A few years back, Marie Kondo offered advice on decluttering our homes by regarding each item through a lens of joy. Assessment is typically not a joyful topic. Yet, it can be the elephant in the room that consumes substantial amounts of time and resources. In return, it offers little that wasn’t known or expected about students, schools, or communities learning outcomes even before test results are published. As such, now is an excellent time to declutter, freshen up, and include more enJOYment in local assessments.
Emerging guidance on assessment encourages educators to expend less time and money on large-scale testing and instead focus on comparable and balanced local assessments that illuminate learning and provide multidimensional insights. These actions have been shown to effectively guide teaching, support learning, and improve outcomes.
Reliable sources on best practices in assessment consistently illuminate five fundamentals that lead to more effective, informative, coherent, and comprehensible assessments. As you read this summary, consider how they are relevant and applicable in your setting.
Students’ Displays of Learning: Provide insights into student’s learning throughout the taxonomy Include multiple ways for students to show what they know and can do Extend learning beyond recall into application, analysis, and production Incorporate multiple methods and processes for varied purposes
Engagement of Learners in Assessment: Do Students; Design the assessments and select the appraisal gauges Decide how to best show/demonstrate their learning Reflect on their learning experiences and outcomes Have opportunities to modify and improve outcomes. For example, “I used to think_____, but now I know_____, because _____.
Restorative Assessment Routines Support and sustain students in their learning; not only measure it Identify misunderstandings and provide opportunities to modify and extend learning Emphasize progress and growth rather than final scores Develop lifelong skills for self-awareness, reflection, and modification
Technically Sound Assessment PracticesAre: Valid: Measures what was intentionally learned for an identified purpose Reliable: Meaning it is coherent, consistent, and comprehensible Fair and balanced in content and methodology for all learners Seamless and continuous: Embedded throughout teaching and learning
Keep in mind that there are no shortcuts to informative and efficacious assessment, nor does any singular approach hold all the answers. However, resources, from classicist to contemporary, have continuously accentuated and reinforced the best practices in educational assessment. Along the route, educators have learned from:
– Ancient Greeks who used “assidere”, meaning to “sit beside and guide” -Horace Mann’s development of standardized tests in the mid-1800s -Jean Piaget’s theories of cognitive development in the 1930s -Benjamin Bloom Taxonomy of learning; 1950s -Madeline Hunter’s Mastery Model; 1970s -Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences; 1980s -Continuously emerging initiatives in all aspects of learning and assessment.
Questions for your team to consider in their next steps in assessment: Tidy-up or Toss it? 1.What are the pros, cons, strengths, and limitations of standardized tests vs. classroom assessments?
2. Are tests fair for all learners? What can we do to strengthen equity and fairness, as well as equal opportunity for all learners?
3. How well do standardized tests assess and support the skills and knowledge our students need for success?
4. What are the most worthwhile assessment practices and strategies for gaining insights into students’ learning?
5. What other possible opportunities and pathways for assessment of learners should we consider?
6. What questions would you add to this list to better understand the purpose, process, and outcomes of learning?
Schools and educators rely on a toolbox of instructional strategies, resources, and opportunities for teaching and assessing. They select those that support the explicit goals and intentions of learning, along with ones that will engage learners. Generally, appraisals of learning are added after intervals of teaching, when in fact, routinely embedded assessments are more effective in strengthening instruction and engaging learners. (See References 1-3 below)
When teaching and learning begin with a mutual and clear understanding of the learning substance, process, and expected outcomes, the results become more robust and reliable. Putting assessment at the forefront of teaching and learning means:
Teaching is intentionally focused on explicit and comprehensible learning outcomes.
Learning is anchored in well-defined and visible purposes and results.
Put students at the forefront of teaching, learning, and assessing.
“If you don’t know where you are going, you will end up somewhere else.”Yogi Berra Educators understand that assessment is more than a test score in that it reflects a range of learners’ knowledge and skills that can be displayed in varied ways. At the same time, it can be arduous for each teacher, especially with large numbers at the secondary level, to accurately assess what every learner knows, understands, and can do at the conclusion of each episode of teaching and learning.
Still, I am optimistic that developing a culture of assessment grounded in substantiated best practices is possible. The definition below is inclusive of all learners as it clearly and eloquently speaks to the purpose of assessment.
“Assessment is the process of gathering and discussing information from multiple and diverse sources in order to develop a deep understanding of what students know, understand and can do with their knowledge as a result of their educational experiences.” (Huba and Freed, 2000)
In a purposeful culture, assessment moves students from a discernable starting place towards meaningful, informative, and applicable outcomes. Appropriate and effective assessment begins with the end in mind. A culture of assessment is sustainable when:
Assessment contributes to and is beneficial for learning rather than being judgmental and directive
Assessment is constructive and restorative rather than detrimental and punitive
Assessment is supportive and encouraging rather than oppressive and discouraging
Assessment is flexible and adaptable rather than rigid and uncompromising
With traditional measures, students are typically given an assessment such as a quiz or task and, in return, receive a grade. With restorative assessment, learners receive indicators of progress along with feedback and opportunities for improvement. There are also differences in how the assessment outcomes are used, i.e. conclusive reporting vs. opportunities for improvement.
Alternatively, A CULTURE OF ASSESSMENT considers variables such as the purposes and processes of learning and, in response, establishes local assessment priorities and practices.
Assessment May Not Always be Equal, But it Can be Equitable
Equal means that strategies, processes, and resources are evenhanded and equivalent. In schools and classrooms, it is easy to endorse equality as an ideal, but it may not be the norm. All learners may not have consistent access to information and resources. Some families and communities have less access to health care or affordable housing and healthy foods. These gaps leave students more vulnerable in numerous ways. http://thefoodtrust.org/uploads/media_items/grocerygap.original.pdf
Equitable, as a reflection of fairness, is also more challenging in lower-income communities. Equity means that an action, amount, or extent is appropriate for the people, situation, conditions, and context. For example, in a race around the world contest, if one group has access to jet planes and another to rowboats, it could be viewed as unfair or inequitable. For learners, educational and assessment equity means endeavoring to achieve the best possible outcomes for each learner.
If you were asked to decide which is better, equality in assessment or equity in assessment, equity would be the better choice. Throughout the school year, students routinely take the same or equal measures of their learning. (For example, standardized tests or quizzes derived from teacher’s guides.) The greater challenge is providing assessments that are equitable and fair for all learners.
Reframing assessment through a lens of fairness and equity means that every student has multiple and/or varied opportunities to show what they know, understand, and can do in response to visible learning intentions and well-defined and anticipated outcomes of learning.
Assessing learning with purpose and fairness: While it is not always feasible to give each student an individualized assessment, it is possible to minimize uniformity and increase flexibility in the routines and strategies of assessment. In doing so, students learn that there are numerous ways to show what they know and can do. And also that mistakes can be opportunities for learning by self-correcting their missteps, explaining their misunderstandings, and asking for further clarification.
