Posts Tagged ‘VGLA’
There was an article in the Washington recently, which discussed portfolio assessments. A portfolio assessment is an alternative assessment, which the state of Virginia and some other states are choosing to allow instead of the annual standards of learning exam for some students with English language deficiencies and students with learning disabilities. Are they fair? Do they give a real picture of what’s occurring in our schools? No, but not for the reason that non-educators think.
Within the walls of the school buildings teachers are working harder than ever to teach each and every child. The “standards” that each state has decided all children must be held to, though in theory is a good idea, and are in reality having a negative impact on our children’s education.
Teachers have less time to prepare students now for the material they should know than ever before. So much time is spent on teaching test taking strategies and practicing taking standardized tests that there is little time left for teaching the depth of a topic that makes up the real education our kids need.
Right or wrong, the way teachers are teaching today is to pass the standardized tests. WRONG, yes. Is it going to change just because it’s wrong, NO.? Is it the teacher’s fault? ABSOLUTELY NO!
I’m a special education teacher, so if I don’t feel like some of my students can demonstrate their knowledge on these multiple choice standardized tests adequately or fairly but can demonstrate them better via a portfolio assessment, in the state of Virginia, I can choose to do a Virginia Grade Level Alternative Assessment. It’s not just my decision; it’s a decision between me, the parent and the classroom teacher, and an administrator. But, ultimately, in my opinion, it comes back to whether I feel or see that the child is successful in taking a standardized test.
The alternative portfolio is a collection over the whole year (though it has to be done about 3 – 4 weeks before the actual standardized tests are given!) of a student’s work showing that the child was able to complete the work required in those standards. The teacher is able to give the child multiple opportunities and the testing can be done soon after teaching a concept. The method of testing is very open including oral question and answer, anecdotal notes by the teacher, and teacher created worksheets just to name a few.
The Washington Post article says that the scores on the alternative portfolio are falsely inflating the test scores for the schools. If you were a teacher turning in a portfolio for a child, given the time and knowing that this book was being graded, would you turn in a portfolio that wasn’t going to pass? Really?
The amount of work that goes into a portfolio assessment is tremendous! No teacher takes these on lightly and if we decide that they are right for a student then we are going to make every effort to teach the concept to the child so that they can pass that standard at the moment in time that we test them.
This is where the flaw comes in! Students with special needs have a variety of disabilities that keep them from retaining much information long term. Though we say they can’t take a multiple choice test, I believe the real reason they are not suited for an annual standards of learning exam is they cannot retain the information necessary to be tested at the end of the year for an entire year’s instruction. This is why we choose to use the portfolio assessment for some students!
Luckily, there are some websites that are making my job a bit easier. Big Universe is adding assessments to their books. I can now have my children read one of their books and take the assessment online. This is a tremendous help in preparing them for the knowledge they need for the standards. Many students with learning needs are visual learners. Computers become the answer for these children so finding quality websites is my number one job as a teacher when it comes to instructional planning.
Standardized testing has changed the way we teach in our schools. It takes up too much instructional time and takes away the depth of the education that was once taught. It isn’t going to go away because politicians are running the testing, not the teachers. In order to test everyone the portfolio assessment is the only option available at this point for special needs students in many states. It’s a rigorous collection of evidence that proves the student has mastered the concepts of every standard being tested. Is it fair to put the two test scores together to indicate whether a school is meeting its annual yearly progress? That’s the real question we should be asking.
One of the outcomes of standardized testing in our schools is the way we handle the assessment of our special education population. Because No Child is to be Left Behind, our children with special needs are held to the same standards as all students. All children should have the same educational opportunities and should not never be looked upon as limited simply because of a disability. However, testing some of these children annually just to say that they have been tested is ludicrous.
States have been given the opportunity to create alternative assessments so a special education student does not have to take the one day question and answer test, but I have to question whether anyone creating these assessments have ever worked with these children or ever come into the classroom and asked teachers if these assessments are working. The answer is NO.
In Virginia there are two alternative assessments for the special education student in elementary school. They are both based on the premise that a student can’t take a multiple choice test (read my last blog). The first assessment is the VAAP, the Virginia Alternative Assessment Program. The student being considered for this must have a significant cognitive disability, which requires that he have individualized instruction most of the day among other criteria.
The second alternative assessment in Virginia is the VGLA or Virginia Grade Level Alternative assessment. The VGLA allows the student (in reality the teacher) to collect a portfolio of his/her work in place of the standards exam at the end of the year. The teacher actually collects an extensive portfolio of material that shows the student has met a wide range of criteria for all of the standards for their grade level in reading math and sometimes other academic areas.
The grading of the portfolios is very open-ended though there are guidelines but since no child’s binder is exactly the same a lot is left up to the discretion of the graders. Often it is how well the teacher has put together and collected the material. Did the teacher grade each document? If the answer is no then it isn’t supposed to be counted. If the evidence shows 3 correct answers and 3 wrong answers on a worksheet with 6 questions then the average scorer won’t take the piece of evidence as adequate but, the teacher can turn in a work sample showing just the 3 correct problems that meet the criteria and get a good score. As a teacher I’m better off cutting and pasting the correct answers and submitting just those, but is this teaching?
A teacher could teach and assess a student over and over again on the same information until they get good evidence. For many of these kids there are memory issues so the only way to get an assessment of their knowledge is to teach a topic and assess their knowledge shortly after the teaching. They won’t remember what you taught tomorrow. Is this learning?
