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April 3, 2013

SCHELLENBERG: Teaching, learning and testing in Greater Clark

— Schools are busy places in the spring. The final months of the academic calendar include ambitious assessment schedules that can sometimes appear overwhelming. 

Many parents and community members question the necessity of these tests. However, in a well-rounded, organized educational system, assessments play a vital role in helping administrators and teachers plan strong instruction.

Before we talk about testing, it is important to understand that assessments are just one part of a teaching-learning model. The first section of the model is the curriculum. The curriculum is the “what” the students are supposed to learn. At Greater Clark County Schools and for most schools in Indiana, the curriculum is based on the Indiana Academic Standards and the newly adopted Common Core State Standards that will be used in 45 states across the nation. These standards provide detailed descriptions of the skills students must master at each grade level.

The second section of the model is the instruction. The instruction is the “how” the students are taught the curriculum. There are many teaching strategies that have scientific research to back their effectiveness. 

Administrators and teachers spend hours in professional-development activities studying the best methods to ensure they match the best instruction with the content and the needs of their students. Greater Clark administrators and teachers focus much of their time monitoring student engagement and making sure that student understanding is checked regularly. 

When schools begin to talk about moving to a 1:1 computer environment, oftentimes it is to increase the amount of student engagement, access and feedback. Technology helps increase efficiency and engagement and encourages students to express themselves in new and creative ways. Additionally, an enhanced technological environment prepares students for the world they will experience in their future work force.

The final stage of the model is assessment. Assessments answer the question “Did my students learn what they were supposed to learn from my instruction?” This stage of the learning cycle provides critical information and data for educators to plan future phases of instruction. These assessments are developed at the classroom, school, district, state or national level. 

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