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Stop the Pendulum

As I sat at my desk this morning catching up on recent news and views I couldn’t help but feel like I was swinging on the end of a pendulum. Not so much Edgar Allen Poe’s the Pit and the Pendulum where doom awaited the narrator but rather like a lab rat in an experiment where I never moved forward towards success but rather covered the same ground again and again. For decades educational assessment has been plagued by a pendulum of reforms and initiatives.

The swings have gone from linear learning to non-linear learning, from teacher led to student directed, from predetermined to emergent, from standardized to differentiated, and from differentiated to personalized. Yet, we still assess students by asking them to read regardless of whether they are learning through phonics, or whole language, or another emerging initiative. We argue about the value of standardized testing vs. performance assessment in a world where students need to do both well. One test cannot possibly hold all the answers. Assessing a narrow spectrum of knowledge is not acceptable if we aim to assess the whole child. A multi metric system is far superior.

Instructional opportunities are lost when teachers spend the better part of a year learning a new curriculum or preparing students for the latest test. Essential learning is lost when students spend time unlearning prior learning, such as double digit addition, and relearn it in a new way. Even Bill Gates said “We may not know for a decade if this stuff works” (Harvard Interview, 2013)

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Differentiating Assessment

We are all different when it comes to life and learning. In the classroom a teacher may find Amadan with his nose in a book while Suzu is gathering and organizing a group to work on a project. There are vast differences in our digital literacy as well as our EQ (emotional quotient). We all need adjustments and adaptations to support peak performance. In relation to classroom assessment, consider modifying the content, process, and product. Here are a few suggestions.

Control the amount of vocabulary: Change a 4 part multiple choice question to 2 choices and make sure your question stems are fully comprehensible. For example:

When only the smallest part of the moon is visible, the moon is in which phase?
A. waning phase                               B: new moon phase

Original question: When only a small part of the moon is visible, the moon may be in its…          The distractors also included                   C: first quarter            D: closing stage

Embed frequent formative assessments: Pre-assess before teaching so that you know where to begin. If you don’t have student clickers try Plickers as a way for students to post their individual answers to questions. Use technology such as Zaption to stop a video and check for understanding before moving forward. Prior to the summative test, students can write summary statement or respond to review questions on Padlet where gaps in understanding quickly become evident.

 

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Assessment Audits

The purpose of an assessment audit is to gauge the condition of educational assessment systems and practices. An audit provides a big picture view of how well the elements of the system are working individually and collectively as well as a close-up view of assessment in action.

The outcome of the audit identifies strengths and areas for improvement. It focuses on the disparities between what is and what is desired. This in turn informs an action plan that identifies necessary adjustments and changes to structures, methods, and resources.

During the audit questions are bound to arise about assessment priorities, practices that are in place, strategies for aligning the purposes of assessments (formative, interim, summative), as well as the district’s commitment to balancing student learning and engagement with large-scale mandates. All of this is done with a focus on best practice in assessment.

The process is built on a clear purpose for the audit and a willingness to make improvements. This in turn guides professional conversations and collaborative planning.

Fundamentally, an assessment audit it is a formative assessment that describes where we want to be, explains where we are now, and informs ways to close the gap.


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4 Ways to Strategically Boost Your Assessment System

INEFFECTIVE

  1. Maintain Traditional Systems: Support testing with PD, resources, and time. Rely on test preparation programs and strategies.

PLAUSIBLE  

  1. Improve Traditional Systems: Refresh and expand existing strategies to support higher and deeper thinking and provide opportunities for applied learning.
  1. Seek Alternative Opportunities: Supplement testing with projects, demonstrations, and portfolios assessed with rubrics, learning logs, self and peer measures.

COMPELLING

  1. Inspire Disruption: Invigorate the assessment system with sophisticated, innovative and engaging strategies for teaching, learning, assessing, and accounting.

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Assessment Systems for Everyone

Assessment is a process. It involves gathering information on what students know, understand, and can do. It then requires an analysis of the evidence in order to make accurate inferences and informed decisions about students, instruction, and policy.

Assessment systems are built on policies that define learning outcomes, prescribe assessment methods, and regulate reporting, and decisions. Assessment systems are complex in that they incorporate the content, timing and focus; the strategies, breadth, and purpose; accountability and response to an array of assessments.

