A potential way to make Skills Assessment work for Alg 3-4 [Alg 2]

So one of the biggest problems with using skills based assessment, or standards based assessment, or any of the other names that can be given to the process that Dan Meyer has been educating us on is that Alg 2 is just way to darn big.

I mean, really.  Rational functions?  Composition of functions?  If we break these down in to the smaller, little skills that are part of either of these two concepts, then we will never actually assess the larger skill that is essential.

This is a problem. H. already discovered this, and she was very willing to say so.  A couple of other people have said the same thing in the earlier comments on my blog.  Given the previous experiences, should I scrap my idea of using this for Alg 3-4 or should I forge ahead and figure out a way to do it?

I vote for forging ahead.

I already posted a Concept checklist for Alg 3-4.  It is still a rough draft, and I will be editing it and refining it. ESPECIALLY given my most recent idea.

I was introduced to “I Can” statements a couple of times this year, both in different contexts.  What I thought of doing is making the learners do “I Can” statements and then using those “I Can’s” to create assessments based on my Concept Checklists.

Yes, the learners would have to keep track of two different things. They will have to keep up on what they Can and Can’t do AND keep up with how they are doing on their Concept Assessments.  The Concept Assessments need to be linked to the “I Cans” very carefully and justified very well. If they are not justified both directions, then the reason for doing all of this work goes out the window.  The learners will see it as busy work and throw away the paper on their way out the door.

Alg 2 (or Alg 3-4 in my District) Skills Assessment

Before I really get into this one, I must first say that I will use the terms Alg 3 to mean the first semester and Alg 4 to mean the second semester of my District’s second year algebra class.  I am specifying this because as I have talked to and grown in my understanding of Math, I realized that every district does this differently.  This is my attempt at mitigating  a little of that confusion.

Right, so before I can post the third (and far from final) draft of my Alg 3-4 Skills checklist, I think it would behoove me to first share what my starting point is.  Here are my district’s expectations for Alg 3 and Alg 4.

First off, ignore the dates at the bottom.  This class has not been updated with either the new standards (adopted a year and a half ago) or been re-formatted to be standards based instead of textbook based.

Does anybody else see a difficulty with what I am trying?  Some of the topics here are HUGE!

So, I needed some ground rules.  First off, I can not assess everything I teach.  This is vital, and essential.  Second, these skill assessments can not be the only assessments I give.  I am going to have to assess in a comprehensive manner. in addition to my skills assessments.  Finally, my skills list must fit on one page, single sided.

Okay, that last one seems kind of arbitrary, but it is not.  Part of my goal with this assessment strategy is to give the learners a recognizable and achievable set of goals, even if, or ESPECIALLY if, they hate math.

Giving them a three page list of skills the first day of class is saying to those learners, “you are going to fail this class because the amount of things to learn is ginormous”.  I can’t do that.

One page, even if I have to leave off some skills, even if I have to double up on some skills, is still better than overloading my learners.  Now the burden is on ME to focus my efforts and make sure I don’t leave off some important aspects of the math.  Their burden is to learn.

So, here it is. 

I tried to match my District’s blueprint, since that is what the CRT is based on.  This is not a final draft, by any means.  I am very open to suggestions and criticisms.

The Gradebook

First things first.  Everything I discuss here is specific to EasyGrade Pro 4.0.  Why?  That is what our district is standardized on.  I am sure that everything can be modified to any gradebook, however.

First thing, set up the categories we will be using to grade with.

grade book setup 1

Notice that only 15 percent of the grade is due to any assignments, and it is not labeled as “homework”.  We are committed to trying to get the freshmen to work 100% of the time in class so we don’t have to assign homework.

Not sure how that is going to work out, yet.  The “Panther Math” category is a required element of our school.  Every learner does a Math Proficiency practice of some sort every day until they pass the proficiency exam.  This begins the first day of class as freshmen.  It has been showing results so far.

Notice that 70% of the grade is tests!!!  The Comprehensive exam is to make sure they are ready for our district’s CRT.  They will get 3 comprehensive exams, 1/3 of the way through, 2/3 of the way through the semester, and then the Final CRT.

Next, the way of inputting into the gradebook.

grade book setup 2 Notice the “Complete” and “Not Complete” names.  Those are how we decided to communicate the success of the learners.



