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How one district saved time and boosted teaching with curriculum-embedded assessments

I have a map that takes me to the destination.
— teacher Billie Bruchhaus

By Caroline Bermudez

Sometimes the solutions we need are right under our noses.

Teachers at Allen Parish Schools, in Louisiana, felt harried and frustrated by testing until ANet helped district leaders realize they had a tool to save time and inform their teaching hiding in plain sight—curriculum-embedded assessments (CEAs).

Some Louisiana districts require teachers to administer at least one test scored on a hundred-point scale every week, so teachers searched the internet for assessments or created their own. The most common format was a set of 30 questions that devoured an entire class period.

What resulted was a confusing, unwieldy mix of assessments that ate up teaching time and often didn’t match what students learned in class.

Two veteran educators, Stacy Weldon and Billie Bruchhaus, witnessed the toll testing took on teachers.

Weldon, a K-8 literacy coach at Elizabeth High School, has been a teacher for 24 years. She says her teachers scrambled to find assessments that fulfilled these grading requirements.

“They were struggling. They were pulling different things, grading a few questions, maybe pulling a cold read from a different website,” she says.

Districts like Allen Parish Schools are not alone, as we show in our assessment strategy white paper .

For Bruchhaus, a freshman English teacher at Kinder High School, the work of sourcing assessments was overwhelming.

“Prior to this year, my experience has been that I’ve had to do everything, find everything, create the assessments, and make sure they were the appropriate rigor,” she says.

District leaders added up the total amount of time students were being tested and were floored. They discovered the quality of the assessments was low. The combination of those two things created some urgency for them to begin looking for other, briefer and higher quality assessment options, so they turned to the curriculum.

Sarah Tierney, a member of ANet’s System Advising team, helped district leaders uncover all the high-quality CEAs available within their existing curricula. The district had adopted high-quality curricula, many of which included equally excellent assessments, perfectly aligned to the content.

“I was able to help them see that they could save a lot of effort, and raise the bar on quality, just by taking advantage of the CEAs built into their instructional materials,” Sarah says.

“Leveraging CEAs from a high-quality curriculum is a really smart move and one critical part of a broader assessment strategy that also includes high-quality interim assessments,” explains Sarah. “When teachers use short-cycle assessments and longer-cycle interim assessments, they get a clear picture of their students' progress toward mastery—it's really the combination of the two that's powerful.”

At Weldon’s school, multiple-choice tests are a thing of the past, replaced by CEAs that are richer measures of student work. They include evidence or vocabulary charts, discussion tables, presentations, group projects, or timelines with summaries of events.

Weldon and Bruchhaus say curriculum-embedded assessments have allowed them not only to streamline their practice but also to meaningfully gauge their students’ progress.

“You’re getting more from looking at an evidence chart than you would be getting from a multiple-choice question. You’re getting more from students doing a lesson, going back and editing themselves, and then giving you what they’ve rewritten,” says Weldon.

Testing, Weldon says, now has a purpose as opposed to being mere inputs to satisfy state grading requirements. Teachers receive data through CEAs that offers them opportunities to make smaller, more frequent adjustments to student instruction.

I’m doing assessments that build to that place I’m trying to get to instead of just getting a grade and not doing anything with that grade.
— literacy coach Stacy Weldon

“It gives us something to use as evidence and data whereas before that evidence and data didn’t correlate to our unit. This is a much better picture of what I am doing—I’m four lessons in, what do I need to adjust? Who may not be growing like I need them to?”

Curriculum-embedded assessments have simplified Bruchhaus’ practice, freeing her to focus on students who need additional support.

“It’s not as complicated. I have my skeleton, I know exactly what my students need. I don’t know if I could have ever really honed in on where my students are falling short because I had to do everything as opposed to what I’m able to do now,” she says.

Initially, Bruchhaus was against curriculum-embedded assessments because she wanted to control what tests she gave to her students. She has since become a convert, having seen for herself that assessments are an extension of teaching and learning. Bruchhaus says her students have a better grasp of how they can excel in class and what she must do to help them succeed.

“I have a map that takes me to the destination,” Bruchhaus says. “It has guided my students better so they can see where they need to get to. They know the success criteria. It’s not up in the air.”

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