Collaboration Power: A Teacher’s Perspective

Antoinette SmithGuest blogger Antoinette Smith is a teaching fellow with Urban Teacher Center and a 4th and 5th grade teacher at Excel Academy Public Charter School, DC’s first all-girls public charter school. Here, she weighs in on findings from the NWEA study Make Assessment Matter.

I have found few teacher professional development opportunities as useful as “data-days,” where I can sit with my grade level teammates and content area colleagues to look closely at assessment results. These data days are particularly empowering because they give me the opportunity to reflect on my practice and consider my scholars’ misconceptions – and my own. From there I can begin to address those misconceptions by informing my instruction.

Understandably, many educators struggle with assessments. For one thing, the current culture surrounding assessment causes unnecessary stress and tension amongst teachers and school leaders. We become focused on meeting goals and increasing percentages and lose sight of how important assessment results can be to our instructional practice. While the push to exceed state goals can be motivating, it can also be daunting. It can pull teachers into an attitude of hesitation toward collaboration in an effort to have their own numbers speak for their effectiveness. However, this scrutiny around testing can dilute what has always been the real purpose of assessments—to better ourselves as educators and promote student growth. In Make Assessment Matter, more than half of the teachers surveyed feel more confident using assessment results to support classroom instruction after they collaborate with other educators and administrators. The results of this survey are a reflection of my sentiments on the importance of teamwork in regards to analysis of assessment results.

Teacher Findings Pie Chart

Besides scholars, teachers are the ones most affected by the assessments. Most often we are the ones who administer the assessments, and in some cases are evaluated by some of the results of these same assessments. Most importantly though, we stand to gain the most value from the data derived from these assessments. This is especially true when we can sit with like-minded individuals of our professional learning community and truly dive into assessment results to drive our own instruction.

Data days are strategizing times that happen monthly. They provide an opportunity for teachers to analyze teacher- created, formative, benchmark, diagnostic, and norm referenced assessments. With a copy of the assessments and student responses we spend an entire day “retaking” these assessments with a fine-tooth comb looking for scholar misconceptions. Teachers use the term scholar misconceptions to describe conceptual misunderstandings that cause students to incorrectly answer questions or to be distracted from the correct answer. We use what we have learned from this analysis to research strategies for re-teaching and create assessments to check for understanding and growth.

One of the most integral parts of this process is collaborating with other educators and in some cases assessment makers. Bringing together so many opinions and thoughts might seem chaotic in any other profession. In teaching, however, all involved parties have the same goal: student growth. This think tank style of working is valued and beneficial for teachers and scholars. Eighty percent of teachers and ninety-one percent of administrators reported that they collaborated to make use of assessment results in Make Assessment Matter. Additionally, of the 96% of teachers that reported using assessment results to inform instruction, 74% use it to adjust instructional strategies and 67% use assessment results to plan and differentiate instruction.

Collaboration offers a variety of perspectives and insights and a wealth of knowledge on different teaching strategies and resources. Account for the fact that many of the hands on deck know the students personally and it’s an almost guaranteed recipe for success. Assessment culture certainly has its pitfalls, but we should not allow ourselves to feel jaded about using the data and our best resources—each other.

Teacher Findings Bar Graph

NWEA released Make Assessment Matter: Students and Educators Want Tests that Support Learning, a national public opinion research study helps us understand what teachers, students, and district administrators believe about assessment. It is a follow up to the 2012 report For Every Child, Multiple Measures, which gauges the assessment needs of parents, teachers and district administrators.