It takes a whole village to build an effective system that integrates:
1. Mission, purpose, and values
2. Complex learning with practicable assessments
3. Relevance, objectivity, and fairness

Some questions all educators need to be asking about emerging assessment systems are:

  • What are we measuring and why?
  • Who are the assessments serving and benefiting?
  • How are we measuring?
  • What are the effects of accompanying incentives and consequences?

These are our children who are pushed to achieve, our teachers who bear the responsibility, and our communities that deserve graduates prepared to contribute to our complex world. Let’s make sure the assessment systems are the ones we need, not the ones our policy makes think we deserve.


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Balanced Assessment Systems

Balance seeks that sweet-spot between rigorous testing structures and purposeful strategies that inform teachers and learners. It strives for equilibrium between traditional measures and assessments that display higher, deeper, and applied thinking. It values immediate insights into learning while continuously monitoring progress towards worthy outcomes.

An effective system realizes the importance of connecting assessment purposes with learning outcomes through a continuous cycle of planning, proceeding, and reviewing. This type of system is comprehensive and informative at many levels.

The value of a balanced, comprehensive, and rigorous assessment system lies in meeting the needs of all constituents. It is based on purposeful strategies, multiple measures, and informed responses that guide all learners towards reaching their potential.

The promise of balanced assessment systems is achievable. Focusing our work on growth and improvement is a goal worthy of our efforts. Through this we can bring stability back to the true purpose of assessment: Those activities that involve gathering and analyzing information about performance that is used for the improvement of teaching and learning.foundations4


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Déjà Vu All Over Again

“Our society and its educational institutions seem to have lost sight of the basic purposes of schooling. This is hardly surprising, given the multitude of often conflicting demands we have placed on our Nation’s schools”  A Nation at Risk – 1983

If you have been around the education sector a while you probably noticed that what is trending are simply makeovers from the past.

Horace Mann in the 1800s advocated for civic responsibility and character education. Now we call it bullying prevention and restorative justice.

John Dewey in the early 1900s advocated for hands-on experiences: Get involved, try out your ideas, learn by doing. Now we call it project-based learning. (note that Maria Montessori built her practices on this. Jerome Bruner called it Discovery Learning which led to Constructivism.)

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What’s Trending in Assessment

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  1. Rely on Multiple Measures: Develop and expand an array of strategies for measuring essential skills and knowledge.
  2. Emphasize Realistic use of Differentiation and Personalization: While it is not feasible to write 25 different lesson plans, there are powerful ways to personalize learning and assessment.
  3. Move Beyond Data: Numerical analysis of test scores provides part of a picture of student learning. Aim for more nuanced data collection and better evidence of higher level thinking and application of complex skills.
  4. Select Technology for a Purpose: Choose and blend technology with intentional teaching and assessment.
  5. Change the Formula for Success: From performance on a test to competency-based assessment that includes support for students in producing their finest work.
  6. Future Readiness: Expand foundations of learning with more opportunities for applying, creating, collaborating, and owning learning.
  7. Support Teachers: Continue to strengthen teachers as assessors through quality pre-service preparation and targeted in-service support.
  8. Use the Research: Rely on high quality research while avoiding flashy sales pitches.
  9. Monitor: Use the lesson of history to inform legislative decisions that will genuinely improve educational outcomes.
  10. Increase Engagement: Include teachers, parents, and communities in the design, planning, implementation, reporting, and utilization of assessment.

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Student-Centered Assessment

The learning sciences continue to inform us of how students learn and this in turn guides how we teach them. When these ideas are applied to student-centered assessment a broad-spectrum blueprint emerges.

First, is the idea that a balanced and comprehensive approach to assessment will benefit all learners. In this type of system multiple methods are valued. A spectrum of strategies is routinely used, from in-the-moment classroom assessment to large-scale national and international measures. Secondly, a comprehensive system means that assessment is informative in multiple ways: Immediately in the classroom, locally at the school and district level, as well as for state and national policymakers.

