Classroom Assessment in Support of Learning
We don't often hear the words "assessment" and "joy" used in the same sentence. Yet when assessment practices truly support learning, they inform instruction in ways that promote success. We can use assessment as a mirror reflecting to students who they are as learners, showing them how far they have come. We can promise that we will use assessment, not to punish or reward, but to guide students along the path of their learning journey. And we can develop in students the ability and desire to use assessment in these ways for themselves.
My work focuses on helping educators understand the requirements for assessment accuracy and learn how to implement strategies for effective use of the assessment process and its results.
"Do it right. Use it well."
"Do it right" means to be able to gather accurate information about student achievement. This involves far more than the accuracy of the items, task, and scoring guides. It requires that we know how to establish a purpose for assessment (summative or formative), make content standards clear, select the appropriate assessment method, sample appropriately, avoid issues of bias, and track and report out achievement data in the form of an end-of-term grade.
"Use it well" means to be able to use the assessment process and its results to increase, not merely measure, student achievement. It requires that we know how to design or select assessments capable of providing diagnostic information; plan time during instruction to assess formatively and act on the information; offer effective feedback to students; engage students in self-assessment, peer assessment and goal setting; and give students opportunities to track, reflect on, and share their learning progress.
Whether learning occurs is directly influenced by the steps teachers and students take during instruction. Formative assessment practices allow us to respond to what student work shows us they know and do not yet know, before we assign a grade and move on.
The University of Southern Maine has been working for years on developing assessment literacy among educators in the state, helping to bring about significant change in many districts. After having presented several times at their annual assessment conference, this spring Dr. Jeff Beaudry asked me to say a few words about the work I have been doing in the past year and the challenges I believe we still face. The following is what I shared with this year's conference attendees.
As some of you may know, all of my work—presenting, consulting, and writing—focuses on developing assessment literacy in the classroom, that is, knowing how to create accurate assessments and devise fair and defensible grade on the summative side and knowing how to use assessment results and practices effectively to support student learning on the formative side. This past year I have given workshops in schools, school districts, intermediate service agencies, and educational organizations in California, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Texas, Beijing, London, Prague, and Singapore. I have worked with the Social Studies Assessment, Curriculum, and Instruction group of CCSSO and presented at the Association of Educational Therapists conference, giving a keynote on assessment practices that support struggling learners. I have been consulting with districts engaged in ongoing study and implementation of formative assessment practices in Colorado, Georgia, and Texas. On the writing front, I completed revisions for the new third edition of Classroom Assessment for Student Learning and wrote an article on student involvement for the Routledge Encyclopedia of Education (Online).
Thinking back over these varied experiences, three issues I think we still struggle with come to mind.
Planning for Learning
The preservice education my teaching colleagues and I experienced focused primarily on the act of instructing—different ways to deliver information—with no attention to responding to student work. Consequently, I, like many others, began teaching with a repertoire of four steps: plan, instruct, assign, and grade. First I planned what I would do and what my students would do. Then, I prepared the materials and resources. Next, I did what I planned, and they did what I planned. Last, I graded what they did. However, learning and teaching turned out to be far messier than I had been prepared for. Somewhere between “I taught it” and “they learned it,” the straight shot downstream to achievement sprang surprisingly into an array of diverging tributaries. Over the course of that first year, I discovered there are a thousand ways for learners to “not get” a lesson.
Education as a "Cut Sport"
Basketball is a “cut” sport—players try out and not everybody makes the team. We don’t usually think of our classrooms as places where learning is a cut sport; nobody wakes up in the morning and says, “Today I need to exclude a few students.” Yet some of our traditional assessment practices structure the rules of success so that education becomes a “sport” many students choose to drop. How does assessment do this? Three typical classroom causes are not allowing students sufficient time to practice, grading for compliance rather than learning, and using assessment practices that distort achievement.