ACTIONS AND PATHWAYS FOR INCREASING EQUITY IN ASSESSMENT
1. Assure that students know and understand the intentions, processes, and outcomes of learning. Ask them to restate these in their own words. Routinely rely on formative assessments to check for understanding.
2. Gauge learning over time: Whether it be a pretest, homework, or summative assessment, be sure students recognize how the learning outcomes align with the learning intentions. When assessment is sequenced through levels of the taxonomy from understanding to analysis, a learner’s misunderstandings become more evident, and in turn, responses can be more purposeful.
3. In place of numerical scores or letter grades, use varied point values for assignments and assessments. For example, weigh demonstrations and evaluations of learning with more import than selected-choice quizzes. A learner’s accurate analysis of problems accompanied by comprehensive and well-defined solutions is worthy of more credit than short-answer questions.
4. Provide alternative pathways for students to show what they have learned as well as opportunities to select how to display their level of mastery. Whether they are explaining a math solution to an extra-terrestrial or critiquing the actions or decisions of a character in a story, ensure that they understand their options as well as scoring criteria.
5. When a more traditional assessment is returned, students can self-correct their slip-ups with explanations such as “I used to think…, but now I know.”. If desired or relevant, include a “because___” so they can explain their change in understanding or skill level.
IDEAS and PRACTICES TO CONSIDER
Check the balance of your grading methodologies. What is essential in your setting, for your students, grade level, and content area? Consider ways to reduce reliance on test scores while increasing the importance of students explaining their learning and showing their self-corrections when an assessment is returned.
Consider ways to make your scoring and grading more transparent. For example, on an assessment, include point values for different sections, perhaps based on the depth of skills and knowledge required or the complexity of the assessment task (i.e., show your steps vs. a concise summation).
Sequence an assessment through levels of the taxonomy. Sometimes a prompt from a recall question will guide a student in responding to an application or comparison question.
As feasible, incorporate multiple ways, formats, and paths for students to show their learning. Sean may want to write a paragraph explaining a concept, while Akila may diagram her ideas.
Offer students opportunities to reflect on their learning process, the assessment, and their score. 1. I did/did not like this lesson or topic because: 2. I did/did not like the process and sequence for learning because: 3. It was easy for me to learn this because: 4. It was hard for me to learn this because: 5. Here are two to three useful things I have learned (these could be facts, processes, or self-awareness): 6. One (or more) way(s) I can use or apply my learning now or in the future: 7. One to two ideas, strategies, or areas that continue to confuse me:
ASSESSMENT IS MORE THAN A TEST IT’S PHYSICAL, EMOTIONAL, AND SOCIAL TOO!
FIRST, learning and assessing can be stressful, whether mastering a two-wheeler, making sense of the periodic table, or settling classroom discord. Think for a moment about your learning and teaching stressors?
SECOND, assessment can cause physical and emotional stress. Brain hormones such as cortisol affect the hippocampus, leading to changes in mood, sleeping, and reasoning. Stress can result in fingers tapping on a table or shortened temper. It can also lead to long-term physical effects such as high blood pressure, sleep disturbances, and digestive problems.
ASSESSMENT-SAFE classrooms rely on instructional and assessment practices that are coherent, comprehensible, cohesive, and consistent in ways that support learners and learning. For example, chunking facts, linking concepts, or incorporating memorable actions or rhythms to boost learning. Think about what you learned from the “Hokey Pokey” or how your thinking was changed by John Lennon’s “Imagine.” What rhymes, mnemonics, and movements strengthened your memory and mastery. Consider how you could use these in the classroom to engage learners in risk-free learning: Thumbs or down (with eyes closed), sticky notes, 3-2-1, correct the wrong, or responsive technologies such as Kahoot or Plickers.
PART 1: ASSESSMENT IS PHYSICAL 1.1 MOVE IT to IMPROVE IT Wiggle, Giggle, Signal, Fidget
ESSENTIAL IDEAS 1. Tests and assessments can set off a stress reaction that leads to unpleasant, even detrimental, mind and body responses. 2. The resulting stress and anxiety can cause physical symptoms such as digestive and cardiovascular problems and even cognitive fog such as forgetfulness and disorganization. 3. Incorporating movement within learning and assessment can reduce stress and strengthen the brain connections needed for learning.
Movement helps the brain construct, organize, and retrieve learning by developing dendrites and synapses (a.k.a. connections between neurons). “Walk-abouts” or “learning stations” with specific tasks and well-defined outcomes are better for learning than passive seatwork. Additionally, meaningful gestures and actions promote thinking, and humor reduces stress. Examples include orbital motions (hand and body) when explaining the solar system, sing/or write songs about historical events, or use rhymes and puns to make learning memorable. Here’s some punny stuff: 1.What do you call a knight who’s afraid to fight? SIR RENDER 2. I was going to make a joke about sodium, but then I thought, “NA, nobody would understand.” 3. Why are fish so smart? Because they live in schools
When a child faces his palms upward, he could be gesturing a lack of understanding or explaining, “It’s all gone.” For most gestures, the context of movement is as important as the content (i.e., clenching fists while saying “it’s fine” is a mixed message). From a simple thumbs-up/thumbs-down (agree/disagree) or the number of fingers on the chin (level of confusion), learners become more engaged through activity. Students can also demonstrate opposites such as generous or stingy, relationships like backward and forward, and linear vs. exponential growth. Laughing also increases oxygen consumption, which is vital for brain function.
As feasible, include movements, energizers, and props within teaching and learning: Perhaps as reminders of vocabulary, steps in a process, characters in a story, or weather patterns. Here are a few additional strategies to use during teaching, learning, and assessing:
To build confidence, sequence assessments through the taxonomy: Begin with recall questions to remind students of basic concepts and vocabulary before asking them to apply and analyze.
Provide options for student responses. For example, Charissa wants to describe the event and explain its outcome, while Chad dreams of illustrating and annotating the sequence.
Movement can be calming and can also improve assessment outcomes by relying on mind-body connection. When teachers engage students in corresponding movements, tongue twisters, and other forms of silliness, learning is more apt to linger. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=41gtxgDfY4s
APPLY YOUR LEARNING: 1. Add your own ideas and strategies for engaging learners and reducing assessment stress through movement. What have you used or would like to try? 2. Discuss with your teaching team and students, ways to reduce assessment stress and engage learners IN assessment and AS self-assessors?
PART 1: ASSESSMENT IS PHYSICAL 1.2: TRAIN the BRAIN: Ease the Stress
When someone is stressed, neurotransmitters flood their brain in preparation for a primitive fight or flight response. Brains are more apt to be in a state of relaxation when learners are prepared to learn, goals and purpose are clear, progress is visible, and learning is relevant. Research has shown that breathing exercises, muscle relaxation, and calming sounds can also lessen the stress that comes from assessments.
ASSESSMENT is STRESSFUL: THE EFFECTS OF STRESS ON LEARNING 1. Increases anxiety, restlessness, depression and reduces motivation. 2. Interferes with short and long-term memory. 3. Leads to physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, headaches, digestive problems, and insomnia. 4. Impedes relationships with others due to withdrawal, dishonesty, or conflict.
