‘One-stop shop’ helps teachers build, use formative assessments

Fourth-grade student Cole Williams whispers his score from a test to his teacher Debbie Craft at Hindman Elementary School (Knott County). Craft likes how quickly she can design a test with CIITS. At right is 4th-grade student Maston Hicks. Photo by Amy Wallot, Feb 8, 2012
Fourth-grade student Cole Williams whispers his score from a test to his teacher Debbie Craft at Hindman Elementary School (Knott County). Craft likes how quickly she can design a test with CIITS. At right is 4th-grade student Maston Hicks. Photo by Amy Wallot, Feb 8, 2012

By Matthew Tungate

Debbie Craft and Amber Stewart first learned of the Continuous Instructional Improvement Technology System (CIITS) when it launched in August last year. At that time, it linked standards and KET EncycloMedia: Discovery Education videos, and that was about all.

The two 4th-grade teachers at Hindman Elementary School (Knott County) didn’t find out until December how the system had grown and how they would come to appreciate the online resource. It was then that they learned how to create formative assessments from an item bank of standards-based questions, give students the tests online, receive almost immediate feedback on how the students performed and then use that data to differentiate instruction.

“CIITS does make teaching easier and more efficient,” said Craft, a 25-year teaching veteran. “With CIITS you don’t have to worry if the questions are worded correctly, if it meets the standard or search for available resources because CIITS provides it for us. It is very efficient to know you are using standards-based questions that have been aligned to the state standards. Also, the data collection is very efficient. By being able to frequently assess our students, we hope to see them be successful.”

The pair agreed that CIITS has changed their instructional practice because now they can easily assess students to determine their individual learning needs.

“The information we receive from the assessments is used to help the students that are below the standards. We are able to place them in small groups to reinforce the needed standards to help ensure they can master the content,” said Stewart, who has taught for four years.

Joe McCowan, CIITS product manager for the Kentucky Department of Education, said that is the way CIITS is supposed to work for teachers.

“It’s not about this new cool system they have,” he said. “This is just the delivery to make things happen in the classroom.”

In CIITS, teachers can access the Kentucky Core Academic Standards in English/language arts and mathematics, the corresponding deconstructed standards/learning targets, Program of Studies, Core Content for Assessment 4.1 and directly linked, aligned, high-quality, multi-media instructional resources from KET EncycloMedia: Discovery Education and SAS Curriculum Pathways. In addition, there’s now a link to Thinkfinity instructional resources on the CIITS homepage.

The system also contains the Kentucky Standard for World Language Proficiency, Early Childhood Standards, Kentucky Technology Standards, ISTE National Educational Technology Standards and AASL Library Standards.

CIITS is available anytime, anywhere to all Kentucky public school educators with an Internet-connected computer. Video tutorials and training materials are available in CIITS to help teachers and administrators learn to use the system; more formal training is also being offered.

“The main goal of CIITS is to create a one-stop shop to support teachers in the instructional process. But it’s actually what they do with the data in the system as a follow-up that’s the critical piece,” McCowan said.

Formative assessments
Craft and Stewart took training to learn how to use the formative assessment tools within CIITS in December as part of a group of 250 educators in 17 early adopter districts, McCowan said.

Teachers then were asked to create formative assessments for their students using the item bank in the system.

McCowan said teachers also can create their own questions and assessments using CIITS. Then, students take the test online or using an approved student response system, and the results are immediately scored and displayed in CIITS, he said.

David Tate, who teaches 7th-grade math at Louisa Middle School (Lawrence County), wasn’t familiar with CIITS before his formative assessment training. He is impressed.

“Some fields have a large database of questions already created that are linked to state standards. Thankfully math has a rather large amount of questions to pull from that have helped me create assessments for my students,” he said.

Additional questions will be added to the item bank as the system grows, McCowan said.

“Also, the training showed us how to create our own assessments using questions we have created ourselves. Having the flexibility to blend the material in the assessments in an easy manner has been very beneficial.”

