What we assess matters, but what we don’t assess matters even more. Educators continue to rely on assessments that provide a very limited slice of human capacity. We assess what is easy to count and even more straightforward to score. It is easier for us to assess students’ computation or factual recall than it is to assess their thinking process or their willingness to cooperate with others. When we rely on assessments that are only measuring what is easy to count, the inferences derived from such assessments reflect too little of what we truly value. It is time for us to recognise and assess the full spectrum of student learning (Koretz, 2009; Martin-Kniep, 2016). Now, more than ever, we should walk our talk when we say we value deliberation, perseverance, flexibility, self-management, etc.
What if we expanded our emphasis on assessment, with the inclusion of uncertain outcomes into the mix? If active listening was measured, would the need to interrupt others be perceived as a learning opportunity? If we assessed bias, would more students question the texts they read and the media they engage with? How might assessing students’ recognition of fallacies shape their political participation as adults?
Yet much of what contributes to these outcomes is both intangible and not formally assessed. It comes from having opportunities to recognise such findings in ourselves and in others; practice them in different contexts and circumstances, and access feedback to improve upon our ability to demonstrate them proficiently. Imagine what schools would look like if we acted on the claim that everything that counts can be assessed. What would we communicate to educators and parents if we determined that students’ adaptability, intellectual curiosity, stewardship, and thoughtfulness deserved to be recognised and assessed? Many educators in US schools value such outcomes. This is true at the district, building and classroom levels. In fact, the majority of the schools’ vision and mission statements incorporate specific outcomes for student learning that include thinking critically, working interdependently, and knowing how to continue to learn. However, among the factors that prevent schools from assessing all the outcomes, they value, are: teachers’ limited assessment literacy (Popham, 2018); insufficient opportunities for teachers to design and successfully implement assessments that would elicit such outcomes; and pressures to cover content within a limited period.
If we decided to assess all that matters, we would first need to acknowledge the value of intangible outcomes in education and in society. We would lay public claim to the belief that tolerance, open-mindedness, flexibility, creativity, and courage matter enough to be taught and assessed. The mere act of considering these outcomes as worthy of attention and assessment, even if we lacked the metrics for determining them, would set the stage for us to increase our focus and commitment to them. Could it decrease the gaps between the words, actions and work that enriches our sense of purpose and self, and the means through which we assess our performance?
Here are four actions educators can take to increase their attention to outcomes that matter:
- Involve multiple constituencies in articulating and defining the outcomes they value for students and identify the distance between what you value and what you assess by asking questions such as: What do we want the students in our schools to know, be able to do and appreciate? Which of those do we formally attend to and assess? Which of those could benefit from increased attention and assessment? Consolidate the list of outcomes you generate, cluster them into categories such as understandings, skills and dispositions, and prioritise them. Then share this list with all teachers in the school and ask them to consider how they currently attend to each one of these outcomes. This can help practitioners become more mindful in their teaching and help students understand teachers’ expectations. (Melnick, 2016)
- Examine a sample of the assessments that students will experience during three months during the school year. For each one, consider questions such as: What is the purpose of this assessment? What outcomes are being assessed? What outcomes are not being attended to? What do these assessments communicate with teachers, students and parents about the outcomes that are valued? Use the answer to these questions to identify priorities for assessment design.
- Consider expanding some of the assessments you currently administer so that they incorporate authentic learning and assessment; that is, opportunities for students to address real-world problems and issues by investigating, designing, or performing work for audiences who can benefit from this learning. These assessments naturally incorporate challenging to measure outcomes and promote deep learning and transfer. (Pellegrino, Wilson, Koenig, and Beatty, 2014; McTighe, 2018)). Examples of these assessments include environmental assessments and campaigns, public service announcements, editorials, oral histories, and proposed additions or revisions to school and other policies. Students are more engaged when they perceive their assignments to be meaningful and authentic.
- Involve students in the identification of criteria and expectations for quality so that they can assume an active role in self- and peer assessing and monitoring their own work. (Zimmerman and Schunk, 2011). Students need to be active participants in identifying and understanding the outcomes they will be assessed on, in developing the metrics of those assessments, and, more importantly, in using those metrics to set goals and priorities, monitor progress, revise their thinking and work, and assess their attainment. Ask yourself: In what ways could students engage with the assessment not just as subjects, but as partners in the learning process?
The time has come for us to attend to and measure all that matters and to engage students in the assessment process fully. What are we waiting for?
The following templates and checklists support the steps outlined in the article.
This checklist for assessment to produce learning can be used to assess an existing assessment r to revise or develop new ones. This checklist is consistent with many, if not all of the conditions that promote deeper learning and engagement in students. For a thorough exploration of more profound knowledge as a concept and its impact on schools, you may want to access this link.
- This assessment continuum is designed to show a progression of tasks towards authenticity. It can be used to evaluate current assessments or shape the design of new ones.
- This performance assessment design template can assist teachers in designing a performance task. One of its most useful features is that it requires that teachers articulate each of the steps students take as they engage in the assessment, separate from the actions teachers take to guide students and to use data from their work to both address students’ needs and adjust instructional moves.
About the Author:
Giselle Martin-Kniep is the Founder and President of Learner-Centered Initiatives, Ltd. She is an educator and facilitator of adult learning who believes that sustainable school improvement is an aspiration worth pursuing. Giselle has a strong background in organisational change and has several graduate degrees from Stanford University. She has worked with thousands of schools nationally and internationally in the areas of curriculum and assessment, assessment policy, Neuroleadership, systems thinking and strategic planning. Giselle has published multiple articles, chapters, and books including Why am I doing this?; Becoming a Better Teacher; Capturing the Wisdom of Practice; Developing Learning Communities Through Teacher Expertise; Communities that Learn, Lead and Last; and Changing the Way You Teach, Improving the Way Students Learn. Giselle’s most recent interests lie around determining best leverage points for sustainable school improvement, and more specifically around developing and aligning outcomes and measures used in schools. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Koretz, D. (2009). Measuring up: What educational testing really tells us. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Martin-Kniep, G.O. Teaching and assessing worthy outcomes. NYSASCD Impact on Educational Improvement. Spring 2016. Volume 41 (1) pp. 36-44.
McTighe, J. Measuring what matters: Three key questions on measuring learning. Educational Leadership. February 2018, Volume 5 (5) pp. 14-20.
Melnick, Ed. Developing a different district-wide definition of success. NYSASCD Impact on Educational Improvement. Fall 2016. Volume 41 (2) pp. 19-28.
Pellegrino, J.W. Wilson, M., Koenig, J. & Beatty, A (Eds.) (2014). Developing assessments for next generation science standards. Washington, D.C. National Academics Press.
Popham, W.J. (2018) Assessment literacy for educators in a hurry. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Zimmerman, B. J., & Schunk, D. H. (2011). Self-regulated learning and performance. In B.J. Zimmerman & D.H Schunk (pp. 1-15). New York: Routledge.
Number of words: 1281 (not including the checklists and templates)