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CTM 3-5

Page history last edited by Konrad Glogowski 11 years, 3 months ago

The Changing Scope of Assessment


The shift in educational thinking from assessment at the end of a lesson to assessment as a tool in strategic planning is slow, but critical if one is truly able to develop learning outcomes.  Recently a group of parents assembled to critique a new standards-based report card.  Teachers had spent months laying out developmental descriptions of reading, math and language skills with carefully worded and ordered phrases such as:  "recall some story details", "recall major story events", "recall relevant passage details", "summarize passages concisely", "make references and draw conclusions".   Each description defined a level of skill students could be expected to attain in a particular age bond such as ages 5 to 7, and 7 to 9 years.


After studying this new report card form in some length, one of the parents raised his hand and said, "Oh! So this is what you do in school?"  This innocent and honest question revealed to me the essential error that those of us in school have the potential to make over and over again.  The error has been the assumption that what we do as instructors is clearly evident and known to all participants, students, parents and teachers.  However, we know that this is not always the case.  In fact, we have not made it clear to students what they must learn, we have not made it clear to parents how well their children are performing, and we have not agreed as an educational community what learning or knowledge is most important.  Lacking consensus on knowledge, skills, and understanding, it is a functional solution to be vague about data and about student learning (assessment information).


As students are no longer being educated to perform tasks focused on knowledge and understanding, so too must teachers be supported as they acquire new learning skills as creators and users of assessment information, and not simply passive deliverers of curriculum pre-packaged by a distant textbook publishing company.  The movement toward teachers being makers and users of assessment data reflects the shift from teachers as assembly-line workers to lifetime learners (Bullard, p. 206).


Principals, teachers, students, and the community, can come together around sound principles of assessment to create learning experiences that matter.  Data on student outcomes, both individually and collectively, comes center stage as all the members of the school community discuss three critical questions regarding quality. Staff and parents ask themselves these same critical questions:


  • What am I doing?
  • How well am I doing it?  (in relationship to established criteria)
  • What do I need to do to improve?  (Hearne, 1992)
  • What is the match between what our goals are and how we are assessing?


Assessment Literacy


In Student-Involved Classroom Assessment, one teacher engages in a particularly useful discussion about the match between assessment method and assessment targets.  He discusses the four main types of assessment methods: selected response (multiple choice, true/false, matching, and fill in), essay, performance assessment, and personal communications.


For assessing knowledge and mastery, selected response methods are parsimonious.  They allow a quick, accurate inexpensive means of finding out what is known about a subject or area.  Essay responses can also show knowledge and allow for indications of reasoning proficiency. Performance assessments are often too expensive and time consuming to be used at the fact-recall-knowledge mastery level, but they allow for observation of skills during performance and assess proficiency in carrying out steps in developing a product.


Sound assessment are produced only when there is a clear purpose for assessment, identified and appropriate targets, proper methods, an appropriate sample of the targets, and elimination of bias and distortion in measurement.  Some experts propose that these five principles guide sound assessment practices.


  •    Is the purpose of the assessment clear?
  •    Is the target achievement clear and appropriate?
  •    What methods do the target and purpose suggest are appropriate?
  •    How can we sample performances appropriately, given target, purpose and method?
  •    What can go wrong, given target, purpose and method, and how can we prevent bias and distortion?


When answered with understanding, this results in assessment literacy.  Those who know the meaning of assessment quality with all of its nuances and know that one is never justified in settling for unsound assessments are assessment literate.

At the school level, understanding the match between method and student outcomes is critical.  One should also be aware of their target audience: who needs to know what information and in what time frame?  The needs of school board members are very different from the needs of parents or students.


As you examine your assessment menu in your school, remember to include parents and students in the discussion process.    Provide opportunities for all to truly understand what is being measured, what evidence is considered proficient, and, most importantly, to see the link between the assessment and instructional complications.


Unless accurate assessment results are used as part of everyday conversation in schools, they will not improve instruction quality.  This is where the assessment revolution is actually taking place, in the use of assessment data to drive decision-making.  The difference is that "data" takes on a richer meaning when it is actual student work instead of numbers representing a normative version of student work.


Certainly, normative data has a place, and there are clear advantages of using normative data for program planning as well as building and district evaluation. Consistency over time, ability to look at trend data, comparability between school systems at a regional, state, or international level are some of the benefits.


Using Multiple Measures

Utilizing multiple measures of student learning that includes actual student work builds a community of learners. No one test or assessment can give a clear picture of student achievement. This is why several states (Washington, Maryland, Maine) and districts (Seattle, Washington, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina) have incorporated multiple measures, including classroom-based evidence, as part of their total accountability system.


Student work, however, becomes data when it is scored using commonly understood criteria and reflected upon the purpose of improving instruction.  Not only is the process of scoring student work an important process for members of a school community to go through to communicate and internalize common standards, it is also a powerful staff development tool for improving instruction.

A useful organizational structure for using student work as data is suggested here as an eight-step process that schools can use to assess student learning:


  1. Decide what skill cluster to assess and select a broad assessment that captures more than one attribute of the domain.
  2. Construct or use existing scoring guides or rubrics for the task.
  3. Share the task and scoring criteria with staff.
  4. Administer the task to students in a similar time frame.
  5. Spend time discussing the scoring criteria and agreeing on anchor papers.  (Anchor papers are a few papers from each score point that represent the quality expressed in the criteria.)
  6. Rate the student's papers.  It is often useful to have the papers noted by a teacher who is not the students' own instructor for the subject.
  7. Compare ratings, discuss and formulate implications for instructional delivery.
  8. Report data in terms of the percentage of students meeting the criteria at the various points.


