Refocusing on Assessment

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Refocusing on Assessment


There’s no need to wipe the assessment lens clean each year. Instead of starting from scratch, return to these enduring assessment foundations that have consistently supported best practices in teaching and learning.

Assessment has always been about students: The word assessment comes from the same roots as assistance, meaning to help someone in completing a task or facilitating their achievement. Yet, over the years the balance has shifted from supporting/ sustaining individual learners towards reporting homogenized/collective scores.

Assessment must start locally, right in the classroom, in our own schools and communities. This means starting with what the students know and providing what is necessary for their peak progress and success.  Instead of planning backward from what high school graduates must know and be able to do, it is more effective to start with what incoming students know and can do.

When students arrive at school with dissimilar backgrounds, knowledge, and skills, it means that students may require a different path or different amount of time to grow into the curriculum. Lockstep curriculum does not result in all students reaching identical levels of achievement by the end of a predetermined period.

  1. Refocus on Students

Start with on time-tested practices that work for most students then fill in lingering gaps and misconceptions with personalized and targeted interventions. Be proactive by involving all students in assessment as well as learning. Refocusing on students builds ownership and is relevant, engaging, and motivational.

This doesn’t mean that every student will get their own curriculum, resources, and private tutor. It does mean that some students may require different resources or can display their learning in diverse ways. While Jana writes an essay, Chul chooses to design an infographic. Students, peers, and teachers assess these products of learning with consistent criteria such as accuracy, organization, and clarity.

  1. Refocus on Priorities

Rather than rating teachers on what they are doing, let’s assess students on their proficiencies, perseverance in overcoming challenges, and ability to solve problems. Instead of emphasizing productivity by the number of questions answered, refocus on the alignment of learning with success criteria and progress towards goals.

Just because student answers are displayed, doesn’t mean their learning aligns with the intentions and or even that students understand them. Blaise’s beautifully colored rainbow may attract our attention, but each segment includes only one concept. Blain’s is sloppy on first look, but when reviewed more closely his ideas show how the events blend and flow and illuminate his depth of analysis.

  1. Refocus on Gains and Growth before Final Scores.

Learning is not an Olympic sport. In fact, for athletes to rise to the level of Olympian it requires more than knowledge of technique and physical preparation. The best athletes focus on goals, aim for consistent improvement, and work at developing a positive and affirming mindset.

Emphasizing personal best rather than top scores results in less stress and reduced anxiety. In these settings, all students have opportunities to succeed. Embedded formative assessment is a window into student’s thinking. Rather than passing judgment at the end, it’s far better to acknowledge progress during the process.

When students and teachers use the feedback and information from formative assessment they:

  1. Recognize the current stage of learning,
  2. Identify lingering gaps,
  3. Select relevant interventions.

It is formative assessment combined with assistance that makes the most significant difference in learning outcomes.

Better than continuously reinventing the wheel, strengthening the underpinnings of assessment and fine-tuning those elements that work is more effective. There are many adjustments educators can make to assessment. These are just a few to think about and put into action. Let us know how this works for you and what questions you have.

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