Practice Activity: Examining Student Work
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Create an expectation

. Why is examining student work important?

The Aspen Workshop on High Schools recommended in its summary report for the Transforming High Schools Task Force that the continuous and collaborative examination of student work along with the personalization of schooling are the two critical strategies for transforming high schools at the local level.

Kate Nolan, Director of Re-Thinking Accountability for the Annenberg Institute of School Reform, believes “The process of studying student work is a meaningful and challenging way to be data-driven, to reflect critically on our instructional practices, and to identify the research we might study to help us think more deeply and carefully about the challenges our students provide us. Rich, complex work samples show us how students are thinking, the fullness of their factual knowledge, the connections they are making. Talking about them together in an accountable way helps us to learn how to adjust instruction to meet the needs of our students.”

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. The focus of the examination has shifted from a summative evaluation of student performance to a diagnostic evaluation of student performance, teacher assignment, and implications for instruction. The following questions can be used to focus the examination:

  • What did you ask students to do?
  • What content standard indicator / objective were you trying to assess?
  • What did (or does) the team agree would constitute a proficient response?
  • What has the student demonstrated they know and can do?
  • What has the student not demonstrated they know and can do? What would you ask the student to give you more complete information about whether they did know what they didn't demonstrate they knew?
  • Where would you take the student next instructionally?
  • After reading the student responses, what re-teaching do you need to do?
  • What do the students' responses tell us about the effectiveness of the assessment / assignment? How might it be improved?

What is the principal’s role?

Principals play a critical role in setting up the expectation that examining student work should be an ongoing, collaborative process. Principals need to identify strategies that would promote this and provide time for it to happen. They need to consider how they could use staff meeting time to build capacity and set expectations for how teams or departments would examine student work as a regular activity at their team meetings. Principals must also monitor this happening and recognize it when it happens.

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