EASING ASSESSMENT STRESS When learning and testing lead to stress, there are ways to reduce it: Before Assessing: 1. Confirm that learners understand the assessment purpose, methods, and their significance. 2. Throughout learning, incorporate and respond to formative check-ins. 3. Review and prepare learners for assessments in informative, engaging, and fun ways. During Assessment 4. Sequence student assessments through the taxonomy, starting with recall before application or analysis. 5. Provide alternative pathways for students to show what they know and can do. 6. Include opportunities for revisions and do-overs. Assessment Ambiance 7. Practice mindfulness, deep breathing, and other relaxation techniques. 8. Reduce clutter, noise, and other annoying distractions. 9. Monitor your own stress and be respectful about unintentionally passing it on to others. FOR DISCUSSION: What other things do you or can you do to provide safe and student-friendly assessments?
RELY ON STRENGTH-BASED PRACTICES THAT SUPPORT AND ENGAGE ALL LEARNERS 1. Reduce assessment stress: The human stress reaction, our fight or flight response, is activated by a need for survival. In a split second, a student may find themselves ready for conflict or prepared to flee. The limbic system, located deep within the brain, is our primary emotional response center. When the amygdala, a small gland within, senses stress, it sends a signal to the hypothalamus that activates the nervous system to fight or flee. It is also activated when a student anticipates failure or senses hostility from others. Lower-stress assessments are aligned with the learning purpose and process, scaffolded and sequenced in complexity, and include options for displaying learning. Source: RESTORATIVE ASSESSMENT
2. Rely on brain-friendly assessments: Learning is a dynamic process. Synapses in the brain are firing and neurons are continuously strengthening connections. Sitting passively, learning through one modality such as listening, completing worksheets, or filling-in worksheets is not as effective as engagement in learning and assessment. Participatory assessment means that learners are actively involved in assessment, including collaborative actions such as think-pair-share, generating alternative solutions or outcomes, creatively summarizing learning visually, consider its applicability to other uses and situations. STICKY ASSESSMENT
3. Incorporate multiple pathways: include movement, words, and images: In small groups, students can illustrate or act out a concept for others in the class to identify and explain. In a culinary class, Ms. Burr had her students demonstrate cooking terms such as boil, rise, stir, melt. (Hint: You may want to avoid knead and peel.) Consider other ways to engage learners as assessors of their own learning. STUDENT-ENGAGED ASSESSMENT
In these ways, assessment can build self-confidence, perseverance, reflection, and ownership. Here’s an abbreviated example from RESTORATIVE ASSESSMENT
STANDARD: *NGSS ESS2.C Water cycles among land, ocean, and atmosphere and is propelled by sunlight and gravity. Density variations of seawater drive interconnected ocean currents. Water movement causes weathering and erosion, changing landscape features.
1. Learning Outcomes/ Succcess Criteria
Plans/carries out an investigation using multiple variables. Defends Solution
Uses a planned process to identify influences on the weather.
Describes the water cycle when presented with a model.
Recognizes/ Illustrates some vocab of the water cycle.
Adheres to the scientific method, gathers data, and presents analysis.
Follows a plan, compares to cycle, explains differences
Describes the effects of wind, land and oceans on the water cycle.
Fills in blanks in a narrative on water cycles using a word bank.
Uses rubric to self and peer- assess strategy, data, and analysis.
Annotates a checklist of steps used in the investigation.
Labels and explains the determinants of local weather patterns.
Matches terminology to images with 70% accuracy.
Attainment Level w. score conversion. (As needed, Add Annotations)
Emerging Below 70
√ Check the Scaffolds, Supports, and Modifications Provided
__Deconstruction of standard __Adjusted number and complexity of vocabulary. __Use of timely feedback for improvement. __Guidance on completing missing/incorrect responses in order to include additional evidence of learning and/or raise the quality of work submitted. __Additional teacher or peer support________________
PART 2: ASSESSMENT IS EMOTIONAL Emotions Can Encourage or Hinder Learning
Consider the word “TEST.” Like many educators, you probably have knowledge, experience, and beliefs about their design and usage. Maybe you also felt an emotional reaction, perhaps from a spelling test or AP exam. For some, the word “TEST” or “Deadline” can activate the cluster of cells called the amygdala (uh-mig-duh-la). Right about here:
An individual’s beliefs and predispositions toward tests and assessments are rooted in the amygdala, a primitive part of the brain involved with emotional expression. The amygdala, within the brain’s limbic system, activates our “fight or flight” reflex. The amygdala also plays a significant role in forming memories that are shaped by emotional experiences. Thus, TESTING can result in negative emotional reactions, especially when the tests are surprising or demanding in content or process. Think for a moment about emotions that were involved in your worst and best testing and assessment experiences.
In “All Learning is Social and Emotional,” authors Nancy Frey, Doug Fisher, and Dominique Smith explain that emotional and social skills underlie all learning. CASEL and Aspen Institute advocate for fostering these skills within teaching and learning: From kindergarten teachers who emphasize sharing and following rules to professors who expect accountability and metacognition, there are numerous emotional competencies essential for successful learning.
While tests may elicit responses, from resistance or discouragement to affirmation, purposeful assessment strategies and practices develop and reinforce learning, moderate strong feelings, and engage learners in self-assessment. Here are some guiding questions for priming students as confident self-assessors. 1. Do students understand the purposes and outcomes of their learning. Can they explain them in their own words? Are exemplars, templets, and models available to help them visualize the outcomes? 2. Are they aware of their foundation as well as their preconceptions for learning? Are pre-assessments routinely incorporated? 3. How well do they understand the process for learning, and how capably can they monitor progress using checklists, progress trackers, and concept maps? 4. Is feedback routinely provided in timely, specific, and usable ways: Informative, descriptive, and prescriptive? 5. What opportunities and choices do students have for showing their learning: Written, orally, graphically, and visually? 6. Can they identify and explain the connections between the learning intentions, their actions, and the outcomes of learning? i.e., What worked well? What would they do differently next time? 7. Do they have foundations and skills for self-monitoring, self-regulation, and self-assessment?
ENRICHMENT: “Assessment Choice Boards” give students a sense of ownership and competence. Here’s an example from “Sticky Assessment.” Students can decide how to earn the predetermined number of required points. For example, 9 points can be three 3s, a 6 and 3, or one of the 9 point choices.
Points/Level of Learning
3 Points Recall and Understand
Arrange puzzle pieces of the story into the correct sequence.
Illustrate and explain the 3 steps that were taken/followed.
Write questions to use in a peer review of new vocabulary.
6 Points Scrutinize, Analyze, and Apply
Develop and add a new character. Explain their purpose and influence on the storyline.
Defend how your chosen resources support/align the learning targets.
Evaluate experts’ solutions to a problem. Design a pros/cons graphic.
9 Points Synthesize and Create
Market/sell your story to a publisher based on the guidelines.
Design a game to help others review their learning.
Develop, explain, defend, an original solution to the problem.
What steps can you take to ensure that students understand the purposes and intentions of learning?
