Standards and Mastery

One of the things I’ve struggled with this past year is assessment.  I am not satisfied with the standard multiple choice test as a way of measuring students’ learning.  They, as I did, often memorize information for the test without processing it enough to make it knowledge, as Janet Allen used to say.

So, I’m thinking of questions:

  • What is mastery?
  • How do we know when students have mastered the standards?
  • Do we say the standards are mastered when more than half the class passes the assessment? Or does 100% of the class have to show mastery?
  • How do we assess mastery?

I haven’t found all the answers. During the summer, I am working on choosing priority standards for the units I plan to teach.  Fortunately, the South Carolina department of education does have a list of priority standards for ELA for each grade level, and that helps me determine what might be the most important standards to focus on.  From those priority standards, I can assign each standard to my units.

I am also working on unpacking the standards.  I’m learning how to analyze the standards so that I can cut through the extra verbiage! I’ve found this process to be helpful:

  1. Begin by highlighting in one color the verbs:  these are the processes students will need to do.
  2. Highlight in another color the nouns: these identify the knowledge students must have.  This often involves the vocabulary students need to know.
  3. Identify the skills students will need.
  4. Identify what else students need to know and be able to do.

It sounds complicated. It sounds intensive. I think it will be worth the effort, though, to ensure the students are learning.

But still, it comes down to assessment.  I know I need both formative assessment and summative assessment.

So, my next “project” is to continue to research ways to assess standards rather than content. In my school, it is a bit of an unpopular way of thinking, but I suppose in all of education, it is unpopular.  We are used to thinking of our subjects in terms of content:  what is Romeo and Juliet about? What are the metaphors in this or that passage?

But I think the goals should be larger:  can students understand any Shakespearean play?  Can they recognize and understand the metaphors in some other piece of text?  Can students take those skills into new situations?

Last year, I gave a different kind of exam.  It was multiple choice, but it also assessed the skills I had been teaching.  Students were asked to identify figurative language in selections they had not read before. They were asked to interpret the texts as best they could with a multiple choice test. Some students did well; others did not.

I suppose for a final exam, the multiple choice test made sense.  But does it make sense for assessment during the school year?  This is my challenge for the year: to develop assessments that help me see whether students are simply recalling information or whether they are moving up the ladder of Bloom’s Taxonomy or Depth of Knowledge toward mastery.

Leave a Reply