Tate said the student mastery and item analysis reports allow him to see where his students are struggling.

“For example, if I see that 80 percent of the students who missed a particular question all chose the same incorrect answer, I am able see a common mistake. If I have had given a regular formative assessment on paper, I may not have seen the pattern,” he said. “The item analysis of the questions just lends itself to allowing teachers to have a greater understanding of their students’ responses.”

Tate said that while some teachers may say using the system costs them time tweaking lesson plans based on formative assessment results, he doesn’t see it that way.

“Now I am starting to discover that CIITS is reducing the amount of time needed to create, grade and analyze assessments,” the fourth-year teacher said. “It is nice to finally find a tool that saves time and actually improves the quality of analysis.”

Using CIITS is affecting how other teachers teach, too.

Jessica Bivin, a 3rd-grade teacher at Muhlenberg South Elementary School (Muhlenberg County), is using the formative assessments to direct her instruction.

“The assessment results help me decide where to go next with lessons and units – deciding whether to reteach to the whole class, a small group or one-on-one,” she said. “I am a National Board Certified Teacher, so constant assessment and reflection always guides my instruction. This is another tool to help me make those decisions more effectively.”

Bivin has used assessment results to teach guided-reading strategies, Response to Intervention in math and language arts, and one-on-one instruction for struggling students. She focuses on students who scored apprentice and novice by providing direct instruction on the content standard.

Suesan Locke, a 7th- and 8th-grade language arts teacher at New Haven School (Nelson County), learned about the formative assessment process before she graduated from college two years ago.

“I am currently using an assessment that I created in CIITS for my argumentative writing unit. I am using these questions as bell ringers. I project them onto my board. We go over the passage as a whole group. We discuss the correct answer and why it is the correct answer,” she said.

Teachers can not only use CIITS to create and give formative assessments, analyze results and modify instruction based on those results but also design instructional units and lesson plans that align to standards and incorporate the characteristics of highly effective teaching and learning. Administrators are also learning how to create common assessments in CIITS.

Tate said the potential for CIITS is “rather staggering.”

“With the ability to actually create lesson plans within CIITS, it would seem that we could do the majority of our planning and assessing within CIITS,” he said.

Eventually, teachers also will be able to share units and lesson plans. Once they are vetted, these resources will be placed in CIITS for others to use, McCowan said.

Besides the standards, aligned instructional materials, formative assessment and lesson planning tools, McCowan said CIITS also displays student-level data from Infinite Campus. Demographic and guardian information, enrollment, attendance, and program information for special education, Migrant, LEP and gifted and talented is now included along with course grades, he said. EXPLORE and PLAN assessment data from 2010-11 is available as is MAP data for districts that administer the benchmark assessment and have signed an agreement to have it loaded into CIITS, he said.

According to McCowan, ACT data will soon be added to CIITS along with the current year’s EXPLORE and PLAN scores.

Teachers also can access videos to enhance their understanding and teaching of the Kentucky Core Academic Standards for Mathematical Practice; a sample mathematics formative assessment lesson from the Kentucky Leadership Networks; and videos from Kentucky classrooms demonstrating highly effective teaching and learning he said. Videos and other resources from the School Improvement Network on teaching the common core standards are also available through CIITS.

“Once you log in, you have everything you need right there, with standards, instructional materials and student-level data, and then jump to the formative assessment process,” McCowan said.

The final component to CIITS will be the Educator Development Suite. McCowan said the state received federal Race to the Top money to add this teacher and leader effectiveness module. Current plans call for it to be field tested in the 2012-13 school year and be available statewide at the beginning of the 2013-14 school year.

Principals will store teachers’ evaluations in CIITS, and teachers will be able to see their performance and track their goals, McCowan said. Teachers can then simply click on areas where they need improvement and find professional development materials within CIITS or opportunities to register for more training.

Joe McCowan, joseph.mccowan@education.ky.gov, (502) 564-9850