How can students be supported in monitoring and improving their own learning outcomes?
When and what opportunities do students have for displaying their learning?
How can you guide learners in recognizing, understanding, and responding to their emotions during assessments?
PART 3: ASSESSMENT IS SOCIAL Communication, Collaboration, and Relationships Matter
From classroom quizzes to large-scale tests, assessment is generally considered a solitary undertaking. However, whether you rely on traditional measures or alternative and authentic methods, there are strategies and processes to strengthen communication, collaboration, and respectfulness.
From preschool to the workplace, being able to work with others is an essential life skill. It is also a proficiency that can be developed and assessed. Learning and working communally requires listening, understanding, considering, and relying on others’ knowledge and competencies. In the classroom, students can learn to share information, provide feedback, gain and summarize insights, and monitor their own interactions.
SOCIAL SKILLS, including PROBLEM-SOLVING, EMPATHY, AND FAIRNESS ARE ESSENTIAL LEARNING FOUNDATIONS
INCORPORATING and SUPPORTING SOCIAL SKILLS IN LEARNING A. Collaboratively explore the meaning of social skills such as teamwork, reflective listening, and empathy. B. Include opportunities for students to display, demonstrate, and teach others what they learned together. C. Routinely ask learners to identify the social skills they used to achieve their goals. With words and illustrations. Virtual learning may be practical for sharing information, but research shows that in-person learning is more successful for considering multiple perspectives and solving problems. →Susanna Loeb at Brown University believes that the effectiveness of remote learning varies depending on the student, teacher, and whether the learning is synchronous or asynchronous. “In a comparison of both, online classes aren’t as effective as in-person for most students.” →Jessica Heppen, Peggy Clements, and Jordan Rickles at AIR at the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research explain that “Despite high spending on technology, schools have not seamlessly or efficiently shifted to distance learning.” Why? Because learning is also a social endeavor that prepares students for their future roles and responsibilities.
CHECK-IN: Which of these pairs of prompts (select A or B) leads to more robust engagement as well as more explicit learning pathways for students? Why? ______1A. “Synthesize your learning by writing a summary.” ______1B. “Summarize the main ideas by clarifying how your steps align with and support the learning purposes.”
______2A. “Try to include more descriptive words in your self-assessment.” ______2B. “Explain how, where, and why you used our art vocabulary, i.e., composition, perspective.”
______3A. “How can you be more specific than “It looks like you worked hard” in your feedback? “ ______3B. “I can see right here… how your summary aligned with and furthered your goals of learning.
______4A. “What else can you do to get the reader’s attention?” ______4B. “The first part was ingenious, but then return to your goal of…..and explain how you achieved it.”
Ensure adequate time and resources for independent learning. Support students in collectively evaluating the information and resources they have discovered by relying on pre-determined criteria such as expertise, authenticity, and timeliness of the resources.
Rely on consistent and aligned scoring criteria and rubrics when providing feedback on student’s progress and outcomes. You can find examples of these and others, for example, assessing collaboration and communication in Assessing 21st Century Skills.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Successful collaboration can strengthen students’ understanding while opening their minds to multiple perspectives and diverse solutions. Yet, I admit that it can be a challenge to have the whole class collaborate on assessment. What works best is starting with a thoughtful and prudent purpose for doing so, along with an actionable and defined process, and clearly aligned assessments.
I thought I made up the word byzantizing* to explain the bollix** we have gotten into over tests, measurement, and assessment. Then I discovered this definition: “Byzantizing the algorithm implements the ordinary Paxos consensus algorithm under a suitable refinement mapping.” (Lamport, 2011). That’s when I realized I was onto something fundamental and consequential: Assessment must be transparent, understandable, and informative, for all learners.
In relation to assessment, byzantizing means that each of us sees and uses assessment through a different lens or pathway, sometimes as a winding road to follow, frequently a labyrinth to navigate, often as an endless tangle, occasionally something to decrypt, unravel, or break open.
DEFINITIONS: Byzantine: Complicated, convoluted, intricate, multifaceted practice, situation, or system. *Byzantizing: Making something more complicated than it needs to be. **Bollix: To bungle or throw into disorder. ***Un-byzantizing: To make something less complex and complicated.
INTRO: RETURNING TO ASSESSMENT FUNDAMENTALS & ESSENTIALS: BACKTRACKING TO BASICS Derived from the Latin word Assidere, assessment means to sit beside and guide. Over time, this concept has become entangled with standardized tests, international comparisons, and other ambiguous measures. Returning to its original meaning, assessment is something teachers can observe, describe, organize, compile, and most importantly, respond to.
If the purpose of education is to prepare students for the present and future, then learning how to learn must be a priority. In addition to core academic classes, skills for lifelong success include critical thinking and problem solving, as well as interpersonal skills such as empathy, decision making, and collaboration. The bigger question is this: How do we assess not only what students know and can do, but also how accurately and comprehensively they can assess themselves, gauge their progress, and respond constructively to learning challenges and outcomes?
At its core, assessment that sustains student success is informative and actionable for both learners and teachers. Rather than selected choice tests or structured essays or following step by step procedures, it is more practical and effective and informative to assess students throughout the process of developing mastery.
Keep in mind that the human body sends 11 million bits per second to the brain for processing, but the conscious mind can process only about 50 bits per second. Computers can collect and process mega-millions per second, which means that our brains are more apt to forget much of what was learned.
How long do you remember disconnected facts of history, formulas for chemical compounds, or the details of routine conversations or complex directions? Consider how Ebbinghaus shows this in his Forgetting Curve.
Remembering and forgetting begins in the amygdala, a tiny mass of gray matter in the center of our brain that regulates emotions and encodes memories. It can enhance learners’ attention and perception through positive experiences and affirmation. It also leads to a stressful fight or flight response that releases adrenaline that impedes learning and memory.
Consider these steps in un-byzantizing assessment in support of progress for all learners. They are elaborated in upcoming “episodes” of this blog. STEP 1: Support and engage students in understanding the expectations, purpose, and intended outcomes of learning. STEP 2: Plan, select, and design assessments that support the purpose, context, and process of learning as well as the learners’ dispositions and requisites. STEP 3: Return to best practices, proven fundamentals, and the engagement of learners in assessment and as assessors.
Note: Steps 1-3 will be elaborated in subsequent postings on: Engaging learners in assessment, Relying on assessment as a learning strategy, and Transferring ownership and agency to learners.
REFERENCES AND RESOURCES -Andrade H.(2019) A Critical Review of Research on Student Self-Assessment, https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/feduc.2019.00087/full -Ferlazzo, Larry. (2016) Controversial Topics Should Not Be Avoided https://larryferlazzo.edublogs.org/2016/11/05/controversial-topics-should-not-be-avoided-in-school/ -Kruger, J., & Dunning, D. (1999). Unskilled and unaware of it: How difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77(6), 1121–1134 https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1999-15054-002 -Lamport, Leslie (2011) Byzantizing Paxos by Refinement https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-642-24100-0_22
ASSESSMENT UNTANGLED PART 1 of 3 Essential Steps for Reclaiming Assessment Engaging Learners IN Assessment
In relation to assessment, byzantizing means that each of us sees and uses assessment through a different lens or pathway, sometimes as a winding road to follow, frequently a labyrinth to navigate, often as an endless tangle, occasionally something to decrypt, unravel, or break open.
