OPTIMIZING ASSESSMENT By Laura Greenstein Ed.D.
The word optimization means making the most effective use of resources, ideas, or conditions in order to make something as functional and effective as possible. Examples include optimizing your computer’s speed or maximizing your car’s fuel efficiency. Optimization infers making the best use of programs and practices in ways that benefit all parts of a system.
In relation to educational assessment, optimization has become a technology catchphrase. Specialists are developing computer programs that are intended to improve learning and assessment through adaptive technologies, alternative pathways for learning, and customization for each student’s needs and capabilities.
In schools, optimization has come to mean expediting short term goals, for example, student’s test scores and evaluations of teachers, through (in my opinion) transitory measures. But here’s the problem with that approach: Students and teachers are not simply data points, nor are they programmable plug-ins to be continuously recalibrated. It takes time and resources to acclimate to this rapid pace of change.
Optimization of student learning is more inherently and appropriately associated with engagement, personalization, and differentiation. For example, combining consistent instructional standards with coherent student learning intentions results in assessments are consistent yet also more flexible. One student may explain the outcomes of the American Revolution by graphically illustrating the significance of events and battles of the war while another student opts for a more traditional selected choice test.
If technology optimization is consumer-driven, then educational optimization is compelled to be student-driven. This does not diminish the value of teachers, curriculum coordinators, and school leaders. But, it does necessitate reliance on established best practices in teaching, learning, and assessing. If the goal is assessments that meet or exceed purposes and expectations while providing opportunities for students to succeed, then optimizing, (as in enhancing and fortifying instruction and assessment in support of student learning) may be the term to use.
Optimizing assessment means refocusing on learning, learners, and progress. Test scores are only one small part of this. Rather, restoring assessment to its intended purpose of supporting and facilitating learning can better optimize learning outcomes.
Unlike computers, humans are multisensory and have expansive emotional and social underpinnings for learning. From learning math to mastering a new language, learning is rarely linear or fully logical. Thus, optimizing assessment is different and more complex for humans than for machines. However, it is feasible to optimize the assessment of student learning.
From in-the-moment reviews and check-ins on progress to self-assessments and large-scale measures, the foundations of assessment must rely on a substantiated core of best practice. From national to district policy and from student report cards to classroom routines, educators must be consistent in relying on fundamental practices that reveal student learning, thinking, and reasoning, and then responding in timely and relevant ways.
Optimization for Students
Confirm that learning outcomes are clear, reasonable, realistic, and practical to students and are conveyed through multiple channels; orally, visually, in writing, and demonstrated. For example:
Big Picture Standard: Solve problems involving scale drawings of geometric figures and reproducing a drawing at a different scale.
Local Practice: Standard Deconstructed: Students will compute the area of the classroom and present a blueprint that indicates the scale used. Other students then explain why they would or would not rely on that blueprint to purchase carpeting.
Optimization for Teachers
Verify that big-picture standards have been deconstructed into teachable and actionable elements. For example:
Big picture standard: Cite strong textual evidence to support an accurate analysis of what was stated.
Local Practice: Standard Deconstructed: Use words, phrases, and facts from the reading to explain and support your interpretation and evaluation of the author’s position on _______.
Optimization for Learning
Determine that there is alignment from the standard through the curriculum, instructional strategy, learning processes, forms of evidence, and the final assessments or measures of learning.
Confirm that standards are in fact assessable.
*For individual or group reflection: Which of these similar learning are optimized? Select a or b.
a. Students will develop persuasive writing skills based on rules of writing.
b. Students will write or present a well-constructed, purposeful, cohesive, and persuasive essay or product that aligns with specified quality indicators.
Optimizing the process
Ensure that the purpose and methods of assessment align with what students are expected to know and do. Use words and expressions that are understood by all stakeholders.
*For individual or group discussion: Which of these leads to optimized assessment? Select a or b
a. What does it mean to be competent?
b. Consider and compare how demonstrations of competency can be shown through test scores, authentic performances, or student self-assessment.
(hint: answer to both of the above question are b, but why?)
The best learning occurs when the challenge is real-world, the process is multi-faceted, and students understand the expected outcomes. The result is a willingness to overcome challenges with the guidance and support of others who are more skilled and knowledgeable.
Resources for Deeper Understanding
Sticky Assessment: Classroom Strategies to Amplify Student Learning https://routledge.com/Sticky-Assessment-Classroom-Strategies-to-Amplify-Student-Learning-1st/Greenstein/p/book/9781138640917
Optimize Student Learning https://teaching.berkeley.edu/resources/learn/optimize-student-learning
Seven Practices For Effective Learning: http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/nov05/vol63/num03/Seven-Practices-for-Effective-Learning.aspx