It Could Be Worse?

Intentional assessment is inclusive of all learners

by Laura Greenstein

Take a moment to think about your worst test. For me it was Macroeconomics. Unable to understand concepts such as GDP Deflator and Quantity Equation, I memorized parts of the text and got accused of plagiarism. Fortunately, it was an understanding professor who explained why I might like Microeconomics better. His feedback included relevant advice for achieving my goals. And I was grateful!

For many students, the word test conjures up feelings of fear and images of failure. Especially for those whose COMT* gene predisposes them to stress. Assessment, on the other hand, reduces stress, emphasizes progress, and engages learners.

What would be worse? A multiple-choice test on content knowledge or an assessment of applying what you’ve learned about boosting student success. Consider these two questions:

1.) What percent of individuals have the COMT gene version that predisposes them to stress?

a.) 11%          b.) 24%          c.) 47%          d.) 73%

2.) If you know that many students become highly stressed by tests and measures, explain, two steps you can take to reduce those stress levels? Each step should be explained in no more than 2 to 3 sentences.

Intentional Assessment

When assessment is restored to its original intent-meaning to assist and guide by being close at hand- students are less fretful and more willing to try. Basically, addressing the social and emotional underpinnings of learning leads to more successful outcomes. When viewed in this light, the emphasis changes from tests that exclude learners to assessment that supports all learners. This necessitates an adjustment to the lens of assessment from the final scores to an appraisal of progress.

Assessment is restorative when it is inclusive of all learners. Ask any teacher to point out her superstars and she can readily identify her top achievers. But what about Alex who is struggling to learn math yet is always willing to redo his work as well as share his meager lunch with a kind word and smile. Or Bettina, who does her homework, when she doesn’t have to watch her three younger siblings while her mom works two jobs. These students may not have the highest numerical averages, but they work hard and demonstrate hard-earned skills for success. Ask Regina, who knew little English at the beginning of the school year, is still reading 2 levels below grade level, but understands that progress is most important for her success. Assessment must be inclusive of all learners while providing access to each learner.

All students can be successful. It depends on the lens through which we view them. Consider how you assess and report student success. Do you take a close-up view, primarily data-driven, sometimes producing walls of data and report cards that mystify even the most measurement-savvy parents? Does it take a bigger picture view that emphasizes student engagement and measures of growth over final scores? We have literally tons of data, but the lingering question is how it is being used to benefit today’s students?

Consider steps you can take to move the meter from the left to the right side of this chart. There is space in each section to record your thoughts, recommendations, and action plans.

Restoring balance in assessment doesn’t mean seesawing from side to side. Rather it means seeking ways to move teaching, learning and assessment practices to the right side of the chart. It means moving the fulcrum in service of the best types and outcomes of assessment, and in doing so, meet the needs of our students while making the best use of sound assessment practices.

Restoring Balance

Students are most successful when there are varied and variable measures across a spectrum of learning outcomes. When assessment is infused throughout teaching and learning, a continuous pulse of learning is taken. In this way, responses can be designed to meet the needs of all learners. For Sumina who is creative, illustrating her understanding of chemical reactions comes easy, while Rilez, who has memorized the periodic table, needs help making sense of it.

Please don’t misunderstand my intention or interpret this as a one-sided position. Rather take it as advocacy, guidance, and encouragement for finding balance in assessment.  Consider your students, the types of assessment given to them and how learning outcomes are reported. Flip your thinking from external testing mandates to your student’s needs; from narrow data analysis to broadband assessments; and from summative measures to progress being made towards mastery. In this way, assessment will be restored to its intended purpose.

COULD ASSESSMENT BE BETTER? Of Course!

For more technical insights try https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17008817

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