The average math portfolio for a fourth grade student requires approximately 100 pieces of evidence to demonstrate standards have been met. For example just one strand of one standard in math is the student must “solve problems involving 1.) addition and 2.) subtraction with 3.) fractions having 4.) like and 5.) unlike denominators of 12 or less and with 6.) decimals expressed through thousandths using various computational methods, including 7.) calculators, 8.) 9.) paper and pencil, 10.) 11.) mental computation, 12.) 13.) estimation.” I probably lost track but there are at least 13 items that need evidence in this one strand. There will probably be at least 3 or 4 pieces of paper.
As a teacher, the process is exhausting and as a student I’m sure it’s not much better. The VGLA is no guarantee of a pass but it does show what a student can do. In the end the teacher and school never get the graded binder back so we can’t truly see how our student did, we only get numbers.
I definitely believe that all students need to be given the opportunity to learn and achieve to their maximum potential. As a teacher, that’s my goal for every student. The state and federal government have stepped in and said that they now need proof that shows I’m teaching these children to the highest standards possible. Why would I want to be a special education teacher, which pays no more money than a general education teacher, which pays very little, if I didn’t want to help these children reach their highest potential?
Here are some sites where VGLA type materials are available. Unfortunately it isn’t going away.
Math worksheets at Eraser Dog, Good Example of VGLA type questions on a California standards outline, Practice Problems for California Math Standards, which can be used in all states. These are examples only and should be matched carefully to your state’s standards. Good Luck!
Posted on September 4, 2009 by Big Universe in Uncategorized.
Tags: Asperger, assessment, Autism, Big Universe, learning disabilities, Online Children's Books, special education, Special Needs, Standards of Learning, VGLA
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The school year has begun and so have the thoughts of teaching in order to pass tests and meet standards. Did your school meet AYP? That’s Annual Yearly Progress. It’s determined by the tests given at the end of the year. In Virginia they’re called the SOL – Standards of Learning. AYP is determined by looking at many things including the progress of many sub groups of students such as those with learning disabilities, minority students, economically disadvantaged and English Speakers of Other Language students, etc. Each year America’s teachers are held to stricter and stricter standards and each year the tests change and new tests are added.
There’s also NCLB. No Child Left Behind. That means that all children will be held to the same standards regardless of disability, economic status, language spoken, etc. As a special education teacher I can tell you that there are numerous flaws to this but I’m not going to go into that now.Each state has been allowed to come up with an alternative assessment(s) for those children with disabilities who cannot show progress by taking the standard assessment. In Virginia this alternative for students with learning disabilities and other disabilities that are not considered profoundly disabling is called the VGLA or Virginia Grade Level Assessment.
The VGLA is a portfolio assessment that can be used in place of the SOL for each subject area being tested. One of the questions that must be answered as part of the qualification criterion is, “does the student demonstrate his/her individual achievement of the Standards of Learning content by means other than multiple-choice test format?” Typically this has been interpreted as, “the student can’t take multiple choice tests.”
Here’s the problem. That’s not the major difficulty with these children and the SOL. The major difficulty in judging these children via the SOL is in expecting them to remember an entire year’s worth of learning and then regurgitate it on one day in one test through 50 or so questions! Multiple choice questions aren’t necessarily the problem! Many of these kids can take short multiple choice tests after learning material, just not 6 months after learning the material – many have memory issues! However, because of the interpretation on the multiple choice question issue, the portfolio assessment only allows minimal multiple choice type questions, and as a teacher I can tell you that finding material that is not in multiple choice format is extremely difficult!
The VGLA or Virginia Grade Level Assessment is basically a notebook binder for each subject area that a student is going to be assessed on in place of a standardized test. Then within that subject area there needs to be at least one piece of “evidence” to support the fact that the student has properly demonstrated their knowledge of this standard. The job for the teacher is to try to make it as interesting as possible for the child. In my next blog I’ll give you a few worksheets and book links that will get you started with your students. If you haven’t decided whether or not a VGLA is right for your student(s), keep reading I’ll give you more insight next week.
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Posted on May 1, 2009 by Big Universe in Uncategorized.
Tags: 4.5a, 4.5b, 5.6a, Education, learning disability, online learning, online teaching, Reading, reading online, SOL, Special Needs, VGLA, Virginia SOL
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Books that are readable and have a reason to be read are usually hard to find for special education students. I feel like I’ve found a gold mine at Big Universe. The book Our Earth by Kenneth Walsh is written at the reading level of 2.6 but looks and can be read by children in the 4th and 5th grade who have reading difficulties.
Our Earth is a chapter book, with an index and glossary. The topic meets the criteria in many science curriculums and can be used easily as it is interesting to many 9, 10 and 11 year olds! What more can you ask for in a book? The fact that it’s online only makes it more enticing.
As a special education teacher in Fairfax County Virginia my first thought is always whether I’ll be able to gather any VGLA (Virginia Grade Level Assessment) material by reading a particular text. The VGLA is a portfolio assessment designed to collect material that a student has produced to show that they are at grade level on each and every Standard of Learning (SOL) strand. The assessment is for those students who can’t take the multiple choice test, successfully, at the end of the year, but are able to produce grade level work. Let me tell you I’m starting to realize what an oxymoron that statement is!
With a book like Our Earth and a media like the computer and http://www.biguniverse.com the VGLA becomes more feasible. I read the book and designed a couple of activities that I could use right away for the VGLA for a non-fiction book. I’m going to add more to finish up the standard as I have time.
I think the big idea here is that with the right book, with the right website like Big Universe, teachers can find what we need more easily than we thought. Our job then becomes making the most of it and making it work with what we need.
The following link will take you to a couple of pages of worksheets to use with Our Earth as a VGLA assessment or just a general assessment of your student’s comprehension. 45a45b56a1 (worksheets click here)