School Improvement in Maryland

Structure Regular Time for Teams to Examine Student Work

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. Principals need to provide time for this to happen. They need to consider how they could use staff meetings or other meeting times to build capacity and set expectations for how teams or departments will examine student work as a regular activity at their team meetings. Principals must also monitor the process and end-products and recognize successful practices.

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.

Principals need to

  • Communicate expectations
  • Find and structure time
  • Model engagement in the process
  • Monitor process and end products
  • Recognize / showcase

How should we examine student work?

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. The focus of the examination has shifted from a summative evaluation of student performance to a diagnostic evaluation of student performance, and teacher assignment. To meet this need, the Examining Student Work to Inform Instruction protocol was created to help teachers reach consensus about proficient work and understand what students know and still need to learn. The examination focuses teachers on three critical areas:

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

After reaching consensus, each teacher will read his/her three sample student responses, and the team will diagnose strengths and needs and identify next instructional steps. The team will be examining what the response demonstrates the student knows and can do and what the student has not demonstrated he knows and can do. The team will be answering the following questions:

  • What did the student demonstrate that they knew?
  • What misconceptions or wrong information did the student have?
  • What did the student not demonstrate?
  • How would you find out if they knew it?

After diagnosing what the student knows and still needs to learn, the team will discuss where the teacher should take the student next instructionally. They will also determine if they need to re-teach any concept or skill to the whole or part of the class. The team will be answering the following questions:

  • Based on the team's diagnosis of the student performance, what do you do next with that student? What questions might you ask the student? What feedback will you give?
  • Based on the team’s diagnosis of student responses at the top, middle and bottom of the class, does the teacher need to re-teach anything?

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.

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.

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.