Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Customizing the Common Core: Making Mastery Connect ...Connect

Customizing the Common Core: Making Mastery Connect ...Connect

Read the following Common Core Standard:

1. Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.
  1. Introduce claim(s), acknowledge and distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and organize the reasons and evidence logically.
  2. Support claim(s) with logical reasoning and relevant evidence, using accurate, credible sources and demonstrating an understanding of the topic or text.
  3. Use words, phrases, and clauses to create cohesion and clarify the relationships among claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.
  4. Establish and maintain a formal style.
  5. Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the argument presented.
 Look familiar? I am sure that the ELA teachers can just about quote it verbatim by now.  This is ONE standard, but look at the components.  It is one thing when a standard has multiple components that seem to build on one another, but when I look at W.8.1 I see a standard that is more of a salad bowl than a melting pot.  The sub-standards seem so discrete to me that they could almost be their own standards altogether.  Which is exactly what my student's performance shows, for they may be selecting high-quality evidence, generating middling reasons, and failing entirely to include a counterclaim.  How can I give them one score to indicate the mastery of this standard when their performance is so varied? Do I err on the side of their strengths, or do I tie their rating to their areas of need?  I am no longer interested in choosing between one or the other.  I want to get actionable data for each piece of the puzzle.

Mastery Connect can be used to truly report student's progress for even the most minute sub-standard, even if the Common Core Standard does not yet exist.  Can't find the standard(s) you want, or can't generate meaningful data around specific skills that your students struggle to master?  Make them up!

1.) Go to your curriculum map, locate a particular unit, and find the offending standard within that unit.

2.) Open the "Lines" menu and select, "Add Sub Standard"

3.) Maybe you'll get lucky and there will be suggestions or pre-existing sub standard, but I just went for the DIY option right away

4.) For the sake of organization and consistency, you are best off observing the same naming convention already established by the CCSS creators.  I simply appended my new sub standard with a letter that corresponded to the order it is listed in the description of the "parent" standard.  Then I borrowed the original CCSS language for the "Short Description".

5.) Create!

6.) Once you have created you new "custom" sub standard it will show up in the curriculum map nested under its "parent" standard.  Now you are free to create assessments that specifically target that sub standard, or break down any assessment of the parent standard into its constituent parts to get a clearer sense of what your students can actually do.

This more nuanced view of the data allows for instant small group, targeted, instruction that will address precisely what students need.

Setting Rubrics Up For Success

Setting Rubrics Up For Success

We have lived with the Common Core State Standards for quite some time now.  In fact, at WSC we have about a year or two more experience with many of the schools in New York City, for we saw the way the winds were blowing and tacked accordingly.  

Whether yo love them, hate them, or fall somewhere in between, you must admit that they have provided a common language that has sped our increase in academic rigor.  Still, they are bit imperfect.  They do not always fit in the way you want, or need, them to.

Recently I have been looking at may of our 8th grade rubrics and performing small, outpatient, surgeries on them.  I have had a lot of difficulty being confident in the rubric-based scores/ratings I have been giving students for their work.  In the 8th grade we have been using the New York State Argument Writing rubric as a basis for most of the feedback given to students about their mastery of skills, but there are places where criteria is co-mingled.

Placing multiple standards/criteria in a single row frustrates your ability to be precise in your rating and in your feedback.  Yes it is true that you can work around it, but why?  Split them up! Doing so will not take up any more space, and you can help your students tease out their level of mastery in a much more straightforward way.

Using Mastery Connect to Make Data-Driven Programming Decisions for PLMs

Using Mastery Connect to Make Data-Driven Programming Decisions for PLMs

As the first cycle of PLM comes to a close it is necessary, if we are being faithful to the original vision, to use data about students’ level of mastery.  In the past someone would have to look at multiple spreadsheets that contained data related to students’ performance on a variety of, at times, idiosyncratic assessments.  I say idiosyncratic because even if a team started out with the same intent, and maybe an agreement on the standards being addressed, there were often revisions that crucially altered the nature of the assessment from classroom to classroom.

Today as I sit down with the hopes of coaxing to the surface the oft-elusive snapshot of students’ mastery, I have tool that makes visible our renewed commitment to common assessment.  Mastery Connect allows a teacher/programmer to compare apples to apples, and know how good those apples are.  Because the CCSS are written in such a way that RI.8.2 is simply the older, more sophisticated, sibling of RI.7.2, we can safely bundle the two together and target the heart of the skill with the same instructional technique (RI.7.2, for those keeping score, is, Determine two or more central ideas in a text and analyze their development over the course of the text; provide an objective summary of the text.).

With a few clicks you can generate a grade-wide look at student mastery (see ‘Teacher Reports Overview’ for a step by step guide).  
What these reports show is the state of your grade’s mastery on whichever standards comprise your selected assessment.

Once you have surfaced the grade-wide needs it is time to drill down to determine the needs of the individual students within the larger grade-wide pattern.  I made a few false-starts when trying to facilitate this level of analysis, but with the help of our friendly neighborhood ed-tech-super-heroes at Teaching Matters I was able to try a method that seems to have some staying power.

I created a whole-grade tracker for the seventh and eighth grades.  These aren’t the type of instructional trackers that you use in your classroom wherein you add assessments and score them, rather think of it as a reporting warehouse.  These trackers provide me with the most up-to-date look at standards mastery on a student level.

This tracker will update with every addition of new data (including data entered as a result of assessments administered during PLM! Data indicated by the “dog-ear” in the upper left corner of the cell).

I identified three areas of need that were shared by both the 7th and 8th grade and was able to generate a list of students who needed support with those skills.  When I had done that I needed to prioritize the needs of the students.  As is often the case, students were weak in multiple areas, and therefore I needed to consult the Mastery Connect tool to see what percentage of assessment questions (tied to each specific standard) they were able to answer correctly.  The lower the percentage correct the higher the priority.  This data was cross-referenced with data that we received as a result of ELA state test analysis.

