Assessment program shows positive results at NBTHS

Two teachers gave presentation on CBAL at national conference last month


NORTH BRUNSWICK — The township high school (NBTHS) has been recognized for an up-and-coming program that better analyzes student performance.

Faculty members Amanda Perry and Michael Santa Maria were invited to present at the Council of Chief State School Officers convention in Minneapolis, Minn., from June 26 to 29 about CBAL, or Cognitively Based Assessment of, for, and as Learning.

The computer-based program measures what students can do (summative assessments — “of” learning), what they need to do better (formative assessments — “for” learning), and provides an educational experience in and of itself (“as” learning).

Students are brought to a computer lab and given tasks to complete. Many of the activities are scenario-based and ask students to read differing viewpoints about the same topic, Santa Maria explained.

“Our discussion in Minnesota was basically an overview of the program. Two of us spoke about the learning progressions and other theoretical bases for the mathematics tasks in CBAL; two of us did the same with the English language arts theory. I also spoke about practical applications in terms of one curricular objective, which was how we used CBAL to teach ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ ” he said.

In math, much of the work has been on the learning progression piece. In language arts, teachers have been working on improving argumentation skills, summarization skills, thesis statements and characterization.

The school also worked last summer with Educational Testing Service (ETS) to create two CBAL units that could be used to help teach “Romeo and Juliet” and “The Odyssey.”

“The effects are already evident,” Santa Maria said. “North Brunswick students enjoyed the experience of learning via the computer. Our teachers enjoyed the easy and quick access to data. ETS has benefited by having a large set of data to review.

“But most of all, I think CBAL will be helpful to the state and nation in two major ways: first, because of new standards, argumentation and distinguishing good and weak arguments will now be a national priority. CBAL has built many of their tasks on this idea. Second, teachers and administrators need more and more data, and CBAL supplies this,” Santa Maria said.

“The advantage for students is that they are able to take assessments that are interactive and relate directly to real-life situations,” said Perry, who is a mathematics teacher at the school. “They are able to play with simulations that model scenarios in authentic settings that relate to Algebra 1 concepts.

“For the teacher,” Perry continued, “these assessments allow for more efficient and useful feedback in determining how students are performing. We are able to get instant feedback through an online teacher portal on how students responded to certain items, and we can provide feedback to them using this system as well. These assessments also ask questions of higher-ordering thinking levels and have students make connections to realworld data.”

Next year’s projects are still being discussed between NBTHS and ETS, but two studies will continue. One study will use evidence from CBAL tasks that have been integrated into the curriculum in order to give feedback to students and to provide instructional interventions to teachers, and the second study will develop students’ argumentation skills across grade levels. Contact Jennifer Amato at