The updated Smarter Balanced Assessment (SB) standardized testing that the majority of the United States is now using was created as a way to ensure that all states are addressing the same standards at the same level of competency and that all students in the US were receiving the same type of information in school. Prior to this, states had more options to choose the degree of rigor in their state standards and testing. This made transitioning for students relocating to another state with different standards challenging, as gaps of their skills or knowledge and lack of connection to the same curriculum could occur for some . This also made norm-referenced analysis of how students across the nation were doing compared to each other difficult. While not the be all end all of a student's skill or knowledge, criterion based assessment and norm-based assessment can both prove useful in education.
The format of SB has lessened the amount of true/false and multiple choice questions and has attempted to have the student interact more by the ability to highlight content, watch a video, by incorporating more graphics, as well as writing as justification of answer. These are all positives in the eye of many educators in order to help address the need for more critical based thinking to occur in the classroom and in the world.
So, how do you meld the two? How do you create enriching, motivational projects that excite students to learn while knowing that the content of your project will transfer to content found on a Smarter Balanced test?
Here are some ways to evaluate the transfer of student learning while utilizing PBL:
Pre-assessment. By giving students a pre-assessment that can be scored first with all content standards and goals is valuable. This data will enable the teacher to create or modify a project.
Clearly define the standard or goals of learning first. Show students the standard(s). Discuss what they mean in simpler terms and outline the goals students are to strive to learn from a project. Key vocabulary should be incorporated in both the assessment and project.
Integrate writing in all projects. Writing is a huge component on the new SB test. A student must be able to explain their thinking through words in both the English Language Arts and Math test. I often tell students, if you can say it out loud, you can write it down. However, this is easier said then done. Allowing students to type answers is helpful, as many students become quickly frustrated with writing (a whole other post). Typing is also an essential skill for students not only on assessments, but for life. Show examples of quality answers as separate lessons. Give feedback on statements. By chunking writing into small, but consistent bits in class can assist in the common burn-out factor that students often feel in the classroom on assessments or writing projects in general.
Student choice/make projects flexible. Everyone has their own strengths and challenges in the classroom. By empowering student groups to help generate ideas for a project and to give multiple options to also choose from on presenting the content is a great motivating factor. Be open and flexible to help encourage innovative thinking.
Incoroporate technology tools/devices for practice. There are many, many amazing apps and programs for the educational realm. Expose students to ones that you find helpful or meaningful for a project. You don't need to be an expert in all things technology, so don't feel intimidated to introduce something tha is also new to you. Often, I learn new things about a technology tool right alongside the students! It also helps students feel empowered and important by figuring something out for an adult. This can apply to K-12 students.
Reflection on Project. Reflection questions can help a student tap into their critical thinking skills without feeling it is a "right or wrong" answer. Incorporating opinion questions is also a way to further practice critical thinking and feel empowered that their voice matters in their own learning. These types of questions can be valuable for a teacher in understanding what a student has gained from a project.
Post-Assessment. Giving the exact same post-assessment makes comparison of growth solid in data, which is a driving force in districts today.
The challenge with this format is finding curriculum that can address all these components. In my years, I found the best projects were the ones I created or pieced together or that another teacher had made and I modified for my own needs. This is why it is even more vital for educators to create and actively engage in their own Personal Learning Network (PLN) in order to see and share what is working and what are challenges with standards.
How do you address the challenge of creative project-based learning while ensuring the transfer of knowledge for standardized testing success?