So, here we have 7 fake learners.  When they demonstrate mastery on the “A” exam, they get a “COM” or complete worth 100% of the points.

gradebook w gradesThe learner does not get a score in a “B” test until they passed or “Completed” the “A” exam.  Notice that Frank is doing well.  He completed objective 1, but he scored 0 out of 4 on the “B” for objective 2.

John, on the other hand, is doing poorly.  He is not even close to mastery, and his grade reflects that.  Jean has mastered 1 objective, so her grade is higher.  Shelly has mastered none, but she is trying and because of the trying has a solid C.

This system gets past the point values to the importance of COMpletion and MASTERY.  For the teacher, COM’s are good, points are indicative of remediation.  I think this will alleviate the problems H had (see her posting here.)

Okay, ladies and gentlemen.  If you have any thoughts, criticisms, suggestions, lay them on me.  We go live with this with 4 Freshman Algebra 1 teachers, at least sixteen sections of this, starting in August.

More on this will follow.

Concept Map and Misc. Assessment Decisions

Okay, so we have some philosophy down to guide our decision making. We have some rules and procedures, a way to communicate the test questions across multiple teachers, and some basic forms so our freshman will have a consistent set of handouts and standards. 

Now all we need is some way for the teachers to know exactly what he heck we are doing and tracking the same way.  One thing to note when looking at this.  In our district Alg 1 is split into semesters, Algebra 1 and Algebra 2.  So our Alg 2 class is called Algebra 3,4. (yes, it does cause confusion when talking to people in other districts / states.)

Great, we have standards aligned with each topic, those standards are aligned with the district CRT’s, so hopefully we have all our arrows pointing in the same direction.

We spent quite a lot of time massaging this.  We are not assessing everything that could be assessed.  For instance, we are not assessing 1 step equations.  We still have to teach it, but if the learner can do 2 step and multi-step equations, then they can do 1 step equations.


What I will not post here (for obvious reasons) is our excel spreadsheet with the questions in it.   We used Microsoft Equation 3.0 to construct our problems, so they are objects that can be copied and pasted into the following file.

This is our Test Blank

that we agreed to use.  Copying and pasting the problem into it gives us a very structured way to give out tests.

Finally, we agreed to a rolling 3 in class assessments. This means that every assessment will have 3 presentations to the class.  The first time will be an “A” assessment, and the second and third will be “B” assessments.  If the learner passes any of them once, the “A” assessment is complete.  They only need to do the “B” assessment for full credit.

Gradebook next!

Some Details on our Assessment Journey

Okay, so we sat down (five of us) and hashed out some of the mechanisms and details we will use on our assessment journey.

First, we all agreed on the principles that Dan documented. Yes, I said some bad words when I read his three principles, because he scooped me on something that he had not written about (yet) and I thought I would have something truly unique to offer.  Oh well.

Next, we got down to the nitty gritty.  How many questions on each assessment?  What constitutes mastery?  How do we decide?  Where will these questions come from?  How do we create a continuity across four different Alg 1 teachers?  What standards are we going to actually address?  Do we have to assess everything we teach?

Answers below the fold in order to conserve space.

Continue reading

And So we begin the process

Okay, let’s set the stage first.  My school is a State of NV Model School.  We try things and we do things that other schools don’t so we can always be pushing the envelope of what works, and what doesn’t.  Our principle gives us a good deal of latitude in the issues of curriculum as long as we hit the standards of both the State and the District, and we have some solid research to back up the things we try.

That is the purpose of this first post on this topic.  I wanted to construct a place where other teachers could come to and find a resource for much of the research necessary to accomplish the task that my department has established.

What is that task?

My department is re-writing it’s Alg 1 curriculum to be focused on mastery assessment and mastery teaching of the material.

Whew.  That is a huge task.  We talked about it.  We chewed on it.  And now, during the Summer, we are going to do it.

First off, here is a concise, neat, and altogether well written philosophy of what the process must entail.

Dan’s Guiding Principles for Assessment   I was very upset when Dan posted this, because I had half of our principle written and he scooped me.  My 3 were almost identical to what Dan wrote.

Next, some methods to make it work.  Dan’s Comprehensive Math Assessment

Yes, we are borrowing heavily from Dan’s work.  I am not going to re-write what he did a very good job explaining in his posts and his comments.  READ HIS COMMENTS.  Both the criticisms and his responses and adaptations.

Finally, here are two pages from another teacher name “H.”  He did the same thing in his classes last year.  We are very aware of what H did and did not do, and we are using his suggestions in our writings as well.

Applying Dan’s Assessment system Part I

Applying Dan’s Assessment system Part II