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A great faculty meeting on the CWRA+

November 14, 2013

About a week ago, I asked twitter the following question:

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As expected, faculty meetings aren’t a beloved institution for teachers. But there are bright spots:

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I, too, have hopes that faculty meeting can be a useful and even inspiring gathering of colleagues, and today, I have just a bit more proof of how that is possible.

Our school participates in the College and Work Readiness Assessment (CWRA). The CWRA is a standardized test designed to measure those 21st Century critical thinking skills we always talk about, and it does it with a real world performance task that pushes you to synthesize a bunch of different sources of information to analyze an argument.

My school uses this test to give a very basic measure of how we are doing at teaching these skills and try to being to assess the value we are adding. Since the CWRA is changing a bit in its format, and we haven’t discussed it in a while as a faculty, our academic dean decided decided it would be a good idea devote part of a faculty meeting to this topic.

And we did this not through death by powerpoint but simply by taking the sample task that you can download from the website. After 30 seconds of introduction, he asked the faculty to start working on the task from the midst of a student taking it, and it didn’t take long for the faculty to break into deeply engaged small group discussion. After about 15 minutes of discussion, our academic dean asked the faculty to switch gears and use the whiteboards to write out the answers to two questions:

    1. (Skills) What critical thinking skills are required to answer this task successfully?

(Validity) To what extent is this a valid measure of those skills?

I was amazed by how quickly the 20 whiteboards around the room were filled with all of the same skills and a recognition of the validity of this test. When we began to discuss our thoughts about the test, faculty quickly saw the value of collaboration in working on this task (something not permitted on the test itself, but a real world skill we want our students to have), and the need for our students to do more interdisciplinary work like this. All of this took only about 40 minutes of meeting time, and I think this exercise left all of us hungry to do more work around this assessment and thinking about our curriculum, which is a pretty exciting outcome of a faculty meeting, in my opinion.

And of course, I don’t think you actually need to participate in the CWRA to have this conversation with your faculty—this is just one way to assess student learning in macro way, and it’s certainly better than many of the other high stakes tests out there I read about. Simply get your faculty or department to spend 20 minutes taking this task, and see where the discussion takes you. You might even try it out with a small group of students to get a sense of how your own students wrestle with the question.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 19, 2013 5:44 pm

    John, this is a great post and very interesting to me. I’ve been noticing more and more that schools are reporting valuable professional learning in having educators practice taking the same testing as they’re having students do. It is a strategy recommended in the DATA WISE books out of Harvard Principal’s center; I know they’ve done it in some of the Virginia districts using CWRA; and Tony Wagner discusses his own experience and the value of taking the CWRA in his Global Achievement Gap.

    Right now I’m doing a research project on the new PISA test for schools, and many of those districts have told me that it has been huge having their teachers take the PISA and consider what it is asking and compare it to the “regular” tests their students take. You can find a huge set of sample PISA questions here

    Good stuff: thanks so much for sharing.

    • November 19, 2013 8:48 pm

      Thanks so much for the links to the PISA questions. I’ll take a look, and I hope we can use these in a future department or faculty meeting.

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