ASCD Conference on Teaching Excellence (Day 3)

Denver Convention Center (and a giant blue bear)

Today is the last day of the conference with sessions scheduled for only the morning. It’s been an eventful three days here. I was able to attend two sessions today. Here are some thoughts about what I was able to learn about as the convention came to a close.

Session VIII: Crafting student-friendly performance assessments

This session was led by Eric Carbaugh who is an associate professor at James Madison University. It was immediately clear that Eric was an expert in assessment as he gave an engaging presentation on the idea of performance-based assessments. For Eric, performance assessments offer teachers the opportunity to gather information about student understanding, knowledge, and skills in a more authentic and engaging manner than afforded by traditional tests. This has exactly been the focus of all of our district schools as we have worked to create assessments that capture a student’s ability to synthesize information instead of just focusing on information recall. Eric spent a great deal of time discussing the concept of transfer and how it is essential in performance-based assessments.

Eric clearly laid out what his vision for transfer is. For Eric, transfer is not…

  • Simple recall
  • Relying exclusively on mnemonics or rules
  • Repeating knowledge in the same or similar context
  • Repeating the same type of exercise over and over
  • Repeating learning

Transfer is…

  • Higher order thinking
  • Being able to articulate the WHY behind decisions and solutions
  • Effectively applying and adapting prior learning to novel and complex situations
  • Using understanding to evaluate or create something new
  • Transforming learning

Eric shared some exemplar transfer goals which all hit upon his criteria for being effective performance-based assessments.

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Eric uses Wiggins and McTighe’s GRASPS framework for performance based assessments. I

have followed Wiggins and McTighe’s work for years and appreciated hearing someone continue to build on their work on transfer. I’ve been surprised during this conference by how little I’ve heard of transfer and Understanding By Design (Wiggins and McTighe’s curriculum framework) in general. For me, UBD is the backbone of curriculum and assessment. As you can likely tell, I could write at length about UBD, transfer, and this presentation. To summarize, Eric gave the audience time to develop transfer tasks using GRASPS and to discuss how authentic the tasks would be for students. The topic of rubrics was also discussed and Eric shared some ideas on how to develop rubrics that clearly articulate learning goals. Eric’s slide deck (which I’m not able to share here) is incredibly valuable and we will use it and many of his resources as we continue to develop curricula in our district with an eye on transfer and performance-based assessments.

One last thing…

Eric shared this video about a school district in Pennsylvania and their efforts to implement performance-based assessments. I’m familiar with this series on Edutopia but thought it important to share here.

Session IX: World-class schools: What they are and how we get there

James Stronge closed out the conference with a final keynote address about the future of American education. James is the founder of the Stronge model of evaluation that our school district has used for the last four years. While he is a professor at William and Mary, he has always been willing to work with our school district to refine how we evaluate and to answer any questions we might have. While extremely prominent in the field of education, James has always been amazingly accessible. He is a very talented person and I have looked forward to hearing him speak at this conference.

“Will it improve kids’ lives?” –James Stronge

James stressed the need for schools to create men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done. The need to do so is paramount, as the world is only becoming more and more competitive. During his presentation, he shared a story about the impact of globalization on his college. About ten years ago only 2 or 3 students from China were enrolled in the law program at William and Mary. Today, over 40 students from China are enrolled. “Getting a place at the table is getting more and more competitive,” he said to the audience. James expanded on this point by sharing data that supported the increasingly competitive global market our students will enter. The data below, in particular, I found very telling.

The share of 25-34 year-olds in the United States with college degrees in 2030  is projected to decline while China and India’s population of graduates will increase. The point of this data is to demonstrate just how competitive the world will be in the future and how much it is changing. For James, American schools must continue to innovate with an eye on ensuring our graduates can compete globally. Ideas like attracting better teachers and leaders to the profession, incorporating play into the school day, and working to build better relationships with students were discussed at length. In the end, for James is comes down to teacher and leader effectiveness. “If you want world class schools, you need world class teachers,” he summarized. For James, “Good leaders + good teachers = good schools.” I think this nicely summarizes his presentation; this goal should be the driving force for all school districts.

“When is the last time you saw “joy” in a school or district’s mission statement?” –James Stronge

Wow! As you can see, today was a good day. Overall, this was an excellent conference to attend and I’m fortunate that our school district supports this type of professional development. Meeting like-minded educators from across the United States can pay immediate dividends as new ideas and resources are shared and ultimately implemented to improve the classroom experiences of our students. This was my first ASCD conference. I will certainly look to attend in the future.

Please excuse errors…typing fast!

One thought on “ASCD Conference on Teaching Excellence (Day 3)

  1. Thank you Jonathan for writing these summaries of the presentations you attended at the ASCD conference. They are always enlightening. I also appreciate the Allison Park link. There performance based assessments are an awesome example of real life application of learned skills. Approaching assessments in this way will benefit students in all grades.

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