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SD Department of Education
Aug. 2017  

  TEACHER FEATURE: Rapid City teacher has heart for assessment

For Kim Webber, the Smarter Balanced Digital Library speaks to her belief in the power of good assessment. Having worked at the district level as a math coach and curriculum specialist, Webber returned to the classroom a year ago, as a 2nd grade teacher at Black Hawk Elementary in Rapid City.

Webber is part of the State Network of Educators, or SNEs, who work with colleagues across the country to continually improve the Digital Library, an online repository of formative assessment resources aligned to state content standards, available at no cost to all South Dakota public school teachers.

What makes the Digital Library valuable for teachers?
There’s a stringent review process for resources to be posted to the Digital Library. They’ve been reviewed and vetted by teachers. So there’s that first cut that doesn’t happen when you’re using Google or Pinterest, where sometimes resources either aren’t well-aligned to our state content standards or of high quality.

Is the Digital Library useful for all teachers, not only those who teach grade levels and content areas tested on the statewide Smarter Balanced test?
Definitely, yes. There are resources for pre-K on up. There are science resources, art resources, many subject areas and grade levels. So it’s for all teachers.

For someone who’s tried getting into the Digital Library and had difficulties getting logged in, there have been improvements, right?
Yes, now by simply going to sbdigitallibrary.org, there are two options: to log in with your existing username and password, or if you’ve never logged in before, you can register by using your school-issued email address (i.e. @k12.sd.us).

What other improvements have been made to the Digital Library?
I got involved in the Digital Library several years ago and was part of the first group of SNEs to be trained. Since then, it’s been a continual learning process to make it more useful and user-friendly.

One thing we’ve been working on lately is to deal with resources that were “over-tagged.” They might be labeled as appropriate for several grade levels, but really they’d be best for one grade level. We’re trying to remedy that by reexamining resources and getting more precise about how a resource is described. So now when a teacher searches for resources, fewer will come up. But they should be a better fit for what the teacher is really looking for.

How can teachers search for items in the Digital Library?
Resources are searchable by standard, grade level, subject area and the four attributes of formative assessment (clarify intended learning; elicit evidence; interpret evidence; act on evidence).

There are three broad categories of resources: professional learning, instructional and playlists. Professional learning resources might be videos of teachers demonstrating a formative assessment strategy. I like those because I can watch them, and think about how I could apply the strategy to my own classroom.

Instructional items are more specific resources you can use directly with students. For instance, I might be looking for something to supplement my core curriculum to help me differentiate my instruction or to present material in a different way.

What are playlists?
I’m really excited about playlists. They just started coming out during the last school year. These would be specifically for teachers of Smarter Balanced tested grade levels and subject areas who are administering the Smarter Balanced interim assessments. The playlists connect data from the interim assessments to Digital Library resources.

As an example, let’s say a 5th grade teacher gives a Smarter Balanced interim assessment on fractions. After the teacher gets student results, he or she can use a playlist to find resources within the Digital Library to help students move to the next level, wherever they might be starting from.

There is now a specific Playlist tab within the Digital Library, and we’re working on adding more playlists all the time.

You really seem to have a heart for assessment. Why is that?
I think that when used properly, assessment is what drives the instruction that we need to deliver to help our students achieve. Sometimes people think about tests and more formal types of testing as the only type of assessment. But the Digital Library is more focused on the day-to-day formative assessment that moves our students forward.

Formative assessment can be everything from observations to exit tickets to quick-check self-assessment and student goal setting. All of that working together, it can just become an integral part of what we do, and what our students do all the time.

I’ve been in education for 30 years, and I’ve learned assessment isn’t something that you can do just by feeling. We need to have evidence. I sometimes get surprises when giving formative assessments. There might be a concept or skill I thought my students knew or understood at a different level, or maybe I thought they didn’t and it turned out they had met the target. So I think it’s good to constantly assess how our students are doing.

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