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Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy day to visit our blog. We would like to invite you to contribute your ideas related to professional development in this forum. We hope to offer all teachers at BHS the opportunity to have input in the PD you are experiencing this year, and to reflect on ideas and practices of our outstanding faculty.

Monday, May 14, 2012

A Focus on Linking Assessment to Instruction at Berkeley High

We invite you to share your thoughts on the following position paper authored by BHS PD Leads. Please use the comment section below.  Anonymous or unprofessional comments will be deleted.

A Focus on Linking Assessment to Instruction at Berkeley High: 
Foundational Principles

Note: Some terms within this document require definition so that everyone is using them the same way.  Please see the BHS Assessment Glossary here.

The 2012-13 PD Calendar offers a structure that supports learning communities and departments in a focus on linking the results of assessment to instruction.  This calendar has been approved by both the PD Leaders Team and our Learning Community Leadership Team.  Much of the work of the PD Leads team in 2011-12 has focused on the rationale and methods used for this purpose as presented in Paul Bambrick-Santoyo’s Driven by Data.   In alignment with the Berkeley High School Action Plan, WASC visiting team recommendations, the 2020 Vision for Berkeley’s Children and Youth, and evidence-based practices that demonstrate high-leverage professional development experiences, the Professional Development Leadership team supports the following concerns and priorities to ensure that the focus is implemented effectively:

Need for Coherence

1.  As public school employees, we recognize our responsibility to teach to a common set of outcomes, known as the state standards.  However, we also recognize the problems inherent in the current standards, including their breadth and number.  We are hopeful that the new Common Core State Standards will address some of these issues.

2.  The art of teaching should be a combination of teacher skill, responsive pedagogy, and school goals. Teachers should have a wide range of tools which they can effectively use  to promote student learning.  Strong assessment skills need to be one of these tools.

Equity for our Diverse Student Body

3.   Calibrating instruction around common outcomes supports high standards for all students and supports our goal of a more equitable school.   Access to a curriculum aligned with the standards is a powerful equity strategy.  We believe that all students, in every classroom at Berkeley High, should be provided standards-based instruction.

4.  However, teachers must also be allowed a certain degree of latitude to respond to the challenges of our diverse student body.   Because it is also the responsibility of the teacher to address remediation, differentiation, and significant “teachable moments,” it must be understood that there are times when lessons must be tailored to meet the needs of the students, rather than solely driven by the standards. 

Fostering a Growth-Based Model

5.  Common formative (pre-, interim) and summative (final) assessments can be powerful tools for instructors to adjust instruction in order to meet students' learning needs. Supported by a strong professional learning community, these tools can highlight effective practices, identify those (students and teachers) in need of additional support, and help target instruction towards student progress on outcomes. A growth-based assessment model lets us be proud of our students’ efforts and see results in the same school year, rather than wait for scores after our students have moved on.

6.  Assessments are most effective when they support the identification of strengths and weaknesses and allow for teacher monitoring of student growth towards outcomes.

No Connection to Evaluation

7.  Data from common pre-, interim, and summative assessments should NEVER be used to evaluate teachers. Doing so will undermine any attempts to expand our use of what can be a powerful teaching and professional growth tool.

8.  Using a single summative assessment (common or not) is not an effective practice. Using data from a single summative common assessment to evaluate a student without having done a pre-assessment cannot be linked to meaningful feedback toward student growth or the effectiveness of teaching practices.

9.  Standard 5 of the California Standard for the Teaching Profession (CTSP) emphasizes how a teacher uses assessment and not the results of assessments themselves. We strongly support that teacher evaluations must recognize this critical distinction. This standard addresses teachers’ knowledge of different types of assessments, as well as how teachers use assessment data to inform instruction, involve students in their own assessment, and provide their students meaningful and timely feedback.

10.   This plan promotes autonomy by encouraging each learning community to develop consistent internal assessments that meet its goals and students’ needs.  These will be used in concert with common school-wide assessments.  This is a critical part of the plan, as too many variables in the master schedule prevent a balanced distribution of students’ academic skills to use single summative or CST assessment information to evaluate the effectiveness of teaching practices. 

We believe this pre-interim- post assessment inquiry cycle will be an ongoing process, encouraging reflection and enhancing opportunities for meaningful collaboration among staff.  By taking ownership of this process, teachers will ensure that its impact is on student achievement, where it belongs.

