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Courageous Assessment

Assessment is meaningful when it shows insight into a student’s thinking

by Laura Greenstein

Does being fearless, knowing how to dog paddle and wearing floaties prepare you for a 50-meter freestyle? If that were a standardized test question and a student selected “True” their answer would most likely be marked wrong. Students rarely have opportunities to explain their reasoning. But, what if Amara explained that she had been taught to visualize her success, learned the rules for the specific race (she actually participated in a dog paddle race) and to ease up on the intensity of practice shortly before the event? Rather than relying on the shallow end of numerical scores, consider how assessment becomes more transparent and meaningful when it delivers visible insight into student’s thinking.

In general, teachers receive minimal preparation in assessment, measurement and evaluation. Too often, the powerful voices behind data-driven learning believe that if teachers are given detailed data reports and collaboratively study the reams of data, learning outcomes will improve. Like jumping into the deep end of the pool without preparation, knowing data but not understanding assessment leads to misinterpreting the overwhelming glut of assessment data. The result is inaccurate decisions about students and inadequate insight into what they know and can do.

Assessment Literacy

Developing assessment literate teachers, rather than expanding standardized testing, is essential to the success of every student. At the heart of assessment literacy is an understanding of the purpose of assessment, how to interpret and utilize data appropriately, and ways to provide opportunities for all students to succeed.

Standardized tests have a purpose in providing large-scale measures that summarize big-picture outcomes. However, there is no place for high-stakes tests that rate schools, judge teachers, and regulate students’ learning. Rather, it is in the classroom that assessment literate teachers cultivate assessment capable learners. Similar to successful swimmers, these students can: Set goals, develop actionable plans, improve skills, monitor headway and adjust the course of learning. Assessment capable teachers and students have the skills to successfully navigate the deep end of thinking and learning.

For assessment literate teachers, these are the essentials:

  1. Relying on high-quality assessments that align with the purpose and intentions of teaching and learning.
  2. Incorporating multiple types of measures from selected choice to graphic displays and justification of conclusions.
  3. Assessing throughout learning taxonomies; from content knowledge to the analysis of evidence and production of original ideas.
  4. Communicating results and outcomes in ways that are understandable and actionable by students and parents.
  5. Emphasizing progress and improvement in order to support and encourage student’s continuing success.

For assessment capable students it means:

  1. Understanding the learning goals and intentions: Using their own words to explain what, why and how they will learn.
  2. Identifying and acting on the steps and resources they need to build their learning.
  3. Monitoring their progress against specific indicators: This may be accurate use of content vocabulary or clarity and specificity in their learning journal.
  4. Anticipating and utilizing constructive feedback from teacher, peers and self-reflection that is specific to process and products of learning.
  5. Improving learning outcomes by understanding and correcting missteps and misunderstandings.

Together assessment literate teachers and students:

  1. Collaboratively develop, identify and share understanding of learning intentions.
  2. Continuously compare outcomes to intentions.
  3. Recognize their location on the sequence of learning outcomes.
  4. Identify lingering gaps and misunderstandings.
  5. Collaboratively decide on interventions to resolve missteps and close gaps.

Things I’ve learned about assessing courageously, responsibly, and respectfully

  • It’s not the best practice to throw your student into the deep end to see if they can swim.
  • We all need floaties from time to time
  • Other times dog paddling is sufficient
  • Sometimes we must be prepared to swim the distance
  • Everyone can reach their finishing line with just-right support, monitoring of progress, reasonable assessments and constructive feedback.  
  • Sometimes students would rather run or fly than swim to their goal. There are also those who want to meander down their own stream, dive into the Hadal Zone or skyrocket towards unknown galaxies.

Are you and your students ready to dive in?

Enrichment: What Teacher Preparation Programs Teach About K-12 Assessment 

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