Elementary School Principal's Blog

Assessment for 21st Century Learning

Posted on November 14, 2009

by Dr. Edna Hussey on November 14, 2009

We're fast-approaching an important period in the school year when the teachers are helping their students take stock of their learning process through self-reflection.  While students are constantly assessing how they're learning, they're selecting evidence of their progress and beginning to compile these pieces in a portfolio. Many of you are familiar with this process.  However, as explained in earlier letters posted to the website, we have developed a performance continuum for inquiry learning -- and we've revised the reading and writing performance continua.  Parents of students in kindergarten through fifth grade are invited to attend an informational session on either November 23 or 24, 6:00-7:00pm, in the dining room. I'll explain the new look and focus of these continua. If needed, childcare will be provided for MPI students only, limited to 25 each night. Please call the school office, 441-3800, to reserve a space for childcare.  What changes should you expect? The following is a summary of the rationale for our revisions--

Continua covering a range of grade levels.  We've come to learn, especially in our work in multiage classes, that student learning is best described as a range of behaviors that might overlap grade levels.  A grade level designation is a means for organizing learners by age rather than ability. When we took a careful, critical look at the previous continua for reading and writing, every student beginning at the next grade always seemed to begin at a deficit rather than in a place of growing development. A grouping of grade levels better addressed developmental growth.There are significant differences between the two clusters, K-2 and grades 3-5, as well as expectations about what students should be able to do.

Electronic posting. Scott Yoshinaga, our IT staff member, has developed the means for all parents to receive your child's performance continua as an attachment. This means you'll have your own electronic file. 

Writing Continuum.  We have adapted the work of Vicki Spandel's Six-Trait Writing and Ruth Culham's Six-Trait Writing + 1, both nationally recognized experts in writing assessment and instruction, to create the writing continua. In our deliberations, which began last year and continued through the summer, we decided to offer two separate continua for kindergarten through second grade and another for grades three through five. Teachers are assessing your child's writing abilities by looking at pieces in terms of these writing traits: ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, and conventions. For kindergarten through second grade writing, teachers are also looking at presentation (the +1 aspect).

Reading Continuum.  We have raised our expectations for student reading. Rather than limit "reading" to decoding and comprehension, we are looking at how students engage with the texts they read and whether they analyze and challenge what they read.  The term "text" includes visual text. The reading continua is based on the reading research of Alan Luke and Peter Freebody, whose work incorporates and recognizes practices for helping students to become proficient, critical readers. Effective literacy practices allow learners to decode and encode language at an appropriate level of proficiency.  Luke and Freebody call this "cracking the code." As "text participants," students should use their knowledge of the world, their vocabulary, and how language works to comprehend their reading.  We want students to read for pleasure as well as for information and to apply what they've read. You'll see this noted on the continuum as "text user."  Finally, we want students to form opinions about texts ("text analyst") and to be able to offer reasons for their stances. 

Inquiry Continuum.  Our work on this continuum is most significant to us because inquiry is the approach we use to develop curriculum (students' questions and curiosities) and to describe the learning process. In the past, inquiry was given short shrift because it was embedded in the writing and reading continua. Based on our careful observations of students and analyses of their written work and inquiry presentations, we have developed one performance continuum for kindergarten through fifth grade because growth in inquiry learning is much more subtle and is assessed in terms of degree of performance. 

I encourage you to attend one of the information sessions. I will also consider a morning session the morning of November 23 or 24 if I hear from 20 or more families.  

Check the school calendar for upcoming events (the information sessions on the performance continua are not on the calendar since these dates were added later). This week, a PCA meeting on Tuesday and `Ohana meeting on Wednesday. PCA stands for Parent Community Association and includes preschool through high school. The `Ohana is the parent group for preschool and elementary. You're invited to attend a performance of several elementary school choirs on Thursday in Bakken Auditorium.  

Please continue to check your child's teacher's weblog. Since I read every posting, I can assure you that your child is engaged in intellectually challenging and meaningful learning in mind, body, and spirit.  

For our children,

Edna L. Hussey