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Challenges Now

The first challenge I regularly notice is that too many classroom assessments aren’t providing accurate information. One problem is an incomplete understanding of the relationships among the purpose for the assessment, the types of learning targets to be assessed, and the reasons for selecting an assessment method. A second problem is how to construct—or evaluate, if you’re not creating them—items, exercises, tasks, and scoring guides that meet standards of quality. Often when I am teaching a group about formative assessment practices, we need to go back to the basics of assessment literacy. For example, trying to use a rubric for feedback when that rubric doesn’t give you accurate information about the learning target you intended to assess doesn’t work. Or if the rubric you are using was designed for a large-scale summative assessment and you don’t know how to modify it to be useful diagnostically, that also doesn’t work. And many districts have now developed grading rubrics that people are trying to use to assess daily work. So, there is assessment literacy work to be done. That is especially true for performance assessment—knowing how to develop good rubrics and tasks—because so many schools now engage in problem- or project-based learning.


The second challenge is that there is still a lot of disagreement about what information should be used summatively—what student work should be figured into the final grade and what shouldn’t. And why. And how to sample for grading purposes, so you don’t have to grade everything to ensure a fair and defensible grade. And what to do with work that doesn’t receive a summative grade. And how to get kids to do that work.


The third, and the one I have recently been thinking about most, is this: We still devote way more time to discussing how to grade than we do to discussing ways to get students involved in assessing the quality of their work, in assessing their learning processes and strategies, and in developing understanding of themselves as learners. In the assessment world, student involvement has a strong research base supporting its ability to increase achievement, but grading does not.


So, the three challenges I am working on now are these:

  1. Helping people understand the requirements for assessment accuracy. Accuracy matters.

  2. Helping people know what information should be used formatively, and why, and how.

  3. Helping people focus the assessment attention more on student involvement and less on grading.


I have begun research for a new book that will extend my teaching on the second and third challenges. The topic is “creating a learning culture in the classroom.” I want to lay out as plainly as I can which assessment practices reduce motivation to learn, introduce inequities, and lower achievement. Many years ago, in my masters program in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at the University of Washington, I studied under John Goodlad. Our program’s overarching goal was to instill in us a deep commitment to both excellence and equity. I believe those two values can and must co-exist in everything we do. They are co-equal decision-making filters. For my part, I want to create a deeper awareness of the hidden inequities built into assessment practices. I want to refocus the assessment conversation onto the impact our practices have on students. I want this book to help teachers create a classroom assessment culture in which all students see themselves as capable learners.


And all of this falls under the umbrella of assessment literacy. It’s not hard to develop, but it takes intentionality and, as you know, it takes time. And I don’t believe we can have excellence and equity in education without assessment literacy. So, I encourage you all to continue the good work you are doing to establish a right relationship between assessment and learning.

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