Telescopes, binoculars, and magnifying glasses each have a purpose in improving our ability to see. Assessment also has many purposes and perspectives. Yet, it is easy to lose sight of its fundamental function: To improve student learning by illuminating outcomes and informing instructional responses. This is achieved through alignment of instruction and assessment with learning intentions. The result is tangible evidence of purposeful learning.
Choosing the right lens and the just-right response takes mindfulness of purpose and finesse of process.
1. A telescope provides a big picture view of far-off and often indistinct objects. It may help us see distant galaxies or confirm that the universe is expanding. Big-picture assessments show large-scale data or trends in large numbers of schools and students. This may inform policy decisions, but in general, does not cause significant variations in classroom instruction or student achievement.
2. Binoculars bring things that are somewhat distant into clearer focus. With them we can see the conclusion of a race or people scaling a mountain. In schools, this level of vision can evaluate the relationship between guiding principles and learning outcomes. It can also validate a district’s curriculum or delve into sub-groups of students. As with the telescope, binoculars look at broad issues, but at the school level offer greater potential for influencing local practice.
3. A magnifying glass brings learning and assessment up-close and personal. Somewhat like examining a bug or mathematical operations to better understand how and why each part has its place and purpose. This helps teachers know the strength of student’s knowledge and skills as well as recognize lingering gaps. These lenses also improve teacher’s practice by highlighting areas that may need upskilling. (My new favorite word indicating that their abilities are valued, yet can improve.)
In brief, effective lenses makes assessment intentional, illuminating, and informative.