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Megaphone, Speaker, Speak, Loud, Communication

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.

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