Across the country, each state uses its own specialized 21st century math assessment.
No matter what they call it, these types of assessments assess 21st century knowledge based on content standards, as well as the process standards for the application of mathematics.
Then and Now
I’m sure that I was assessed as a child with some kind of standardized test. I do remember a report card going home to my parents, but I don’t remember bubbling in answer on a Scantron. I don’t remember higher levels of questioning either. At that time, math was really all about “get to the answer.” It was really neat and tidy – you had the problem, you figured out the answer, and either you were right or wrong. For me as a child, math understanding was very simple and straightforward.
Moving into present day, we’ve now adopted incredibly rigorous 21st century assessments in order to help the students with higher level skills. Over half of the jobs that today’s elementary students will pursue aren’t even developed yet. We really aren’t preparing kids for today’s world, we’re preparing them for tomorrow’s world.
Technology, and the advancements of companies like Amazon, Apple or Google, has replaced most of the simple, straightforward “find the right answer” math that I was assessed on as a child. Our kids, and even us personally (if we’re being honest!), use Alexa, Siri, or Hey Google to answer quick math problems on. While kids still need to know how to do these types of problems, it’s the higher level problem solving skills (that can’t be replaced by a computer) that we need to help them develop in order to help kids be successful in the workforce.
The other side of that coin is that access to instant access to answers through technology has created a generation of entitled students that don’t want to think too deeply about anything because they’re used to instant gratification. Seemingly, everything they need is easily accessible at their fingertips, so why use your brain?
This is a problem when many questions on various state tests are now testing at a higher rigor and relevance level to see how well kids can actually apply what they already know.
Breaking Down the Test
These standardized tests are often organized around different types of claims, based on a collection of standards. The Smarter Balanced Assessment, the test I have the most experience with, has four claims:
- Concepts & Procedures
- Problem Solving
- Communicating Reasoning
- Modeling and Data Analysis
In Michigan, after working on the development of this test, we renamed it as the M-STEP (Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress) before it was launched, but it reflects the questions that were on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.
When our Michigan schools ask where they can get more resources about our state test, the resources provided by the State of Michigan seem to be very limited in the math area. So I’m always searching for resources that can help teachers prepare with the end in mind.
Tiffany Eller, our newest consultant at SIS4Teachers, is from Texas, and she asked me this year where all the released questions were for our M-STEP. That got me thinking, and I realized that, in my opinion, our state of Michigan has really done teachers a disservice by not providing the information that we need to help us prepare students effectively. In Texas, Tiffany told me, the state provides all the targets for the test. Not so teachers can teach to the test, but so they know the scope of each particular standard. As a professional in any state, this kind of released information would be incredibly helpful to provide an overall picture of the expectations so I could streamline instruction appropriately.
As we talked about last week, understanding depth of knowledge (DOK) levels helps us to know the level of complexity of the questions that will appear on the test. When we look at these levels, they also connect to the assessment claims that are being assessed and they can also be weighted based on how well your school or district does within those claims.
Supporting Resources for 21st Century Assessments
CCSS Math Activities was probably one of my biggest epiphanies in helping teachers prepare for their state testing. (There was a moment of sheer panic last week when I thought the website had decided to adopt a fee-based model, but it turned out it had just crashed – probably because of all the schools I’ve been telling to go there! But it’s up and running, and still FREE for teachers to use – hooray!) Even if you aren’t using a particular math program, you can sort these resources by the standard and use them as a target of measure as to where we’re going in our curriculum mapping, planning and adjusting instruction.
Last week, we talked about the K-5 Math supports. This week, I’d like to call your attention to a button on the very top that says “Smarter Balanced.” When I first clicked this link and the page opened up, I am pretty sure I heard angels singing. There was finally information I could use to help guide my students in the right direction in the area of math!
The resource provides information, by grade level, for grades 3-12. It provides vocabulary that will be on the test, and includes some flashcards you can use with students. It also gives you guidelines for measurement conversions and equations that students need to know.
Here’s some 4th grade examples:
When you click on those, it will give you information about what’s being assessed within that standard.
Additionally, on their main menu, when you click on Claim 1: Concepts and Procedures, they’ve provided PowerPoints presentations on each different target. The presentations are editable, and will show different questions that will appear (with the answers, of course!). Back on the grade-level menu, you can also find presentations for Claims 2-4.
These are awesome! They give teachers great information so they can expose kids to the types of questions they will experience on the test. While the kids might have the basic knowledge they need, the test may ask the question on a higher level with unfamiliar wording, so the kids miss it. For me, this underscores the need to make sure that we’re assessing students on different DOK levels all year long, and comparing apples to apples.
CCSS Math Activities is an incredible resource for teachers as we start to align everything within our districts or schools. Keep these different claims in mind as you start with essential or power standards, identify quarterly promises, and then compile snapshot or end-of-unit assessments.
Within these different claims, you’ll also find different levels of questions. The Smarter Balanced Assessment includes a performance task, which is part of claim 4. CCSS Math Activities provides a great collection of performance tasks for you to use! In the state of Michigan, we dropped the performance task piece of the assessment, but don’t ignore this part of the resource! Performance tasks are a really great higher DOK level assessment, as well as a great way to see kids question their metacognition on a higher level of learning.
Did I mention this is all FREE??
There are a few purchasable resources, one of which I had the opportunity to look at when one of our districts purchased it recently.
I think WAY back in Michigan when we were doing MEAP (Michigan Educational Assessment Program) testing, we used to have these dreaded MEAP packets. The test was in the fall then, and you started the school year with copies these packets so you could practice taking the test. That type of resource doesn’t seem to exist for the M-STEP, but CCSS Math Activities has put together an amazing (purchasable) resource for 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade that is a prep packet, organized by the different targets and clusters of standards. It really provides yet another sample for us to look at and expose our students to.
Having access to sample questions through the types of resources made available by CCSS Math Activities is really great for our kids and our teachers to be able to plan with the end in mind. It shouldn’t be a secret as to what our kids are being tested on in our state. I do understand that funding and other things are tied to the testing, but honestly, this isn’t a simple test that people can cheat on. First of all, the test is computerized, so there’s no room to tamper with bubble sheets. But more importantly, if they really don’t understand the application of these standards, kids are not going to be able to answer the questions correctly. I wish there was more trust in education that we are out there to do the best things we can for children. Planning instruction with the end in mind by being able to look at assessment questions could make a huge different for student success!
Bringing all three of these components together – power standards, DOK levels and common assessments, and planning with the end in mind to prepare students for 21st century assessments – is a large project we’re working on with our schools. Once these are all aligned, we can gauge instruction and implement our solid instructional strategies. I’m so excited to watch the development of this project and see how expanding our knowledge of DOK levels will impact instruction!