By Guestblogger Catherine Tighe
As we clean up the classroom for the end of the year, my kindergarten students’ reflections and conversations about their accomplishments indicate how much they have learned this year. One student observes how her classmates’ handmade names, created in the beginning of the year for our display board, were big, wiggly, and uppercase; now they write their names with precision and expertise and with appropriate upper and lowercase letters. Another asks if next year’s kindergarteners will learn all of the letters and sounds so they, too, will be able to write and publish stories. A few students enthusiastically stack and organize the books in our “favorite stories” library. They share quick references to characters and storylines that have instilled in them a love of literature and reading. They are filled with pride and excitement, thinking about all they have learned and the joy that they experienced throughout the year.
I can see their progress clearly, but finding precise ways to capture that progress is a huge challenge for educators like me, who teach the grades and subjects that are inherently harder to measure. Even though my kindergartners don’t take traditional tests, I still use established assessments to measure their progress regularly, inform my instruction and help me identify gaps in their learning. Figuring out the right assessments for that purpose is critical, both for my students’ learning and ultimately for how my effectiveness as a teacher is evaluated. That’s why I am honored to be part of the conversation that is happening at the state and national level about how we, as educators, should measure progress of our students in non-tested grades and subjects. Next month, I will be attending two events aimed at bringing teachers’ voices to the discussion about assessment tools.
First, I’ll join a group of other Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellows for a meeting with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and his senior team to discuss this issue and share teacher feedback from Assessment Advisor, an teacher-created online ratings tool that allows teachers to review the assessments they use in their classrooms. The teachers behind Assessment Advisor have created a database for feedback about assessments already in place, including the amount of time used to administer and the quality of the information that is generated. That data—which comes directly from more than 1,000 reviews written by teachers in almost all 50 states—is incredibly valuable as states, districts and school leaders make decisions about how to measure student learning across all grades and subjects, and how to make sure all our students are getting the skills they need to succeed.
Then I will come home to Boston to participate in the District Determined Measures Anchor Standards Development Panel for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. For that panel, I’ll join other kindergarten teachers to give feedback to my state education leaders about appropriate and effective ELA/literacy assessments for kindergarten. The district-determined measures will play an integral role in the newly implemented teacher evaluation system. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to voice my opinion, experiences, and knowledge to help shape the way we document and showcase developmentally appropriate growth, and to identify measures that will ultimately contribute to a fair picture of my effectiveness as a teacher.
I am extremely hopeful that the two events will elicit specific indicators we can use to measure progress in kindergarten. This is by no means an effort to implement testing for the young. Rather, it is a way to gather teachers’ input on how educators can start using more precise, reliable, and effective measurements to capture and celebrate the learning and growth that happens in non-tested grades and subjects. Just because our subjects aren’t measured easily by traditional tests, that doesn’t mean that we don’t need and want data on our students’ progress to help us improve our practice, target interventions, and celebrate our students’ achievements.
Catherine Tighe teaches kindergarten in the Somerville Public Schools in Somerville, MA. She is a Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellow.