To borrow the words of Edward Bulwer-Lytton, “The pen is mightier than the sword:” Assessment is more powerful than testing. Teachers test to see what student’s learned. Schools use test results to evaluate teachers. Districts use them to track and chronicle achievement.
For teachers, it can be a challenge to fit all the required testing within the daily routines of teaching and learning. In some schools, weekly standardized measures that simply quantify learning are the norm.
Alternatively, assessments (from the Latin assidere, meaning “to sit with”) extend and elaborate data, offer insights on student thinking, and guidance on teaching practices, with an emphasis on progress and improvement.
Learning becomes deeper and longer-lasting when students discover, investigate, analyze, and reflect. Think about your own experiences. Did your best learning come from watching a video of someone making a free throw? Or perhaps you were trying to follow a multi-step cake recipe that required caramelizing sugar, clarifying butter, and cutting in the fat. In both cases, deeper learning occurs by working alongside someone with more expertise, asking questions, and seeking clarification throughout learning.
The purpose of assessment has always been to promote learning, while measurement has traditionally referred to numerical reporting of outcomes.
Additional comparisons include:
|At the conclusion of teaching and learning||Throughout teaching and learning|
|Reports outcomes||Monitors progress|
|Quantifies student’s knowledge||Provides Insights into student’s thinking|
|Reports data and evidence||Presents learning outcomes in context|
Assessment In Practice
Instead of a selected choice quiz, ask students to explain vocabulary in context. For example, when studying the Louisiana Purchase with a learning intention of: Students will define and explain the significance, connections, and outcomes of events, students begin by selecting 6 of these words: Federalists, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, French/France, borders, pioneers, New Orleans, Mississippi River, Lewis and Clark. This immediately reduces test anxiety as students activate connections to what they have learned. It also results in deeper insights into student thinking beyond recall of dates, locations, and names. Alternatively, as a substitute for a traditional test that asks who was president during the Louisiana Purchase have students record three pros and three cons of the Louisiana Purchase that Thomas Jefferson considered. Even better, ask them to write their response as if they were voting in favor of or against the purchase.
Verifying learning doesn’t have to be primarily on paper or through electronic devices. Consider ways to incorporate graphics and student-designed illustrations or student-friendly infographics such as easel.ly and Piktochart. Formative assessments can be incorporated directly within learning, such as a quick-draw of a timeline, designing a compare/contrast chart, or explaining to a Martian how to calculate 15 million (the price of the Louisiana Purchase) in today’s dollars Then self and peer-assess with an analytic rubric designed to appraise purposeful learning intentions. For example; accurate us of vocabulary in context, the ability to compare/analyze perspectives, provide a fact-based defense of the position.
- How do these embedded and authentic assessments differ from more traditional summative strategies?
- What effects could this have on student learning outcomes?
- In what ways can you use these ideas for translating systematic measures into insightful assessments?
RESOURCES for further reading
National Academy Press Knowing What Students Know: The Science and Design of Educational Assessment.