In using multiple measures, one can get a clearer picture of student achievement over time at the district level as well as at the student level. Examples of multiple measures used by our schools include student work, classroom-based assessments, school-wide assessments, as well as district and state assessments.  Both normative- and standards-based information is valued.  Each school community matches its philosophy, instructional strategies, and assessments, to its goals to accomplish its mission. While the approaches at each site differ, this alignment drives school effectiveness.


In each school community there is an emphasis on multiple forms of data to answer questions of process, quality, and effectiveness. There is a continual search for evidence that is student-centric and captures the richness of each school experience. This search for authenticity makes each person a learner. There is a shift from what some experts call  "accounting" for school achievement to "authentic accountability," which redefines the lines of responsibility from the blame game to interactive reciprocal responsibility.


Learning from Sound Assessment


When assessment results are used as a barometer to measure the strength of learning and as a compass to show the direction of future action, all participants become learners.  As the social and political context of schooling requires greater accountability, decision makers in schools must become more capable to use information in all forms in the best interest of students.


The new view of leadership in learning organizations centers on more subtle and more important tasks. In a learning organization leaders are designers, stewards and teachers. They are responsible for building organizations where people continually expand their capabilities to understand complexity, clarify vision, and improve mental models. They are responsible for learning. (Senge, 1990.)   Principals as learners, teachers as learners, and community members as learners are all part of this merging paradigm of schools as dynamic rather than static organizations.


Principals as learners


Principals model learning and are themselves learners as they seek better ways to structure school time, allocate resources and motivate staff. Principals are the key to managing and creating the culture of reflective teaching that expects and teaches to the concept of "what good work looks like around here."


Principals can:


  • Utilize multiple measures to create a school-based assessment system that links classrooms and students over time.
  • Support teachers during their growth in assessment literacy through staff development.
  • Provide parent education opportunities to help parents understand assessment.
  • Work with local media to interpret various indices of school improvement in addition to normative measures.
  • Support development of a school-wide portfolio system that showcases student work and moves from grade to grade.
  • Make the goals and objectives of school clear and give focused feedback to teachers on how their classroom efforts support these goals.


Teachers as learners


Teachers are learners as they examine multiple measures of student attitude and performance as well as indices of community satisfaction. As students are no longer being educated to perform rote tasks focused on knowledge and understanding, so too must teachers be supported as they acquire adult learning skills as creators and users of assessment information. In the past, teachers were often expected to be passive deliverers of curriculum that was prepackaged by a distant textbook publishing company. The movement toward teachers being makers and users of assessment data reflects the shift from teacher as assembly line worker to lifetime learner.


Teachers find themselves transforming their teaching as ongoing assessment reveals how students approach tasks, what helps them learn most effectively, and what strategies support their learning. The more teachers understand about what students know and how they think, the more capacity they acquire to reform their pedagogy, and the more opportunities they create for student success.


Teachers can:


  • Help students see what good work looks like by providing adequate models of work that meets requirements, exceeds requirements and does not meet requirements.
  • Provide students with frequent feedback on specific ways to improve.
  • Teach students self reflective skills which include the ability to see how their work meets the standard and what they need to change to improve.
  • Work with parents on how to monitor work at home in a positive manner.
  • Be assessment literate in all they do. Share this with parents.
  • Design lessons with a clear view of the student outcomes expected.
  • Use grading practices that communicate about student achievement.


Students as learners


Students are traditionally thought of as the only learners in school. They are now able to use a variety of tools and resources to demonstrate learning and reflect on their progress. Seeing examples of good work, discussing scoring criteria or rubrics, and even creating templates to use in assessing their own and each other's work develops their ability to identify and emulate good work.


Students can:


  • Learn to value their own work.
  • Use rubrics to assess their work.
  • Reflect on how their work is similar to or different from the standard and state where they need improvement.
  • Collect work over time and discuss it with an adult.
  • Learn the relationship between effort and outcomes.


We should consider schools as learning organizations that require a conceptual shift of power from total assessment by external sources, such as teachers, parents, and tests, to shared assessment with student perspective. In “The Quality School” (Glasser, 1990), the author discusses the need for a shift in power from teacher-centered to student-centered learning. Traditional beliefs about the relationship between teaching and student learning must be discarded as the student is drawn into the power loop and learns to construct indices of quality with the teacher.


The community as learners


At an individual school level, one of the first questions you must ask yourselves as a school community is: "What are we assessing for?  Are we measuring that which is most worthwhile to our school community?


In "The Socrates Syndrome - Questions that should never be Asked," Campbell (1995) suggests that true education is "a lifetime of seamless experience, connecting individual episodes into an ever expanding web of meaning, insight and understanding."  But he acknowledges that asking the kinds of questions that make this true education possible is threatening.  People in schools are more willing to invest in magic bullets from publishers than in the time to wrangle over questions such as:


  • What is so important that everybody must know?
  • Why does any test have a time limit?
  • What is the purpose of education?


The standards-based reform movement grew out of attempts to answer questions such as these, and many effective school improvement models begin with these questions.  Other useful models begin with an analysis of goals and mission. Models such as these mirror the strategic planning process used in business and industry by clarifying direction, selecting indicators of progress, analyzing results, and using the information gained to inform further improvement activities.


Community members can:


  • Read a variety of books on educational reform expressing different points of view.
  • Attend several school board meetings.
  • Visit their neighborhood school.
  • Learn about their state and district accountability system.
  • Become familiar with the types of assessments used in their community.



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