Dave Stevens and Susannah Bell, School-wide PD Co-Coordinators
Matt Carton, Angie Dean and Ben Sanoff, AC PD Leads
Mat Glaser, AHA PD Lead                          
Allen Boltz, AMPS PD Lead                                             
Matt Meyer and Nick Pleskac, BIHS PD Leads                    
Leah Katz, CAS PD Lead                                   
Andy Peck, Green Academy PD Lead 
Rachel Chodorow-Reich, LTEL Coordinator
Heidi Ramirez-Weber EL Newcomer PD Lead                                  
Amy Burke, Math PD Lead
Glenn Wolkenfeld, Science PD Lead
Eileen Jacobs, Special Ed. PD Lead
Tamara Friedman, World Language PD Lead


  1. Reading this, I'm left wondering what you're actually planning for our PD. Can it please not be designing yet more assessments? In the math department, we've been tweaking our district-mandated common finals for three years. We reminisce wistfully about that one day, six years ago, when we all looked at student work on a single problem, and then engaged in a discussion about expectations, teaching, and learning. True, we have looked at the data from multiple choice finals together, and some people use that data to choose topics on which to focus. Others suggest we work together on whatever topic is coming up next. After all, we have new teachers among us, and they need to get ready for this week's lessons.

    Will we have to wait another six years to examine student work on the assessments we already have? The unit tests we give in math are decent, and quite similar from teacher to teacher. Can't we just start there?

    You assert that “access to a curriculum aligned with the standards is a powerful equity strategy,” and you speak about being hopeful about the Common Core Standards. I have hopes for the math CCS "standards of practice," but I invite you to investigate the CCS authors and their deep connections to the 0.01%. For instance, about ELA co-author David Coleman, see:
    He's the guy who, in defense of de-emphasizing both writing of personal essays and the reading of fiction said, “[A]s you grow up in this world you realize people really don’t give a shit about what you feel or what you think.”

    There are a few critics. In today's NY Times article about Coleman, one is quoted:

    “There’s no reason on earth for common core standards and these tests that we’re wasting billions of dollars on,” said Stephen Krashen, an emeritus education professor at the University of Southern California. “The problem is poverty, poverty, poverty. Middle-class children who go to well-funded schools do very well, but even the best tests, the most inspiring teachers, won’t mean anything if the kids don’t have enough to eat.”

    Dan Plonsey

    1. Dan,

      I can only speak to the PD focus for the World Language Department next year. Our focus of PD next year will be on linking assessment to instruction, not only on assessment. Over the past three years, the World Language department has been working on creating common assessments in all of our courses. In our experience in Spanish I, it was the process of identifying common learning outcomes linked to standard based performance assessments that surfaced the conversations around instruction and best practices, “… the process of creating and sharing common assessments is itself a valuable opportunity for faculty to share ideas and collaborate to create the best curriculum possible for all students.” (Bambrick-Santoyo, 2010)

      Since we developed the first “datawiseable” performance based common assessments two years ago, the Spanish 1 team has been able focus our attention on the results of the assessments to do analysis at the question level to inform out instruction and share best practices. For us, these meetings have helped us focus on student learning, “…most important, such meetings are integral to changing from a culture focused on what student were taught to a culture focused on what students actually learned.” (Bambrick-Santoyo, 2010)

      Looking at our results from common assessments also highlights the strengths and weakness of our department and allows us to determine the professional learning that we must undertake to enable us to support our students in reaching our identified learning outcomes. For us this has been a “powerful equity strategy” in that our collaborative work has given us the opportunity to think about what was we needed to increase our capacity as language teachers. We have now identified research based instructional practices that have been shown to increase student engagement and accelerate language learning. The entire Spanish 1 team will receive intensive training in this methodology this summer (thanks to generous grants from the Berkeley Public Education Foundation and the Berkeley Unified School District) and we believe that we’ll see results in the coming year in terms of our equity goal of increasing the achievement of African American and Latino students in our first year courses. It was this process that helped us identify the most high leverage training for our teachers in regards to our equity goal.

      Next year, all of our WL teachers will have even more time in their level alike / language alike groups to build on their work creating common learning outcomes and common assessments. Teachers see the value in this structured collaborative work that is geared towards planning with the end in mind, assessing student learning and adjusting curriculum and instruction to meet the needs of our students.

      As the PD team leader, I’m grateful to have a PD calendar which explicitly factors in the a time and space for teachers to regularly create smaller, common, formative assessments in addition to the summative common assessments. In this way, teachers can look at student work and performance frequently in order to inform our practice more regularly and continually throughout the year.

      In terms of our ability as teachers to have an impact on student learning in the face of the larger societal iniquities, I for one do believe that inspiring, capable teachers who continually strive to adjust, improve and refine their instructional practices through a cycle of inquiry can accomplish quite a bit… otherwise I wouldn’t be here.


      Tamara Friedman