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St. Helens school staff showcase new approach for student assessment during school visit

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - Lewis and Clark Elementary School Principal Dustin Salisbury and U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici observe a classroom of third-grade students on Wednesday, Oct. 18. Bonamici visited the school to observe staff using a new program geared toward assessing student achievement in the classroom.
Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici visited staff at Lewis and Clark Elementary School on Wednesday, Oct. 18, to observe teachers in their classrooms using a new way of assessing student progress.

For the past year and a half, a small group of staff in the St. Helens School District have been taking advantage of professional development programs that focus on "quality assessment practice," which aims to help students understand concepts they need to know and why they're tested on those concepts.

The Oregon Education Association spearheaded the program in 2016 and staff in St. Helens joined a pilot group of other school districts across the state who are hoping to determine more effective methods of measuring student success by engaging them directly in the assessment process.

A teacher using the methods will have target goals listed in the room that outline what each student should understand regarding a certain subject. As students go through assignments, they are asked to self-reflect on how comfortable they feel with the material. That feedback helps teachers better understand the needs of each student, and gives the student a better idea of areas that require improvement.

Teacher Kathleen Alexander said students in her class take ownership of their learning by using these strategies. They're better equipped to understand how tests and assessments work and what exactly those tests are trying to measure, she said.

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - St. Helens School District staff pose for a photo with Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici. Staff who met with Bonamici have implemented the quality assessment practices programs in their classrooms over the past year and a half, and spoke with Bonamici about their experiences. Andrea Shunk, the education policy and practice strategist with OEA, said the concept is essentially to make the work active and ongoing in the classroom.

On Wednesday, Bonamici visited three classrooms — students in second, third and sixth grades — to observe the practices.

Students in Marcy Schaffer's second-grade classroom explained self-assessment to Bonamici.

"Self-assessment is a process to determine what a person knows and what a person can do," the class slowly chanted in unison while motioning with their heads and holding their arms in a flexed muscle pose.

Bonamici said she will take her observations to Congress and use the school district as an example to demonstrate how student progress assessments can be used more effectively. She would like to see a shift away from the traditional student progress method of relying on one cumulative test at the end of the school year.

"Here's an example of a district that really has raised good quality instruction," Bonamici said. "And we're going to be watching, because from what I can tell and what I saw today, this is really going to make a difference."

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