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Balanced assessment empowers teachers, students and families

DCSD’s Body of Evidence

The Douglas County School District has a tradition of excellence when it comes to state-mandated standardized tests. Even so, the District expects its performance to get even stronger as a result of its efforts to implement World Class Education and authentic assessments.  Here are a few of DCSD’s current data points.

Accredited with Distinction

AP Honor Roll


National Merit
2014-15: 21 semi-finalists
2013-14: 16 semi-finalists

PARKER - Legend High School math teacher Cari Corley says her parent-teacher conferences are well-attended and often longer than a typical conference, in part because of the way she handles assessment in her classroom.

Parents, who were accustomed to a different model of learning - one resembling the way they learned in school, often line up to ask why their kids don’t have to do hours of math problems every night.

“Parents are sometimes a bit stressed,” Corley explained. “I do give homework every night, but I'm clear with students, I don't really care if you do it. If you walked out of here and you know how to do the math, I want you to go throw 20 free throws or call your grandma, or whatever. Be a person.”

In Corley’s class homework is followed by a quick check up formative assessment called “Titan Time.” These are done at the beginning of the class and are proficiency checks. Whether it takes two, ten or thirty problems, students are ready to move forward with the next topic when they demonstrate the concept accurately. If they’re having a lot of trouble with the homework, instead of spending hours struggling, she would rather them come in for tutoring.

“If you're lost, don't spend two hours sitting at the kitchen table, stressing,” Corley said.

Often parents still expect the drills they were used to during their time in school.

We have become used to math homework including the model: “You are going to do one through twenty, even if it kills the entire family,” she said with a laugh. “After five minutes, if your kid is in tears, please stop. Get them to school in the morning. I will tutor them. We will do the homework together.”

Corley says that this paradigm shift is incredibly empowering for students and their families, once they get used to it.

“It requires us to grow up a little bit. We own our own world,” Corley said. “It puts a lot of power in the student and family's hands. If I am not learning, what is my next best step for my learning style?”

In this math class, students look forward to “Titan Time,” because the feedback provided by Corley gives them concrete information on how to improve and the ability to achieve their best through personalized learning.

“About a month ago I didn't like how I ended the lesson the day before, so I wasn't going to hold them accountable for the learning. I was going to forgo Titan Time. These daily assessments, however, have become so much a part of the student's Plan, Do, Study, Act cycle they said, ‘no, make one.  We all need it. You need it,” Corley explained. “Number one, they wanted to know where they were at. Number two, a few of them said, I did my homework-- I want to show you I can do this. I'm going to request that you don't spend more time on it.  They are part of that dialog.”  

This type of collaboration is something that teachers strive for in order to be rated highly-effective in the District's new evalution rubrics.

Chief Assessment and System Performance Officer Matt Reynolds says this emphasis on a student’s body of work and growth is exactly what he hopes to see in classrooms across the Douglas County School District, as teachers and schools implement Balanced Assessment Systems.

“We are giving teachers ownership of assessment,” Reynolds said. “The teachers are on the front line. We want teachers to be able to focus on those assessments that truly align to what they are teaching.”

He says professional development opportunities have built understanding about the Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum (GVC) and the rigor expected in DCSD.

“The last two years we have worked with teachers on understanding what we value and now we are talking about measuring what we value,” Reynolds said.

The Balanced Assessment System includes the assessments teachers generate and use daily, tests that schools select and the ones that are required by the State.

The system is balanced, but it is important to note that does not mean that the tests required by the State are given the same weight as the teacher-generated assessments.

As Reynolds explained during the December 11, 2014 Board of Education meeting, TCAP, READ Act, CMAS and Colorado ACT are only a small slice of DCSD’s Balanced Assessment System. During the meeting, he explained that while DCSD fairs well on these state-mandated standardized tests, they are only snapshots of our students’ achievement, which help provide comparability between students at different schools and districts.

“Douglas County and all school districts aspire to have some level of comparability. At the same time, personalized learning is more important than comparability,” explained DCSD Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Fagen. “Making sure that every child has what he or she needs to learn is more important than making sure we can compare two kids who maybe the same age but very different developmentally.”

For this reason, DCSD places far more emphasis on the more frequent performance assessments. These proficiency checks at the beginning, at benchamrks and at the end of units do not feel like tests to students, and they better inform instruction for teachers.

“The teacher has the greatest impact on student learning. For this reason, you’ll notice that in DCSD’s Balanced Assessment System, teacher assessments are a larger piece of the pie chart. Their slice is larger because teacher assessments have more frequency and are larger in instructional impact,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds believes building a system that measures what matters most in Douglas County will pay dividends even on the State’s mandated standardized testing, even if the State standardized tests do not measure what we value most in Douglas County.

“Our kids are already performing better on those assessments that measure what we are teaching,” Reynolds explained.

While many school districts teach to the test, DCSD has two goals to improve the state assessment system: one within the District and one outside. While the District is working with the Colorado Association of School Boards and state representatives to change the time and resource demands of State testing and to empower parents with an appropriate opt-out of unnecessary state-mandated testing

READ MORE: Board of Education encourages Department of Education, legislature to end ‘Testing Madness’

Simultaneously, Douglas County is working to build its own quality assessments to measure what matters most.

“Quality is many things, but one of the factors for quality is making sure that the assessment is aligned to what you’re teaching,” Reynolds explained.

After much research, DCSD decided to have teachers build their own performance assessments because ironically none of the tests commercially available measure the outcomes our students need the most - outcomes found in the GVC.

“Teachers have to design their assessments, as opposed to grabbing an assessment off the shelf,” Reynolds said. “There really is no other assessment system out there that measures what we really want to measure. [Teachers] can’t pick up their textbook and find items that really measure what matters most.”

To assist teachers with this work, the District has designed an assessment section of InspirED Innovation. Through a series of questions, teachers are able to determine whether they have designed quality assessments, based on their alignment to the GVC, their rigor, etc. Additionally, teachers can collaborate with their team or other teachers around the District, improving and sharing their work.  The future includes a peer review opportuntity for teachers too.

This effort ensures teachers are able to provide quality assessments that they truly value and know are best for their students.

“We are not creating one balanced assessment system, but we are helping teachers and schools develop their own balanced assessment systems that not only match our value system through the GVC, but also what they value in their building,” Reynolds explained. “If you are a project-based learning environment, you are going to want to create a system that is project-based learning. That is what you are going to be assessing, matching what you value and your programming and the assessment.”

Eventually, the goal will be to provide stakeholders with reports on student growth and to offer the ability for families to gain insight into a school’s BAS and a teacher’s lessons and assessment.  

“Ultimately, we hope to have an InspirED Innovation portal for both parents and students,” explained Fagen. “A teacher will be able to share as much as they’d like. They will be able to see the unit the teacher has built, what some of the rubrics look like, and what some of the performance assessment looks like. A lot of those instructional tools will be more available to students and parents than they ever have been before.”

December 17, 2014 | By rmbarber | Category:

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