Students, in the end, were placed in a PLM group that was either their first, or second highest area of need.  The Mastery connect tool was leveraged in such a way that the most recent assessment data informed every step of the process.  Now, PLM represents, to borrow an economics prefix, the macro application of Mastery Connect.  The same process, in miniature, is highly doable for your individual class.  This is especially true when you consider that the assessment calendars have been set ahead of time and teachers are able to see if there are standards that are going to repeat from unit to unit (or assessment to assessment).  These power standards that show up often are central to building a strong understanding of a student’s progress towards mastery, and if Mastery Connect can accelerate our instructional interventions, then it is certainly worth exploring.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Feedback As a Lever

One of the things that we hope to solidify this year is the practice of providing students with clear and actionable feedback.  The importance of this cannot be overstated, for the more I think about it, the more I find that feedback is central to all of our present initiatives.

We are presently focused on:
  • Student Centered Learning
  • Student Self-Reflection
  • Goal-Setting as a Means To Improved Mastery
  • Release of Responsibility and the Fostering of Independence
  • Data-Driven Instruction
Each rests on a foundation of students knowing where they are.  We work extensively with rubrics in class, and do a lot to help students understand how they are a tool for them to understand their performance, and fodder for their goal-setting efforts.

Because of its centrality to our school's mission I did some reading of some professional text this summer.  Here are a few things to consider:

"John Hattie and Helen Timperley (2007) explained that its [feedbacks] purpose is 'to reduce discrepancies between current understandings and performance and a goal' (p. 86)" (Marzano 2009).

Researcher Valerie Shute said feedback is "information communicated to the learner that is intended to modify his or her thinking or behavior for the purpose of improving learning. (p. 154)" (Marzano 

"Hattie and Timperley (2007) synthesized the most current and comprehensive research in feedback and summarized findings from twelve previous meta-analyses, incorporating 196 studies and 6,972 ESs** (Effect Size[s]).  They calculated an overall average of 0.79 for feedback (translating to a 29 percentile point gain).  As shown by Hattie (2009), this is twice the average ES of typical educational innovations" (Marzano 2009).

** for an explanation of Effect Size see

Here is a quick graphic that clarifies the jargon above.  The higher the ES the more impactful the practice.

"They (Hattie and Timperley)  argued that feedback regarding the task, the process, and self-regulation is often effective, whereas feedback regarding the self (often delivered as praise) typically does not enhance learning and achievement.

Learning can be enhanced to the degree that students share the challenging goals of learning, adopt self-assessment and evaluation strategies, and develop error detection procedures and heightened self-efficacy to tackle more challenging tasks leading to mastery and understanding of lessons. (Hattie and Timperley (2007)" (Marzano 2009).

One of the things that I have incorporated into all of my written and verbal feedback is one, or two, quick things that a student could do next time to improve their performance.  We all know the importance chunking goals, and it is crucial that we temper student's expectations to go from a low level of performance to an extremely high one.  Just as with SMARTe goals in Base Camp we have to show them how realistic baby-steps are the surest way to guarantee success, and then offer them a couple baby steps to take right away.

Rethinking 3rd Party Learning Assessments

By now you have all administered at least one assessment of your students' learning.  If you are are a humanities teacher you may have used an Expeditionary Learning mid, or end-of, unit assessment. (Math teachers, don't check out yet, for the reveal could be useful to you, even if the particulars are irrelevant.)

The 8th grade team was meeting to norm around a mid-unit assessment aimed at determining student's ability to evaluate author's purpose AND to define unfamiliar words by using context clues. Following our norming session, we intended to score the assessment and enter the data into Mastery Connect.  The rest of this post assumes that you can upload/create an assessment in Mastery Connect. If you cannot I'll refer you to this video:

Click here for video

 The assessment had about 16 questions*, and as is good practice, each question was originally linked to a CCSS.  In this case, RI.8.4, RI.8.6, SL.8.2, and SL.8.3. Because the assessment contained a few questions that were binary in nature, the assessment structure listed them as true/false.  The behind-the-scenes aspect of this assessment (and many to come in the future) seemed intimidating.

While norming we recognized that entering the data for each question would not only require more time, but would actually create a misleading report, for not all of the questions were well-suited to showing a student's mastery.

Instead, we identified multiple best questions for each standard (yet fewer than were originally listed), and bundled them together as sequential criteria in the behind-the-scenes Mastery Connect assessment "adder".

This allowed us to target our scoring efforts, and shaved time off of our data entry.  Both things were done without sacrificing the nature of the assessment, and in the end we were able to transfer a student's level of mastery (as dictated by the cut-scores listed for mastery and near mastery) to a rubric (with actionable feedback) that students are familiar with.

Try to manipulate your next assessment to save time and target your feedback.  You will be happy you did.

Leveraging mastery Connect -- A Mini Inquiry Cycle

Greetings and Salutations

Towards Mastery and Beyond will be a blog that tracks my progress as I work to strengthen my practice with regard to the creation of a robust culture of assessment in my classroom.  Having said that, I must follow with the revelation of my hope that the content that follows will be useful to all teachers. I am aiming to have my shared thoughts be instructive, provocative, open to question and certainly to improvement.

You can look forward to posts dealing with the fundamentals of formative assessment (and the catalyst if you harbor no arsonist impulses), and also some technical tips/tricks for Mastery Connect.
journey towards the implementation of those principles in my classroom), the leveraging of the Mastery Connect tool as an accelerant (or a

I hope you visit often, and enjoy the content.  I will try to keep it as engaging and useful as possible.