Sunday, September 23, 2012

Assessment Priorities: Advancing Curriculum Mapping

'The Great Wall' photo (c) 2005, moniqca - license:

Assessment is the cornerstone of all curriculum design.

When we begin with the end in mind, a la Jay McTighe’s and Grant Wiggin’s work in Understanding by Design, we set a path for success focused on a target. (Read Chapter 11--it’s an eye opener!)

Some of you may remember how the Triple A company used to prepare Travel Triptiks for customers in a pre-Google Map world. Triptiks were a trip planning tool that were designed with the destination in mind. As you traveled from your current location to your intended destination, you were given different routes, points of interest, and drop-in suggested side trips that would enhance your journey while still achieving your desired destination. In order to create the Triptik, though, you had to identify the destination. Otherwise, how would you plan your trip?

I think of these often when I think about curriculum. The assessment is our destination. Our path is the Triptik. Side trips are awesome, different points of interest are engaging, and we don’t have to travel the same linear path as everyone else.

The problems arise when we know our destination, but travel to other places instead. For instance, if I lived in Jacksonville, Florida and wanted to travel to San Antonio, Texas; I wouldn’t stop in Chicago first. I’m sure that comparison is clear enough, but it’s not so neat when we think about curriculum design. Whatever our objective is, depending on the standards we are addressing, it is dependent on the instruction we offer to our students. If an assessment asks students to evaluate and create but our instruction asks only that they remember and comprehend, then we’ve taken a wrong direction somewhere and end up in a swamp of learning limbo.

So how to remedy the opposite of symbiotic planning? Think cognition. Think purpose. Think of how you’re going to ask kids to prove what they’ve learned.

Most of the states in the country are aligning instruction and assessment to the Common Core. In the course of upgrading curriculum and/or curriculum maps, many are paying attention to the instructional elements but not necessarily the assessment elements.

In a recent conversation with second grade teachers, I discovered that students were really falling down on the common assessments that the teachers were using in math. I asked the teachers what they thought was going on. Some responded that the students were just lazy and others thought that the tests were just too hard. I asked them if they had really looked at the test questions. I asked them if they were teaching the skills that the students would need to answer the questions successfully. I asked if the skills to answer the questions correctly were part of their “planned-for” instruction and whether or not they were represented in their curriculum maps.

They weren’t sure. So, question by question, we broke down the skills a student would need to answer a particular question correctly. What we discovered was that those skills aren't necessarily being taught. It was an uncomfortable conversation, but the teachers were using worksheets that came with their math textbooks, as they always had, and using assessments that represented the standards and were created by the teachers. There was a mismatch. The rigor of the instruction rarely matched the rigor of the assessment.

I have to admit, there were some tears in that workshop. The reliance on the worksheets and the assumption that they were building fluency were flawed. They were preparing kids for Chicago, but not San Antonio.

In order to impact learning, we have to be cognizant of and plan for the intricacies of curriculum symbiosis. That means that instruction and assessment must have a high degree of parallelism in terms of levels of cognition, types of activities, individual student priorities, content, etc. Our main curriculum priority upgrade focus, then, must be assessments. I know some may read this and see the message: “teach to the test.” Just to clarify, that is NOT what I’m saying here. What I’m advocating for is to teach FOR the test. If instruction prepares students well, then the assessment will be a true measure of learning versus a hope and a prayer that students “get it.”

In our upcoming ASCD book, Upgrade Your Curriculum: Practical Ways to Transform Units and Engage Students, (Tentative Feb. 2013) Janet Hale and I discuss assessment as an entry level to transforming instructional design and practice. This includes the examination of curriculum, assessments, instruction of the future versus instruction of the past, and more. We recently found out, as planned in the writing of the book, that we will be able to leverage ASCD Edge to amplify the book and have interactive moments between us and our readers.

This interactive/social element will be coming in mid-January / early February just before the book is to be published. In the meantime, we’ll be blogging about the elements of the upgrades and transformations that we are describing in the book. With this post, and our previous post on “Planting A Seed,” we will be looking at advancing curriculum design and practice as well as share additional examples of Upgrades and Transformations from the field.

Cure for the Common Core eBook now available.

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