College Ready Assessments don’t have to get lost in the Matrix!

September 16, 2016

Drew Schrader

Curriculum embedded performance assessments like College Ready Assessments are a core part of how NTN schools develop student readiness through PBL.  These assessments help students develop their ability to think and communicate effectively using the conventions of various academic and professional fields. As you can see in this blog post from Ryan James at Central Coast New Tech this emphasis on effective disciplinary thinking and communication stretches teachers’ sense of their work and what they need to do to be effective, leading to shared responsibility for student outcomes like written communication and enhanced scaffolding for growing those outcomes. – Drew Schrader, NTN Director of Assessment

When I first came to Central Coast New Tech, my boss fed me a steady diet of analogies to help me adjust to a new way of teaching within a new student body culture.  At one point, he said I was like Neo in The Matrix, choosing between pills – Do you want to know what’s real?  At other times I was Alice in Wonderland also facing a choice between pills.  What’s the deal with pills here? I thought.  But once I was in (or out?), maybe after the first quarter, my boss stopped by and after we talked for a while, he announced that I had officially drank the Cool-Aid.  And with that reassuring allusion, I assumed he meant that I was in the club.

Moving from a traditional school to a project based, tech based, truly student centered environment was a shock to most expectations and habits I had picked up while teaching English at other sites.  Most notably, that teaching writing and having the kids write was the lone responsibility of the English teacher.  Everything was new.  And as an English teacher, the newest thing for me was that each teacher, regardless of subject, was teaching written communication and assigning essays.  And as I acclimated to this reality, I began to enjoy a constant conversation coming from all of my colleagues about how to improve student writing as an entire site.  Writing tasks were happening throughout projects, on various subjects.  We were experiencing measurable success with our students.  And what was most exciting to me at that point in my New Tech life was the realization that students were going from class to class and being asked to explain their thoughts in writing nearly everyday.

Even the types of assignments were different.  With my introduction to New Tech came IAKTs, CRAs, SWLOs – acronyms flying in and out of my ears until, like the assimilation of a foreign language, I began to think New Tech and speak New Tech.  As I’ve changed and adapted (I can’t tell you how many kids have called me out on my growth mindset – or lack thereof), I’ve redefined myself in the way I approach writing.  I can envision what a project might look like before we roll it out.  And as a teacher of writing, I have come to appreciate the value of asking kids to write on a final essay prompt more often and at earlier points in the process so they can receive feedback and flesh out ideas before the end comes.  Taking the time to connect a rubric with short, mid project assessment establishes expectations, creates stability, and provides direction for kids without the pressure of writing a multi-page essay.  I have learned that these writing assignments are like building a staircase where was only a drop off before.  For those kids who struggle with writing or take time to mature their ideas, stepping off of a ledge is safer than leaping off of one.  I have learned that kids need more time to write about topics; that they don’t think about my class as much as I do which means that I need to give them time to think about it.

In closing, I hope that you have the personal bandwidth to try and give these writing opportunities a try with your students.  And maybe you will experience the benefits of these assessments and find yourself uttering the famous line of our matrix hero, Keanu Reeves – “Whoa”
Ryan James, English Teacher, Central Coast New Tech High School