SUPPORTING STUDENTS IN UNDERSTANDING LEARNING EXPECTATIONS, PURPOSE, AND INTENDED OUTCOMES
Numerous sources provide big-picture intentions and outcomes of learning. These standards may be more apparent to experienced educators than to students. As such, the complexity of “big picture” standards must be deconstructed to make them understandable and actionable by all learners.
For example, Starting in 4th grade: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.4.8 “Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text. In 5th grade, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.5.8: “Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text, identifying which reasons and evidence support which point(s).” By 10th grade: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI/9-10.8 that same standard is expressed this way: “Delineate the arguments and claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient.”
How is a learner to respond to that standard when asked about climate change or reinterpretation of historical events? It begins by unraveling standards into actionable learning steps. Step 1. Students review and consider resource materials (self-chosen or teacher provided) for their source, author, purpose, perspective, and substantiation. Step 2. Students prepare a diagram/chart that identifies similarities and differences in the source materials. They may also formulate questions about each resource to further validate the ideas and solutions. Step 3. Performance assessment: In a Socratic Seminar or Town Hall meeting, teams share their findings, question each other, compare responses, and analyze for objectivity, accuracy, and clarity. Each student then prepares their own summary by comparing the learning purposes with their learning outcomes. (Reference, Student Engaged Assessment, 2020, Greenstein and Burke) They rate themselves, their team, and other teams, using a rubric (Reference: Assessing 21st Century Skills, 2012, Greenstein) that aligns with the purpose of learning and the intended outcomes (i.e., clarity, selection of resources, support for conclusions, organization, and presentation).
APPLY YOUR LEARNING: DISCUSS with other educators the purpose and strategies for ensuring that students are aware of the learning goals, are familiar with the processes of learning, and understand the expected outcomes. How can you help students make these connections in your setting?
ASSESSMENT WITH BENEFITS: OUTCOMES OF STUDENT-ENGAGED ASSESSMENT Self-assessment is an essential lifelong skill. The evidence on the effectiveness of student self-assessment on learning outcomes continues to grow. The skill transfers to adulthood, where it is beneficial to recognize and appreciate successes and challenges in personal and professional lives as well as identify areas for growth and improvement. Utilizing evidence and feedback to inform actions and decisions is a foundational life skill. From Heidi Andrade (2019) to the Kruger-Dunning Effect (1999), the evidence is clear.
REFLECTION ON and APPLICATION OF LEARNING 1. In relation to engaging learners in assessment, what are you doing well, and what are your priorities for improvement? 2. In what ways are you untangling assessments so that all constituents can understand and utilize them? 3. How can you assure that assessment of students is fair and accurate for all learners? 4. What steps can you take towards transferring ownership of assessment to students? 5. Select a content-area standard and begin to untangle it in ways that make it understandable and actionable to learners.
DEFINITIONS: Byzantine: Complicated, convoluted, intricate, multifaceted (system or situation), excessively complicated. *Byzantizing: Making something more complicated than it needs to be. Obfuscate, muddle, convolute **Bollix: To bungle or throw into disorder https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bollix ***Un-byzantizing: To make something less complex and complicated. Simplify, abridge, or streamline.
In relation to assessment, byzantizing means that each of us understands and uses assessment through our own lens or pathway; sometimes it is a winding road to follow, frequently a labyrinth to navigate, often an endless tangle, occasionally something to decrypt or break open.
RETURNING TO ASSESSMENT FUNDAMENTALS: BACKTRACKING TO THE BASICS
Derived from the Latin word Assidere, assessment means to sit beside and guide. Returning to its original meaning, assessment is something teachers can observe, describe, organize, compile, and more importantly, respond to.
At its core, assessment that sustains student success is informative and enlightening for both learners and teachers. Rather than selected choice tests or sequenced essays, it is more effective to continuously assess students in varied ways as they progress towards mastery.
ALIGNING ASSESSMENT WITH PURPOSES OF LEARNING AND ABILITIES OF LEARNERS Learning can be as simple as repeating the A, B, Cs or as complex as analyzing global rivalries. Learning, viewed through the lens of a taxonomy, typically follows a purposeful sequence. Whether you choose Bloom’s or Anderson and Krathwohl’s revision of Bloom’s, or another (Heick, 2013), there is consensus that learning proceeds from simple to complex and from passive to engaged, while also developing cognitive, social, emotional, and physical mastery. (Berger: Maslow Before Bloom, (https://www.edutopia.org/article/how-maslow-bloom-all-day-long)
Imagine you were required to display your knowledge and skills in a sport such as golf, preparing a unique cuisine, or leading a contentious meeting. Each of us may rely on explicit knowledge or skills that could be assessed through differing channels, i.e., written, illustrated, or demonstrated. Each learner begins with their own proficiencies. And they perform at their best when they have opportunities to display their learning at varying levels of mastery as well as through varied mediums. Some would even write a three-page essay if it meant they did not have to present in front of peers (or visa-versa). However, rather than emphasizing the medium or channel, it is more important to focus on the level/type of knowledge or skills being assessed.
CHOICE BOARDS are one way to assess through the taxonomy while giving students choices to present what they know and can do with their learning. Perhaps one learner is best at remembering and prefers to dramatically perform a soliloquy while another wants to persuade their school leaders that reading Shakespeare (except for “Othello”) is irrelevant in today’s world. He advocates and defends the reading of other classics such as 1984, To Kill a Mockingbird, or Diary of Anne Frank.
OFFER STUDENTS MULTIPLE PATHWAYS TO DISPLAY THEIR LEANING AT VARIED LEVELS OF A TAXONOMY
Explain three main ideas from your learning to a Martian.
Prepare a technology-based summary.
Prepare flashcards for review of learning
Use illustration/words to explain a key concept from your learning.
Create an educational cartoon about the main ideas/points of your learning.
Prepare a dictionary of 5 new terms or concepts
Write a mini-test that includes 3 types of questions or tasks that measure the learning intentions.
Write and perform a 30-second public service announcement. Include 2 essential ideas and a defensible urge to action.
APPLY YOUR LEARNING:With your team, prepare a choice board that supports your curriculum, matches taxonomical expectations, and supports learners’ needs.
CONCLUSION: OUTCOMES OF STUDENT-ENGAGED ASSESSMENT = ASSESSMENT WITH BENEFITS Self-assessment is an essential lifelong skill. The evidence of its effectiveness for improving learning outcomes continues to grow. (Andrade, 2019; Kruger-Dunning Effect,1999), These skills transfer to adulthood, where it is beneficial to recognize successes and challenges as well as identify areas for growth and improvement. Utilizing evidence and feedback to inform actions and decisions is a foundational life skill. REFLECTION: 1. In relation to assessment, what are you doing well, and what are your local priorities for improvement? 2. In what ways are you untangling assessments so that all constituents can understand and utilize them? 3. How can you assure that assessment of students is fair and accurate for all learners? 4. What steps can you take towards transferring ownership of assessment to students?
