Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Forecasting Student Performance

As the state was trapped at home with two days and two feet of snow and shoveling, anyone watching the news was inundated with data.  Forecasts predicting the timeline of the snow, snowfall totals, hourly temperatures and wind speeds.  Constant updates on weather conditions, road conditions, school closures, power outages, storm budget expenditures... the data went on and on.  And as the storm draws to a close, we'll now receive our summative data and data comparisons- who had the most/least snowfall totals?  Who had the most storm damage?

While weathermen are frequently criticized for their inaccurate predictions, I'm actually quite impressed by how well they forecast, given the changeability of conditions.  While we lack satellites and weather balloons, given our educational landscape is equally, if not more, variable, what instruments can we use to predict student performance?

EWIS, or Early Warning Indicator System, provides academic milestones that have a positive correlation with high school graduation.

Interim assessment programs, like ANet and NWEA MAP provide means of measuring student growth throughout the year, and predicting student outcomes on future interims or summative assessments.  These might be in the form of a growth calculation or prediction, comparison between students, classes or schools, or resources to set individual student goals.

Common rubrics for monitoring student open responses, performance tasks, and written responses/essays are also gaining more frequency in use as the summative assessment (PARCC, Smarter Balanced) landscape changes.

And don't discount those other non-academic measures, like:

  • early childhood education attendance;
  • attendance K-12;
  • school engagement and sense of belonging, as measured by middle or high school; extracurricular participation;
  • behavior- suspension and office referral rates; and
  • observed "soft-skill" behaviors like grit, communication, integrity, honesty, flexibility, and optimism.

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Friday, January 23, 2015

Progress Monitoring with Student Performance

It's that time of year again- PARCC and MCAS assessments are on the horizon and quarter two grades are in. When we think about our available student data, beyond the summative assessments, we look for what can be seen, heard or counted, for example:

  • Questioning and probing in the classroom
  • Monitoring independent work
  • Using rubrics to evaluate student progress
  • Formal and informal student assessments
  • Attendance- both in class and in intervention programs
  • Student behavior charts and office referrals
  • Classroom visits/observations
Research suggests that classrooms or schools that are most effective in monitoring student learning have multiple and frequent measures in place, have a common data dashboard that makes data recording and analysis user-friendly, have a system of feedback in place, and set high expectations.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Measuring Students' "Soft Skills"

Last week's blog post continued on this theme of looking at other measures of student success, particularly those non-cognitive or "soft skills" like grit and self-control.  This week, I continue in this frame, further exploring how we assess students' capacity in these often-termed "soft skills."

In an article by Martin West, Associate Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, West finds that gaps in non-cognitive skills may contribute to the achievement gap, yet may be more likely to be positively impacted by interventions.  In his article he explores how these skills can be measured to identify gaps in students' ability to persevere.  While West finds that surveys or questionnaires currently available may be effective in measuring students' level of grit, conscientiousness or self-control, they do not accurately measure the impact of schools, teachers and supports to develop those characteristics.

Earlier this week, NY Times blogger Anna North asked the question, Should Schools Teach Personality? reflecting on the current trend to support grit and self-control in academic settings.  Yet perhaps the bigger question, as framed by West and Angela Duckworth, is not whether these traits should be taught but rather how to monitor the impact of student supports and interventions.  And as we look at closing the achievement gaps, particularly among our low income, high needs, English language learners and students with disabilities, this question of how to teach and progress monitor supports for non-cognitive skills becomes that much more relevant.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Other Measures of Student Success (Continued)

As an educator I'm constantly thinking about the success of the students in the districts I serve, and as a parent, my own children's knowledge and understanding as well.  Perhaps to the chagrin of my children, when I selected gifts for them this past Christmas, it focused predominately on the educational variety- a game to teach the alphabet and another focusing on number sense, books, and dramatic play activities (I should probably mention my kids are quite young).  And puzzles, lots of puzzles.

There has been a significant focus on nonacademic indicators of student success throughout the past three years.  Outside of a student's eighth grade Algebra score, attendance, suspension rate, and MCAS scores, how can we identify students who are likely to succeed in high school and college?  Students who appear to have an unlikely chance of success- low income, parents who didn't graduate from high school, non-English speaking background, no early childhood education, learning or health disabilities- yet perform at high levels, what characteristics do they share?  And can we support those traits in other students?

Research by Eli Tsukayama Angela Duckworth and others have overwhelmingly found a correlation between grit and student performance.  Students who have the skill to persevere when faced with difficulty or opposition, and to sustain interest and effort toward a goal, perform at higher levels.  Duckworth's research found a strong correlation between grit and students' lifetime educational achievement.  And this measure may not just predict student performance, but teacher performance as well, as Duckworth's research finds a correlation between grit and novice teacher retention and performance.

Researchers, academics, test companies and education programs are now looking at measures of grit, self-control and other non-academic measures of student success.  What once we thought could not be measured quantitatively, is now being assessed through norm and criterion-referenced tests.  Duckworth's lab at the University of Pennsylvania has developed the Academic Diligence Task.  ETS is piloting their own measure of grit for higher education levels, and ACT is exploring the impact of non-academic factors in college success as well.

So how do we foster grit in our PK-12 students?

  • teach strategies that support students in "sticking with" a difficult problem, rather than giving up
  • support students with goal-setting and monitoring their own individual progress, fostering a growth mindset
  • provide high expectations, rigorous academic content, that provide students opportunities to struggle with challenging academic situations and practice perseverance
  • make time- recognize that teaching grit and expecting students to stick with a challenge takes time!
  • and in the words of my two-year old daughter, "more puzzles please!"
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