Friday, August 14, 2009

Advanced Placement - Common Assessment

The following will appear in the Wisconsin Advanced Placement Advisory Council Newsletter in August 2009. This was an interview conducted by Jim Bokern of Marshfield High School with Paul Aleckson.

As K-12 Social Studies Curriculum Coordinator and Advanced Placement (AP) US History Instructor at DC Everest (DCE) High School, Paul Aleckson has continually set high standards of professional excellence. For decades DCE students have been standouts in National History Day; published oral histories on WWII, Korea and Vietnam veterans, the Hmong Culture and History, and the Depression Era. Long before the terms of equity and access were common, Paul and other History teachers at DCE reached out to all college bound students sparking their interest in taking on the challenge of AP. This year DCE enrollment in AP US History will surge from 100 students to 150! This spike in participation is an extension of the AP vertical teams that DCE has developed over the years in grades 6-9.

Not surprisingly, Aleckson and his team at DCE have developed a new and promising practice that can increase student performance on the multiple choice portion of AP exams. In an effort to share this grassroots assessment, Aleckson addressed four questions regarding his multiple choice assessment model:

What sparked this new approach?

How does it work?

What were your results from year 1?

What to you see as the future of this multiple choice model?

What sparked this new approach?

Five years ago the Principal at DCE, Dr. Johansen, set common assessments as the number 1 goal of their Professional learning Communities (PLC). After several years of DCE teachers setting Learning Targets, Dr. Johansen pushed the high school faculty to create strong common assessments in shared areas of instruction. Aleckson indicated that the teachers were expected to hit the Learning Targets they set as measured by their newly created common. The idea was to generate data on student learning, reflect on the data, and make adjustments to instruction to increase student learning. Aleckson and DCE teachers of AP US History, AP European History, Regular History and Regular Global Studies embarked on a journey of multiple choice assessment reform.

How does it work?

Once the Learning Targets were set, Aleckson’s AP US History teachers collected old AP multiple choice exam questions and some questions from outside vendors to create a pool of authentic and rigorous questions. Since 1984, over 400 multiple choice questions have been released by the AP program so the DCE teachers did not create the questions. Once the questions were pooled, they broke the AP US History course into 12 periods and grouped the multiple choice questions into the 12 chronological periods. The tricky part was finding the correct question that matched both the Learning Target and skill required by the DCE curriculum. Aleckson indicated that it took about 8 PLC meetings to select the questions but this was the foundation of a well constructed common assessment.

Once the rigorous semester exams were created, the DCE team set standards of 70% and higher as advanced, 60% to 69% as proficient, 45% to 59% as basic and 44% and lower as below basic. These standards closely correspond with the AP standards on the multiple choice portion of the national exam.

What were your results from year 1?

The test results were shared with the students, and work was done on improving student learning gaps. The multiple choice exams pin-pointed student learning gaps and suggested instruction by teachers. Aleckson shared that educators often felt that they taught a concept well in class, but in reality the kids missed it. The common assessment data helps ID these problems allows for correction. DCE teachers found that the data led them to use more quick formative assessments like daily/weekly quizzes to clear-up deficits before the big common assessment at semester.

DCE teachers adjusted testing schedules and gave semester exams well before the end of the semester to allow for data analysis and remediation. This logical adjustment of time allows for reflection on the data and remediation. One of the data analysis discoveries Aleckson made regarding his best students was they most often missed multiple choice questions that used the term “except” in the prompt. For instance, “All of the following deal with the rise of sectionalism in the 19th century except….” These discoveries help both the gifted learner and the student reaching to get a 3 on the AP exam.

As for the remediation and analysis of student deficits, DCE teachers allow the students to disaggregate their test data. With the possibility of raising their grade by retesting in areas they tested at basic or below basic, students have a vested interest, and tend to be both honest in their data reflection and targeted in remedial learning. Aleckson expects student’s to retake portions of the exam that were below standard. This requires a week or two before the end of the semester to accommodate student learning and remedial testing needs.

What to you see as the future of this Multiple Choice model?

Aleckson hopes that other AP courses explore and improve on the multiple choice testing model his social studies department created. He is already looking to remove some of the questions used last year and refine his assessment based on DCE Learning Targets. Next year, Aleckson wants to focus on improving upon interventions for students who score at basic or below basic on their semester tests. The DCE teachers involved in this innovative practice will continue insightful data reflection and hopefully expanding this multiple choice testing model into other subjects.

As most educators embrace open access to AP for all college bound students, strategies like Aleckson’s will provide critical differention of assessment that will lead to greater student success and skill development. Hopefully, educators will create and share these teaching/assessment instruments in the state of Wisconsin as we pursue both Equity and Excellence.


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