When I started writing the previous post, I thought it was going to be about assessment, and it was, but only indirectly. Clearly, I had other thoughts I need to express. This post will be about assessment which, I’ve come to believe, is the most important part of education we never talk about. Sure, we hear a lot about high-stakes testing and so-called value-added models, but those are just two elements in a much wider topic. The problem, I believe, is related to whose voices dominate the conversation.
Despite their apparent enthusiasm for using (questionable) test scores to make all sorts of decisions, the self-titled “education reformers” don’t seem to know much about assessment (never mind validity–more on that in a bit). People with actual experience in education (and by that, I do not mean that they attended school at some point in their lives!), on the other hand, have known for while now that valid assessment of student learning is perhaps the most important part of curricular design.
Therefore, I offer this brief assessment primer (just in case they’re interested).
Before making any curricular decisions, ask yourself the following questions:
- What do I want students to master?
- How will I measure students’ (growth toward) mastery?
- What sorts of things do students need to do in order to achieve mastery?
- How will I know if students are moving toward mastery?
- What do I need to do (re-teach, provide extra scaffolding…) to assist students in their pursuit of mastery?
Notice question #2?
Key terms related to assessment so-called reformers need to understand:
- Validity indicates whether the assessment actually measures what it purports to measure. Here’s an example: if we want to know whether a child has gained ownership over a word, a multiple-choice test can’t tell us that. All the test tells us is which answer she bubbled. Here’s another example: students who live near the zoo chose “elephant” in response to a question about which animal wakes them up in the morning. As a measure of what students know, that question is invalid. Children from urban (or suburban) areas may never have seen a rooster, which–of course!–was the “correct” answer to that question. For more on sound principles for assessment, click here.
- Multiple measures means that we assess draw from many types of evidence to assess student performance to avoid making long-term instructional decisions without getting a full picture of what a student knows and can do. To find out about how multiple measures systems are used successfully at home and abroad, click here.
- Formative assessment measures student progress during learning; includes a focus on daily practice as a means to achieving mastery on a final product; includes timely and useful feedback; allows teacher to adjust instructional plan for tomorrow; and focuses on student growth. This is also known as assessment for learning, because it promotes learning.
Of course, there is much, much more to know about assessment, but I’ve found that scaffolding learning where no schema exists (which appears to be the case with many people who view themselves as experts on education), it’s important to take small steps, and allow time for thought. I only wish that the folks driving the Common Core bus here in New Mexico would stop and consider the long-term implications of implementing a set of standards without (valid) assessment instruments. Yesterday, I heard someone (who claims decades of experience) propose that we teach our students strategies they can use to implement the CC, with nary a mention of assessment at all. ((sigh)) A girl can dream.