DEFINITIONS: Byzantine: Complex, convoluted, intricate, multifaceted, excessively complicated *Byzantizing: Making something more complicated than it needs to be **Bollix: To bungle or throw into disorder. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bollix ***Unbyzantizing: To make it less complex and complicated. Simplify, abridge, or streamline.
ASSESSMENT UNTANGLED Part 3 of 3 Essential Steps for Reclaiming Assessment Ownership and Agency Empowers All Learners
In relation to assessment, byzantizing means that each of us sees and uses assessment through our own lens or pathway; sometimes as a winding road to follow, frequently a labyrinth to navigate, often an endless tangle, occasionally something to decrypt, unravel, or break open.
OWNERSHIP AND AGENCY EMPOWER STUDENTS AS SELF-ASSESSORS who can monitor and modify their learning. Note that prior to this step, it is essential for students to understand the purposes, processes, and expected outcomes of their learning as well as acceptable ways to display it. For example, in place of a test, learners may expound on a prompt, illustrate a graphic, or add details to a checklist.
PURPOSE ____Clarity: Students can explain the learning intentions and goals in their own words. ____Understanding of purpose and process is evident in the student’s personalized learning plan, their steps in learning, and the anticipated results. PROCESS ____Student’s learning plans and goals are focused, visible, and feasible. ____Includes opportunities and processes for self-regulation, support, and remediation. ____Students utilize strategies to monitor their learning, track progress, and extend learning. OUTCOMES ____Students explain how their process and led to their outcomes and also suggest improvements. ____Students voice and choice in displaying learning strengthen self-confidence. ____Students develop skills for self-advocacy and personal responsibility.
APPLY YOUR LEARNING Using the list above, rate yourself/your team, elaborate on each of the above criteria in your own setting, and/or make recommendations to enhance and empower learners as self-assessors.
OUTCOMES OF STUDENT-ENGAGED ASSESSMENT: ASSESSMENT WITH BENEFITS Self-assessment is an essential lifelong skill. The evidence on the effectiveness of student self-assessment on learning outcomes continues to grow. These skills transfer to adulthood, where it is beneficial to recognize and appreciate successes and challenges in personal and professional lives as well as identify areas strategies for growth and improvement. Utilizing evidence and feedback to inform actions and decisions is a foundational life-skill. From Heidi Andrade (2019) to the Kruger-Dunning Effect (1999), the evidence is clear.
REFLECTION: 1. In relation to assessment, what are you doing well? What are your priorities for improvement? 2. In what ways are you untangling assessments so that all constituents can understand and utilize them? 3. How can you assure that assessment of students is fair and accurate for all learners? 4. What steps can you take towards transferring ownership of assessment to students?
DEFINITIONS: Byzantine: Complex, convoluted, intricate, multifaceted, excessively complicated *Byzantizing: Making something more complicated than it needs to be **Bollix: To bungle or throw into disorder. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bollix ***Unbyzantizing: To make it less complex and complicated. Simplify, abridge, or streamline.
First published at https://literacy6-12.org as Assessment Literate Learners
When I was asked to problematize assessment, I was puzzled. Does that mean to turn something that is not a problem into one, or rather, quantifying students’ mistakes and pursuing accountability? Turning assessment into a problem implies that something has gone wrong when in truth, it has merely gone astray from its Latin root “Assidere,” which means to sit nearby and guide. Regrettably, assessment has been taken out of the hands of educationalists who accentuate improvement and been replaced by periodic testing that quantifies learning and generates numerical comparisons. As of yet, scoring technologies cannot distinguish between a learner’s lack of knowledge and their misinterpretation of the question, nor can they provide advice on remediation. Below are 3 steps that can.
STEP 1: REVISIT FUNDAMENTAL IDEAS and PRINCIPLESOF ASSESSMENT While some believe tests and assessments mean the same thing, the definitions below illuminate noteworthy differences in purpose and process.
TESTs are periodic procedures that establish the capacity or performance of someone or something (Merriam-Webster). They are explicit strategies to ascertain and verify a learner’s skills and knowledge. (Wikipedia). Tests tend to be more standardized, analytical, and judgmental.
ASSESSMENTS are processes used throughout teaching and learning to check for understanding, monitor progress, identify lingering gaps, and guide improvement. They rely on varied practices to gauge learning such as rubrics, exit slips, fix the mistake, student reflections, and progress trackers. They are more adaptable and personalizable than tests. (Assessment Network)
STEP 2: INCORPORATE STUDENT SELF-ASSESSMENT to DEEPEN, ENRICH, and develop OWNERSHIP of LEARNING Classroom assessments generally offer more insights into learning than standardized tests. Student self-assessment further illuminates competencies and leads to higher-level thinking, problem-solving, and self-efficacy. (Panadero, Jonsson, and Botella, 2017)
Learners engaged in their own assessment increase self-awareness. Prompts such as “I used to think__, but now I know__.” encourage insights into learning. As Anisha, a 6th grader, says, “I used to think communication was just talking and writing, but now I know it also includes listening, looking, thinking, AND patience.”
Students rarely take tests once they exit the education system, but they continue to be evaluated on their proficiencies, initiative, productivity, and more. The ability to gauge, reflect, and modify thoughts and actions is indispensible at work and home, throughout the lifespan.
STEP 3: HELP STUDENTS “SOAR” AS SELF-ASSESSORS Have you ever said or heard something like this? “I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” (Attributed to Allan Greenspan). Assessment can be like the Tower of Babel, where it is not easy to disentangle ever-changing and contradictory dialects. Mary Ann Burke and I have designed a straightforward and actionable acronym to support all learners as self-assessors. We call it S.O.A.R.
The SOAR model connotes Student Ownership and Agency leads to Results. It puts Students at the center of assessment by purposefully transferring Ownership to them and facilitating their Agency in ways that improve the Results and outcomes of learning. Here’s how it works:
1.Put STUDENTS at the center of assessment by helping them clarify and visualize what they will be learning, compare that to what they already know and can do, describe how they plan to learn, and ways they can use their learning. In Practice: Students complete an expanded KWL chart that includes: What I think we will learn, What I know now, What I want to know, How I will find out, How can I show/use my learning.
2. Offer opportunities for students to take OWNERSHIP of their learning purpose, process, and products. For example, let them decide how to organize, summarize, and display their learning using words, visuals, or performances. In Practice: Rely on coherent rubrics, sequenced through the taxonomy, that align with learning intentions. For example: Explain the main idea in your own words, elaborate on the significance of 3 key steps/events, draw conclusions or critique it, and design/produce original products and ideas.
3. When students become AGENTS of assessment, they take greater charge/responsibility of their path, become participants in the learning process, and strengthen self-reliance. As learners develop deeper understanding, they gain self-confidence and become resources for each other. In Practice: Learners explain or demonstrate their understanding of the main ideas, how the author captures the reader’s attention and extends learning for deeper meaning. They may also defend a position or suggest improvements.
