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Assessment, Common Core State Standards Questions

Jordan Catapano

With the Common Core Standards taking more of a center stage presence in education, it’s important for you to intimately familiarize yourself with the Common Core Standards associated with your discipline. And along with the standards, you should become well-acquainted with the different methods for assessing these standards.

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As you prepare for that next interview, department meeting, or professional development, you can equip yourself by thinking through answers to the following questions.

1. What role do you see formative and summative assessments playing within your classroom?

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Formative assessments are designed to give you and the student feedback about their current performance and guide them toward improvement. Summative assessments often come at the end of a given period of instruction and depict how a student’s final performance on a given skill or set of knowledge is.

A teacher should regularly implement a variety of formative assessments -- including written work, homework, group work, and other measureable assessments -- for tracking student growth and giving feedback. If a student shows a lack of growth or is struggling with a particular skill, then the formative assessments become the tools used to help a student improve. Formative assessments, in a sense, raise the “yellow flag” and give warning of a student’s performance. When the teacher feels it appropriate, they may allow students to revise their formative work.

Summative assessments are generally less frequent but more comprehensive. Instead of focusing on feedback and improvement, the summative assessments provide the opportunity to ascertain to what extent the student has acquired mastery over a particular skill in comparison to other students and class standards. While summative assessments typically do not offer a chance to revise or improve, they do provide critical data that helps indicate how individual students and classes in total work up to standards.

2. How do you get every student to reach the Common Core Standards essentials?

The sad reality is that you can never literally get every student to achieve every standard. You can certainly try, though. And try you will. When thinking through this question, think about the two main essentials for any kind of quality teaching towards standards: You as the teacher need to be well-acquainted with the Common Core Standards and you need to vary your instruction and feedback to for each student. There’s no cut-and-dry way to reach every child every time, but with enough devotion to multiple intelligences, differentiation, motivation and feedback, you can get your students to all improve their performance. While they may not necessarily reach the standard you need them to, they will at least show improvement.

3. What do you see as being the most effective way of measuring student growth in Common Core Standards?

The built-in answer to any kind of “common” educational practice is standardized testing. This kind of testing puts your students onto the same playing field as millions of others so you can see how they measure up. However, this is not the only method. A talented mixture of formative and summative assessments will help you, as an individual teacher, know where your students are improving and where they are lacking.

Formative assessments that regularly track growth in a particular skill will be your guide to success. This way both you and the student can see how they are progressing. Using some kind of standardized grading tool -- like a rubric -- will keep the feedback clear and consistent, breaking down the different areas of their performance and helping students set goals for their own growth.

4. How should standardized testing data be used to make student and curriculum decisions in your classroom?

While you never want the cold, dry data to be the sole factor in decisions, it should play a healthy role. Standardized testing data helps you quickly perceive where your students are excelling and where they are faltering, as compared to millions of other students.

This kind of feedback is helpful when you make decisions in a few key areas. First, if you notice that your entire class tends to do poorly in particular areas, this might be an indication of areas you can make adjustments in as a teacher. Let the data here guide you to reassess your curriculum and to reconsider your delivery of the content. Secondly, if you notice the highs and lows of individual students, then you can create intervention plans that may help remediate students in those areas they may be weak in.

The data helps to give numerical insights into student performance, but make sure you combine the data with the story behind the numbers and what you know about each individual student’s needs to fully address how you can help them improve.

5. Would you consider the Common Core Standards to be a step forward or a step backward for education?

There are plenty of pros and cons to the Common Core; but your objective as a teacher is to not dwell on the negatives. Rather, if your state has adopted the Common Core, then that means you’ve adopted them too, and it’s your responsibility to focus on the positives. So while there are factors related to it that make it seem like a “step backwards,” don’t allow this to blur your vision from the big picture. The Common Core is here and it sets a standard that you are responsible for helping your students obtain. Embrace it, and also understand that it takes time -- most likely years -- to fully adjust your teaching and your students to a new set of standards.

6. In what ways would you tie Common Core Standards to your curriculum?

Your answer here is contingent upon what discipline you fall under and what your current curriculum is. The important distinction to remember, however, is that the Common Core Standards generally represent skills or benchmarks that your students should be able to attain. Curriculum -- referring to the general “content” of your course -- should be the more flexible, tool-like component that shifts depending on the skills you’re attempting to get your students to obtain. So essentially what you’re looking for is how you can adopt the appropriate curriculum to lead your students to accomplishing your grade’s standards. Curriculum without a connection toward any standards is curriculum that ought to be reconsidered.

7. Do you believe your curriculum should change to include Common Core Standards, or should you adapt the standards to fit your curriculum?

Unfortunately, you don’t really have a choice in this question. The “common” core standards are common precisely because you cannot adapt them. Like the question above, what this question is pointing toward is the relationship between content and standards. The standards are the steadfast goal, and the content is the vehicle to get there. You can get to your destination with a car, a boat, a helicopter, or on the back of a pterodactyl, but you’re still trying to get to the same location.

8. What are some different types of formative assessments you like to use in your classroom?

The term “formative assessment” can be used relatively loosely because it implies that any kind of work that allows for feedback and growth is formative. The more traditional chapter tests, reading quizzes, quick writes, and writeups are all ways that a student’s performance can be measured. However, you can also include other areas where feedback is possible, including speeches, class discussions, note-taking, homework assignments, and in-class work. Typically taking a broad-yet-methodical approach to formative assessments gives you a range of information about all your students. When coupled with simple-to-understand rubrics, students and teachers can quickly ascertain where their strengths and weaknesses lie and work toward improvement.