Chris Jakicic, EdD, an author and a consultant, was principal of Woodlawn Middle School in Illinois from 1999 to 2007. She began her career teaching middle school science.

Do You Have a “Stop Doing” List?

One of my favorite activities when working with teams at this time of the year is to have them create a “stop doing” list. This is a list of lessons, assessments, instructional strategies, and curriculum that team members realize are not serving them well in their goal of high levels of learning for every student. It’s actually the antithesis of a “to do” list, and will likely be a highly reflective opportunity for collaborative teams.

In the past, I’ve mostly used this activity when I was working with teams fairly new to the PLC process. After a year or two of implementation they often benefit from this pause in their work to do a current reality check. Most recently, I’ve been doing the same activity when working with collaborative teams on their assessment processes.

Here are some of the ideas I’ve had teams consider and debate during these conversations:

  • We need to stop assessing everything and focus on our essential standards. It’s not unusual for me to see teams skip over answering the first critical question teams should ask: “What do we want students to know and do?” They give the same level of attention to all the standards on their list. When they realize they are spending more time assessing than instructing, they realize they must backtrack and choose essential standards.
  • We need to stop writing summative tests and focus our work on common formative assessments. Short, frequent formative assessments are important for teams because they give them information during the unit about the material with which students are struggling or for which students need extensions. Waiting until the end of the unit often compounds problems because students go for a more extended period without extra time and support.
  • We need to stop using the same intervention time to respond to all of our assessments. Teams are most effective in closing the gap when they use different assessments to determine what students need in each tier of response. For example, common formative assessments are used to plan corrective response used during the regular classroom instruction time for Tier 1. Every student gets either help or extension based on what teams learn from their assessment. Tier 2 is a time set aside (no new instruction) that is used for students who are still experiencing difficulty on this year’s essential standards even after corrective instruction. Tier 3 is a time set aside for students who are still struggling to learn prior year’s essential standards.
  • We need to stop using benchmarking assessments as our common formative assessments. A dangerous shortcut I’ve seen teams make in this process is to try to use purchased benchmarking tests in the place of writing their own common formative assessments. Benchmarking assessments have a purpose but are not designed to monitor learning targets currently being taught in the classroom.
  • We need to stop providing the same response to all students who miss a learning target on a common formative assessments. One of the main purposes of a common formative assessments is to go beyond just identifying students who need help, but to understand what misunderstandings or misconceptions the student has. One constructed response question can often reveal student thinking in a way that allows a team to know precisely what help they can give to different groups of students.
  • We need to stop comparing classroom results during our data meetings and instead compare instructional strategies. I’m pretty confident that there isn’t one best strategy for teaching each concept. If there was, someone would have written the book and made a fortune! Rather, different strategies work better for different students. When teams meet to discuss their data, the conversations they have about different strategies help every member get better.
  • We need to stop writing assessments without developing an assessment plan or map first. Valid assessments have items that are linked to each of the learning targets being assessed. Those items are written to match both the content and the rigor of the target. If we don’t plan the assessment there may not be sufficient items to reliably assess each target or more items than needed leading to longer assessment time.
  • We need to stop using a cut score with formative assessments and instead look at the results by learning target. If an assessment has three targets and a student is proficient on two of them, the student still needs help on that third learning target. Cut scores are developed for summative assessments. For example, many state tests develop cut scores to identify different levels: Beyond Proficiency, Proficiency, Partial Proficiency, and No Proficiency.
  • We need to stop grading formative and common formative assessments. If the purpose of these assessments is to know what students still need to learn, grading them signals that the opportunity for learning has closed. A better practice is to provide strong feedback to students about what their answers reveal about their learning and then to provide opportunities for students to be engaged in planning and carrying out the next steps they need to take.

Do you recognize your team’s practices in the above examples?

I’m sure we’re all good at developing “to do” lists in our work. However, when we continue to add new strategies and never eliminate those that aren’t working, we become overwhelmed. When teams begin to eliminate ineffective practices, they create opportunities to try new and better practices.

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