifting their formative assessment practices in new and innovative ways to see how their students are doing with these new expectations. We’ve gathered a group of teachers from around the country to share honest reflections on how it’s going.

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Real-World Learning: Applying Science in Global Service (Deeper Learning)


A student holds an evenly dried mango slice over his head like a trophy. His feet are caked with the dry Haitian earth and his arms kissed by the equatorial sun. He and his classmates designed and tested this solar mango dryer as part of their ninth grade Environmental Analysis class, but that was months ago in New York. To see it working firsthand, to imagine its potential to enhance agroforestry, and to reduce vitamin A deficiency in this rural community – is thrilling.

9th grade-environmental analysis class project

It’s possible to weave together mastery and purpose in our science classes. We can and should implement projects that simultaneously engage students in rigorous scientific thinking and provide opportunities for students to make tangible contributions to their communities. At Tech Valley High School in New York, science students are engaged in projects such as urban soil remediation, invasive species tracking, sensor engineering for water quality monitoring, mapping food deserts, and quantifying carbon sinks. They master content better because they are applying their learning to initiatives that truly matter. The project that most exemplifies this interplay of mastery and purpose is Ayiti Resurrect – literally “Haiti Rising” – a 5-year, multi-disciplinary environmental service project that is changing lives in the farming community of Komye, Haiti.

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