4. The RESULTS of students being at the center of their own assessment become evident in learning outcomes. In Practice: As traditional measures evolve into student-owned assessment, they take increasing responsibility, seek to alleviate problems, and generate original ideas and solutions. Rather than relying solely on traditional test questions, learners can better reflect, investigate, analyze, and formulate ideas.
Using the SOAR sequence develops every students’ life-long self-assessment skills. In doing so, they become more accountable for their learning outcomes, analyze, can explain their misunderstandings, identify knowledge and skills in need of improvement, and self-correct their own learning. Indeed, these skills support all students in moving from academic distress to confident and successful learners.
“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will learn.” Ben Franklin
Laura is a lifelong learner and educator who has taught and assessed from preschool to graduate school, across subject areas. Her passion for educational assessment began with her dissertation and is evident throughout her work as an author of 5 books on the topic, founder of and blogger at the Assessment Network, and mentor to many teachers and learners. Through her workshops, she brings fresh ideas on a range of assessment topics from standardized to classroom, including formative, authentic, multicultural, differentiated, brain-friendly, and balanced. (Sometimes, she even talks about standardized tests.)
Can you find the letters of the word TEST within the word ASSESSMENT? It’s okay to use the T twice. But, what is the real difference between an assessment and a test? Here’s a brief answer:
A TEST is a tool or technique that measures the outcomes of learning. It relies on recall of knowledge and the student’s ability to use that information correctly in completing specific questions or tasks. Generally, tests have higher stakes attached to them than assessments and are considered summative in purpose.
ASSESSMENT is typically used throughout teaching and learning to check for understanding, reveal progress, and address lingering gaps. It comes in many forms, such as rubrics, student reflections, and progress trackers. Assessment also provides a window into learning and tracks the development of knowledge, skills, and higher level thinking. The categories below describe the key ideas (framework), but please note that with small adjustments, many of these concepts can fit into other categories.
TRANSFORMING Student TESTING INTO ASSESSING
ASSESSMENT READY LEARNERS
Can explain the learning intentions and how learning outcomes will be assessed.
Begin with what they already know. For example, before learning, students can record things they know/understand about the topic, then after learning, clarify and elaborate that list.
Appreciate that missteps can turn into opportunities for improvement.
Realize that assessment-stress is normal. Develop a plans and have strategies for managing it.
Understand AND describe the success criteria at different levels of the rubric.
Recognize where they fit on the assessment mindset spectrum from “I give up easily.” to “I consistently work hard” or “It helps if I have specific directions” to “I like to figure things out myself.”
Acknowledge that in the long run, progress is more important than one single grade.
STUDENTS ENGAGED IN ASSESSMENT
Begin learning by annotating their learning intentions, explaining their initial level of mastery, and describing what they expect to learn about the topic.
Prefer opportunities to annotate their answers rather than take selected choice tests. Peggy says, “Well, there are two meanings of the word wind, and I wasn’t sure whether the question was about the wind pulling the kite upward (Choice B) or about the person flying a kite who should wind the string more tightly. (Choice D)”
Rely on rubrics that elaborate the clarity and depth of responses. For example, “Gave it my best guess” to “I explained different ways to solve the problem” or “I created an original pathway for learning.”
Illustrate their answers to questions (for example, about a historical event or scientific process) or prepare a graphic to display a comparative analysis of readings, viewings, or concepts.
During learning, complete quick check-ins such as a “minute quiz,” where students offer briefs insights into their current understanding and/or ask questions to clarify and develop their learning.
Summarize portions of learning rather than waiting until its conclusion. This works with many topics ranging from historical events, poetry, or the periodic table.
STUDENTS AS OWNERS OF ASSESSMENT
In place of multiple-choice tests, students summarize their learning by using and explaining selected terminology and concepts associated with the purposes of learning.
Complete exit slips with questions such as “What was easiest/hardest about learning” or “Explain 2 other ways to learn this.”
Pretend they are explaining their learning to an extra-terrestrial: What is most important to transmit and how would they do it?
Rely on a scoring rubric before they begin the assessment. During and after, they compare their work to an exemplar and describe what they would change or what is still perplexing.
Review their returned assessments and summarize learning with “I used to think_____ but now I know______.”
Have opportunities to self-correct their assessments and annotate what they did or didn’t know before learning and questions they still have about the topic.
STUDENT AS AGENTS OF ASSESSMENT
Self-grade by using a rating scale to compare their learning outcomes to each of the “unit’s” learning intentions/instructional objectives.
Score their own assessment using a different colored pen/pencil with annotations of what was easy, confusing, or what they would do differently next time, and why. Alternatively, students can do this when a teacher-graded assessment is returned.
Take a quiz that includes right and wrong answers or just several incorrect answers, then correct and explain the mistakes, missteps, and oversights.
When assessments are returned and reviewed, students annotate their mistakes and missteps by explaining why/how they made the gaffe, what they now know, and/or how to fix it.
Rely on “Choice Boards” for assessment where students can select one way to show their understanding, one way to apply their learning, and one original idea they have on the topic.
Over time, new words have been invented, and old words redefined. Dictionaries add thousands of words each year. Consider these from Merriam Webster: HATERADE and ADULTING, and the redefinition of terms such as WOKE, SALTY, and SHADE.
Ideas, practices, and resources in educational assessment also continue to be modified. Like a house, assessment can be remodeled in multiple ways:
RENOVATE: Renew, modify, or modernize, for improved functionality
REHAB: Update, revamp, and revitalize, for current requirements and usage
RESTORE: Revert to substantiated processes and practices that still work.
Few would trade their technologies for a chalkboard, while others would readily modify testing from selected choice and computer-based to student demonstrations of knowledge and skills.
With an old house, decisions come down to purpose, usefulness, and functionality: Glaze the windows or replace them; repair the old furnace or get a heat pump. Facts, finances, and preferences typically guide these decisions.
Similarly, educators have repeatedly renovated the symmetry and content of curriculum and testing. From the ideas of Horace Mann (1820s) to John Dewey (1920s) and policies of OBE (1990s), NCLB (2001), and ESSA (2015,) the pace and focus of disruptive mandates have increased. But it makes no sense to demolish the whole house because of a leaky roof.
Rather than razing education, toss what is no longer functional or suitable (a.k.a Marie Kondo), keep what is working, and fine-tune what has potential. Here are three alternatives to ongoing demolition that often leads to periods of controversial reconstruction.
RENOVATE ASSESSMENT: Replace praise and rewards with self-directed student identification of learning goals, challenges to overcome, and steps towards improvement. As feasible, allow learners to decide how to display learning outcomes: i.e., words, images, diagrams, actions. Janessa may write a poem about digestion or a historical period while Jasper prepares a flow chart of the sequence. Consistent and dependable scoring of organization, accuracy, depth, and clarity of content assures fairness.