Student centered assessment includes these features:

  • A balanced continuum from formative to summative
  • Evidence comes from a range of strategies from traditional tests to alternative measures
  • Assessments guide and inform next steps in teaching and learning
  • Growth measures are emphasized
  • Assessment is mastery-based rather than time-bound
  • Students take ownership of their learning and use assessment for improvement
  • Students are actively engaged in assessing
  • Motivational strategies are part of assessment (i.e. choice, low anxiety practices)
  • Input from multiple assessors; teacher, self, and peer is valued
  • Emphasizes real-world applications of learning
  • Technology is used purposefully to support and enrich assessment
  • Outcomes are informative and usable by a variety of audiences
  • Interpretations and decisions are supported by the learning sciences

From students to school leaders and from district to global perspectives, no single assessment can provide all the necessary information needed about learners and learning. Only a balanced and comprehensive assessment system can truly be student centered. In this system the focus is on learning, broad in content, reasonable in delivery, sound in design, and equitable for all learners.

More information on these ideas is available from Students at the Center, especially their reports on a New Era in Educational Assessment by David Conley and Assessing Learning by Heidi Andrade, Kristen Huff, and Georgia Brooke.

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Using Assessment to Boost Learning (Part 2)

Higher and Deeper Thinking, Episodic Learning, Brain-Friendly Strategies

Classroom formative assessments that are routinely embedded during learning assist students as they recall and rehearse new knowledge, understanding, and skills. As Henry Roedinger III and Jeff Karpicke explain, there are numerous low-stakes strategies that support their research on the value of continuous review, practice, retrieval, and application of learning.

Deeper questioning and higher level thinking
Choose strategies that elicit and interpret evidence of learning at multiple levels of Blooms Taxonomy and Webb’s DOK. Rather than recalling what the Hungry Caterpillar ate or identifying which foods were unhealthy, ask students to prescribe a healthy diet for the caterpillar. Instead of asking about the meaning of vocabulary words, ask students to support an idea or position using the vocabulary words. In place of asking how political parties are alike and different reflect on how those differences influence their legislative decisions.

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Episodic Learning
This works for any content from grouping numbers to analysis of Hamlet. Rather than 30 minutes of sustained learning, intersperse moments of recall using a prop or concept map to briefly summarize a strategy or character trait.
A Stop-to-Jot strategy transfers attention from the reading or viewing. A Learning Tracker is a more structured form of the stop-to-jot in that students respond to a specific prompt at a selected point of learning.
Collectively, learning can be reviewed and understanding checked through a visible posting such as on Padlet. As with eating rich food, smaller portions are more easily digested.

Brain-Friendly Strategies
Take regular breaks during learning, even if it is simply to get up and count steps around the table, name the countries around the world, or a model with kinetic sand.
Quick Checks such as a written summary or “Tell it to Martian” require students to recall and show new learning.
Distributed learning using Lino lets students post digital sticky notes, making it easy to summarize learning and respond to misunderstandings.

When students repeatedly retrieve and apply their learning they become better caretakers of their own learning. This in turn supports engagement and deeper learning. Research from the learning sciences show that these ideas work.

Try It Out: Select two ideas from what you have just read and explain two ways you will use what you learned. Write a summary of 140 words that you can post on Twitter.

See previous blog USING ASSESSMENT TO BOOST LEARNING, Part 1, for more ideas.


Recent News

Ideas for making annual testing more meaningful

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https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2019/01/09/is-it-time-to-kill-annual-testing.html?cmp=eml-enl-eu-news1&M=58722125&U=83632&UUID=fa7d6e5558ed809b770d91848c643ca0

 

Assessment-Literate Educators

7 Things Assessment-Literate Educators Need to Do. (including: Balanced, Intentional, & Aligned) from NWEA/Advancing Assessment Education https://www.assessmenteducation.org/blog/seven-things-assessment-literate-educators-need-when-creating-quality-assessments-partone/

 

Overused Buzz Words

In this edweek article, from Larry Ferlazzo’s Classroom Q and A, the most overused words in educatioin include: at-risk, data-driven, rigor, 21st century skills, flipped and more. Read about it at https://bit.ly/2Llwhyl

SCAN “The Journal for Educators”

Showcasing innovation in education

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Assessment EdTech Update

From assessment foundations to tech-tools, you’ll find information and resources here: https://www.edtechupdate.com/assessment/

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