School Improvement in Maryland

Examining Student Work to Inform Instruction

“The practice of having teachers work together to study student work is one of the most promising professional development strategies in recent years. Examining student work helps teachers intimately understand how state and local standards apply to their teaching practice and to student work.

“Teachers are able to think more deeply about their teaching and what students are learning. As they see what students produce in response to their assignments, they can see the successes as well as the situations where there are gaps. In exploring those gaps, they can improve their practice in order to reach all students.“ —Joan Richarson, editor of NSDC Results

Understanding what students know and still need to learn is a pre-requisite for knowing where to go next instructionally with a student to take them to proficiency on any content standard indicator. Though teachers have always examined student work as part of their grading process, the new focus on accountability and standards has driven a more structured and collaborative examination of student work. This Examining Student Work protocol was developed to help teachers understand what students know and still need to learn. The examination focuses teachers on three critical areas: o Identification of characteristics of proficiency on an objective using a specific assignment/assessment A team of teachers work through the process of reaching consensus on what the team believes constitutes a proficient response on a selected text and question. o Diagnosis student strengths and needs on the performance The team examines three student papers to determine if the response is proficient and to identify what the student knows and still needs to learn. o Identification of next instructional steps based on the diagnosis The team identifies next instructional steps including what questions the teacher might want to ask the student to better understand his/her thinking, what feedback the teacher might give, and what re-teaching might need to take place for the whole or part of the class.

A pre-requisite to interpreting student work is a clear understanding of what you are looking for. What does a proficient response look like? What exactly do your students need to know and still need to learn? It is not enough that an individual teacher defines proficiency. It is critical that at least a grade level team has reached consensus on the definition of proficiency to ensure that all students are held to the same performance expectations. Only after the team has agreed on what constitutes a proficient response are they able to diagnose student strengths and needs. Once proficiency has been defined, the team is ready to examine student performance against their proficiency criteria.

This process requires teachers to shift their mindset from scoring (a summative examination) to diagnosing (a formative examination) student performance. In many cases teachers have spent a great deal of time sorting student responses (either by letter grades or by rubric scores) and virtually no time diagnosing what students know and still need to learn. It is only the diagnostic information that will help teachers understand what they need to do next instructionally with their students.

Though the focus of the examining student work protocol is on improving student performance, there are a number of other benefits that come out of the discussion. The assignment itself is examined in terms of how aligned and how successful it was in soliciting the information teachers were looking for. Teachers self-assess their own teaching of the content standard indicator and make refinements accordingly. Facilitators and observers can identify misunderstandings about the intent of the indicator/objective and provide appropriate professional development around these needs. New teachers as well as veteran teachers can self-assess whether their expectations for students were appropriately rigorous. The regular team examination of student work turns out to be excellent and targeted job-embedded, ongoing professional development that is totally aligned with what teachers are or need to be doing in their classrooms on a daily basis.

Principals play a critical role in structuring time for and setting the expectation that teams should regularly examine student work and use the data to inform their instruction. To explore how principals lead this process at their school, click on A Principal's Role in Structuring Regular Examinations of Student Work.