REHAB ASSESSMENT: Update teaching and learning by incorporating multiple modalities and pathways for learning and assessing. Students can summarize with a 3-2-1 (3 facts, 2 ideas, and 1 lingering question), or prepare a matching or Jeopardy-type review. In the classroom, puppets can be repurposed to produce an original play, reenact scientific discoveries, or solve math problems. As with renovation, scoring criteria must be consistent across displays of learning.
RESTORE ASSESSMENT: Being a visual learner, I prefer 3-dimensional globes and models of the solar system to google maps. I also find joy in a beautiful analog clock for displaying the time. While ‘sit-and-git’ learning may work briefly to introduce a new theory or communicate vital information, brains learn best when they are actively involved. Memory develops, not from soaking up facts, but from deeper thinking and productive actions.
We may live in the information age, but effective and enduring learning is built on problem-solving, critical thinking, adaptability, and accountability. Standardized tests rarely measure those skills but, in the classroom, students can learn to sequence their steps as they solve a problem. (both mathematical and real-world), rely on multiple levels of thinking and learning, and chart their own pathways towards improvement.
MORE Assessment AS/FOR Learning LESS Tests/Measures OF Learning
In the early 1900s, the few who attended school and succeeded at the 3Rs received a diploma (less than 10%).
By 1940, 50% of young adults completed their high school education.
Today, 86% of the U.S. population receives a high school diploma, and 35% earn a bachelor’s degree.
In 1965, ESEA was enacted and led to over 50 years of continuously evolving standardized testing and benchmarks under NCLB and ESSA, including NAEP, SAT, Regents, PARCC, SBAC, PISA, and more.
Over time, we misplaced the crucial understanding that tests and measures OF learning are not the same as assessments FOR and AS learning(gauges, insights, and responses to learning outcomes.) The word assessment is derived from the Latin Assidere, meaning to sit beside another. The intent being to appraise learning, and then respond, redirect, and resolve learner’s misunderstandings, gaps, or missteps. Rather than rating and ranking students, teachers, and schools, the long-term emphasis of assessment must continue to be on improving learners’ comprehension and skills.
Rely on these three R’s of assessment AS and FOR learning: Relevant, Retained, and Responsive.
1. Relevance of the assessment to the learning purpose and process as well as the learner. For example, during learning, students can (individually or in small groups) match subject area terminology cards with definition cards. Alternatively, they can create the cards or provide illustrations or examples for others to explain.
2. Retention of learning can be increased through engagement (i.e., active and multimodal learning), retrieval practice during learning, and “meaning-making” via formative assessments that support students in making real-world connections. Encourage students to summarize their emerging understandings visually (i.e., concept maps), auditorily (i.e., word games), and/or physically (i.e., demonstrate it to another).
3. Responsiveness and self-regulation in managing and re-solving assessment outcomes. Provide opportunities for students to give and receive focused feedback in a risk-free setting, elaborate or add details to their answer, or explain why they still believe their answer is correct. (i.e., “Well, the word crane can be a powerful bird or a machine to lift things.”)
Pooja Agarwal, in an ASCD Education UPDATE (March 2020), explains another essential R, Retrieval. She points out that if a learner does not use what they learn, the learning does not last. Her recommendations for supporting retrieval include:
Begin a new lesson in a unit by asking students to share what they learned or accomplished in the last class. (I suggest electronic sticky notes so students can agree/disagree, elaborate, or group ideas.)
At intervals, have students briefly stop their reading or viewing to retrieve and record learning. (Consider using empty outlines, where a framework or incomplete sentences are provided for students to work on during retrieval pauses.)
Agarwal concludes by explaining that the best learning isn’t about what you are trying to get into students’ minds, but rather how can you routinely and feasibly draw it back out. (Education Update, March 2020)
Putting R between the A and T leads to the ART of Assessment, where assessment supports better retrieval and more relevance than testing.
FROM EARLY INSPIRERS including Plato (The Republic) and Socrates (Socratic Method) to 19th and 20th-century trailblazers and practical innovators such as John Dewey, Mary Mcleod Bethune, John Holt, Maria Montessori, Jean Piaget, and Abraham Maslow, educators have continuously relied on the prior experiences and accrued knowledge of others. (Learn more at 12 Pioneers in Education)
THROUGH 21st CENTURY ACTIVISTS, educators continue to build on the expertise of “influencers,” including Linda Darling Hammond, John Hattie, Malala Yousafzai, and National Academies Press. We also depend on resources, practices, and ideas whose sources we may not know, such as Khan Academy, Ted Talks, Flipped Classrooms, and Gamification.
INNOVATION CAN FALL SHORT: According to Jill Barshay (2020), only 18 Percent of recent educational innovations raised student achievement. Michael George (2019) explains that successful teaching and assessment do not have to depend on a continuous supply of new pedagogy. Many things can work depending on the context, content, and process: i.e., who is teaching, how and what is being taught, the learner’s ability to construct meaning, and the expected outcomes. Thus, a caveat on innovation: Be sure that facts, evidence, and data are verified and validated. As the Queen of Hearts declared, “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
As the meaning of a 21st-century education is continuously redefined (i.e., growth mindset, competency-based, project-based, cooperative, authentic, or virtual), the availability of knowledge and ideas continues to expand. At the same time, there are myriad ways to access, construe, and evaluate it. Rather than rushing into the newest innovation, it is more meaningful to return to the foundations of assessment. Consider how you can make it simpler and more straightforward by relying on these three steps: 1. INFORM: Articulate and Explain Content and Purpose
Clarify, model, and display the learning intentions and routines of assessment. In their own words, students describe what they think they will learn, currently know, are curious about, and ways they may be able to use, personalize, and show their learning.
When Gregor says, “Wow, I can use this to calculate each player’s average scores,” or Mariska says, “I think I will be okay with the addition but may need help with division,” their teacher notes each of their concerns and follows up on them during learning. Insights can be gleaned before learning (entrance slips), during (sticky notes), and after learning (3-2-1 activity). (Reference: Book 1)
2. ENGAGE: Build Meaning and Form Connections
Encourage and engage learners in striving towards mastery of their learning through multiple pathways and practices. Confirm that students are ready to learn; then support them in identifying their steps forward. Provide opportunities for exploration, practice, reflection, and tracking of progress.
Keenan decides to write a rap comparing penguins to gulls, while his twin sister Keanna chooses to illustrate (using words and pictures) their similarities and differences. Both can rely on a rubric that includes accuracy of vocabulary, clarity of comparison, and resourcefulness.
Think about ways you can use a mnemonic such as SOAR, for understanding the importance of engaging students as assessors. It stands for “Student Ownership and Agency leads to Results.” (Reference: Book 2)
3. ASSESS: Before, During, and After
Before, During, and After Learning: Assessments embedded throughout learning can guide students in identifying their starting point, monitoring progress, and fine-tuning evidence of learning. These also serve to address lingering misunderstandings and smooth the path to success. (Reference: Book 3)
When learning begins with a pre-assessment, students can later complete a similar post-assessment, score themselves, identify successes, and take steps towards improvement. In doing so, they develop a mindset of progress, a willingness to try new ways, and an understanding that learning is a lifelong process that requires persistence and flexibility that leads to success.