One of the first benefits of the TCT process is getting to see how teachers across the state understand the depth and complexity of the task. Even before you use the TCT in your classroom, you should work through it as a student would and read the annotation document. This helps you get inside the mind of the task writer and see the depth of understanding required by students at your grade level. Without common tasks like these across classrooms and schools, we might all be teaching to a different level of complexity.
Once your students have completed the task, you’ll have an opportunity to gauge their performance on it. Although this task is part of the state science assessment system, you can use it as a formative assessment. As such, I would caution against giving students a grade for their performance, but students certainly deserve actionable feedback on their work. Additionally, although it does evaluate the same skills and reasoning abilities as the state summative tests, the TCT is not intended to be predictive of student scores on the state summative tests in 4th and 8th grades and in high school biology.
With those cautionary bits out of the way, let’s look at some ways to use the data.
As with any formative assessment, you can use the TCT results to group students for remediation and enrichment. If you find that a group of your students are struggling with a particular practice or crosscutting concept, you could group those students and provide a mini-lesson or experience tailored to the needs of those particular students. Remember that the goal is for students to successfully use both the science and engineering practices and the crosscutting concepts throughout their lives, not just on the TCTs.
A second level of data that you can use is how well your instruction matches student performance. Perhaps you and your teaching colleagues felt that you have done a great job helping students master the practice of analyzing and interpreting data, but the data from your chosen TCT shows otherwise. This is a great time for teachers to come together and talk about strengths and limitations of specific instructional approaches. As teachers share comments like, “I tried strategy X, and here are my results,” all teachers in the conversation can become stronger teachers.
A third level of data that you can use is department or program level data. What do the results of this TCT say about science instruction in our department? Last year, several teachers at my school used the “Comparing Cities” task. When we shared and discussed our results, we found data to support the claim that our students aren’t very good at asking the right kinds of questions. This data caused us to examine the things we were doing in the department to foster the questioning skills of our students.
So, TCT data can benefit groups of students through instructional grouping. It can benefit teams of teachers as they share instructional approaches. And it can lead to improved structures in a department that can help ensure that all students are progressing in all of the practices and crosscutting concepts.
This year as you approach the TCTs that that the state has “mandated,” get the most out of them. Spend time with your colleagues going through the process. Use the data you generate. It will make us better teachers and our students better scientists.