Assessment and Differentiated Learning

I had a major AHA moment about a week ago around assessment and my method of marking Math Makes Sense math tests.  Every year, I try to pick one thing out of the MMS program to try.  I love the program and find value in they ways it teaches and supports all student learning, but I was always afraid when I looked at the teacher guide assessment section.  It looked mean, scary, and very time-consuming.

I have always marked math tests the way I was taught, x for the wrong answer and a check mark for a correct answer.  This year I asked myself, why do I do this? I honestly think it is because it is quick and easy and I thought it told me if the student “got it” or not.  I do not assess my students reading comprehension or writing techniques with right or wrongs, I have been using rubrics forever, so why am I now doing it with math tests. In fact, I even assess two big math questions, I assign the students, a week using a rubric!  What is stopping me from using the MMS test rubrics?

I am currently involved in facilitating a learning team who struggle with the Math Makes Sense program.  I am encouraging them to try small parts of the program, what kind of teacher would I be if I did not take a risk myself?  So, I decided I am going to do it!  And let me tell you it took a week to mark! However, that was because I had to walk away many times when I got overwhelmed or frustrated and as a result I was stunned. Yes, stunned at what I saw.  I have been sharing my findings with them and I have to share something that one of the teachers said to me. The teacher,  said that he noticed the test score averages were always higher with the Journey tests compared to the Math Makes Sense tests. I asked what does that tell you? What are the tests asking the students to do? How are the tests related to the BC Prescribed Learning Outcomes in math? And for me it made me feel that I will definatly be using the MMS rubrics when assessing tests from now on.

The rubric breaks the test into four categories;

Conceptual Understanding   – Shows understanding by explaining and/or demonstrating:

–   the pattern of place positions (right to left)

–   the meaning of each digit in a given numeral

–   contexts for estimating

–   estimation strategies (sums and differences)

–           compatible numbers

Procedural Knowledge – Accurately:

–   writes a given number with proper spacing (no commas)

–   expresses a given numeral in expanded notation

–   writes the numeral represented by expanded notation

Problem-Solving Skills – selects and uses appropriate estimation strategies for:

–   making predictions

–   checking reasonableness of an answer

–   determining approximate answers

Communication – Records and explains reasoning and procedures clearly and completely, including appropriate terminology

   After going back and reviewing the students work and results, I was hit with a gigantic truck! Wow, the program really is focused on differentiated learning and reaching all learners.  It became very evident that the students who have learning disabilities were amazing at explaining how they got to their answer, they communicated their conceptual understanding very well, however their accuracy was off. When doing the rubric these students who normally receive a large numbers of Xs and tend to get 5 out of 30 were in fact demonstrating that they had a conceptual understanding, were selecting the correct problem solving strategies, and were communicating their learning. As one of those students said to me, “Wow, this is great I have never gotten a C+ on a math test before!”  His confidence went up, and he has been engaged in the recent math lessons since.

   The other big truck I ran into was the students who normally do exceedingly well on their tests were unable to communicate their conceptual understanding or their problem solving strategies. Their tests were all answers, no explanations which they were all reminded to do.Many of the students erased their strategies from the test. Yes, I was able to see that they did arrive at the correct answer however I have no idea how they got there! Where was their demonstration of their learning?

    I created a letter to parents to explain how I assessed the math tests and went over it with the students. I think this may have been the very first time where I did not have a comment written back to me, on the tests I send home to be signed, that questioned how I could have marked a certain question wrong.  I also had a meeting with one of my LD student’s parents, and they right away started complaining how the Math Makes Sense is not good for students with LD.  I pulled out the student’s test and went over the rubric, and explained my findings. That in fact this resource is perfect for this LD student, she did extremely well explaining strategies and that it was the basic math facts she was struggling with.

    It is good to note, in starting my next unit, Unit 3 Multiplying and Dividing Whole Numbers, I have started with first mastering the basic math facts first! This is a direct result of really understanding where the students need support from the unit 2 math test.  This assessment did take me a long time to assess, but as a result I have a better understanding of the each of the students learning and needs. I can now see where I need to go. I need to focus on the basics and the communication of their learning. I have shared with the class that I am learning to use this new assessment tool as well, and I have found that they have begun to ask me better questions when we are doing assignments. I would like to think it is their way of taking ownership of their learning. I have looked at the rubric for the Unit 3 test and oh boy I think that one just might take me a little longer. I know it is worth it for the students’ learning and engagement in math.


One thought on “Assessment and Differentiated Learning

  1. I share your frustration with how marking correlates with PLO’s. This was a hot topic of discussion for our school for a few years and we happened to have an administrator that “encouraged” us to revisit the topic on a regular basis. What we came up with was that we would go through the tests and assessments and match up the PLO’s with the activities/questions. Each section under the PLO was then looked at and assessed according the the language within the ministry document ( E, FM, MM, NYM) Using this method we have a clear indication of whether a student understands a concept and to what level. Students are not penalized for an error that does not interfere with the given concept (ie a small adding error when it is part of a multi-step word problem) For the first few tests/assignments we atttached a small piece of paper with what the indicators meant and highlighted where their child fell on that unit as a whole. Gone are the days of parents “arguing” over a checkmark – as it does not change whether a concept is understood or not. Happy to share all the resources we have created too!

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