There is plenty of information available on assessment; often about how teachers can use data more effectively, and why the newest policies and tests will improve learning outcomes. But rarely does this take into account the foundations of best practice in assessment.
John Hattie explains that most assessments are used to inform teachers of their students’ achievement. He suggests changing that perspective to one that considers how assessments inform students about their own progress. He even goes so far as to say that “Until we see tests as aids to enhance teaching and learning, and not primarily as barometers of how much a student knows now, on this day, on this test, then developing more tests will add little, and will remain an expensive distraction.” (Using Assessment Correctly)
By taking these four steps, teachers can utilize best practices in the classroom that refocus assessment on the student and their learning rather than the teacher and their strategy.
Utilizing Assessment Practices That Bring Out the Best in Students
When understandable and assessable learning targets are shared with students, they have a clearer idea of where their learning will take them and the best path to success. Personalized goals mean that students can “analyze complex texts” using their choice of fiction or non-fiction reading at the appropriate Lexile/readability level for them.
In learner-focused classrooms, multiple measures are used for multiple purposes so that students can demonstrate their knowledge, understanding, and skills in diverse ways: a selected choice test, an annotated essay, or a content-driven demonstration. Assessments that sequence through increasingly complex levels can display students’ competencies as well as areas for growth. In doing so, frustration is inhibited and a growth mindset nurtured.
Engaging Students in Assessing Their Own Learning
When learning targets are clear, students can monitor their progress and regulate learning. The teacher’s role is to help learners diagnose errors and recognize the value of mistakes as learning opportunities. If a student recognizes their own “Whoops” and can adjust their own learning, it is more personalized than when a student simply utilizes the teacher’s feedback about the right formula to use or the rules for commas and clauses.
Self-reported grades are at the top of Hattie’s Visible Learning strategies. When students set feasible and achievable learning outcomes and have the support, confidence, and skills to achieve them, they become the best assessors of their own learning.
Viewing Assessment as a Mutual Process
New learning is built on a foundation of basic information and skills prior to attempting more complex tasks such as using a chainsaw or running for elected office. As learning develops over time, the teacher and student gathers information on growth and respond to lingering gaps. Students and teachers working together to come to agreement about the next steps strengthens reciprocal learning.
Viewing feedback as a two-way street is a significant element of mutuality. When feedback is focused on the goal and is informative and actionable, then as Hattie explains, the greatest effect on student learning occurs when the teacher becomes aware of their own effect on learning.
Shifting The Dialogue From Assessment as a Final Outcome To Assessment as a Continuous Process
When assessment is embedded throughout learning, students can recognize and record the knowledge and skills that develop over time. This can be done with data trackers, curating examples of new learning, and metacognitive reflection. In this way, assessment becomes an ongoing practice rather than solely a final score.
A cycle of intentional learning, monitoring, feedback, and planning, supports learners as they strive towards higher levels of learning. In turn, learning is strengthened when students have the necessary scaffolds and resources.
Using these practices ensures that assessment is visible, engaging, informative, mutual, and ongoing as it supports the success of each learner.
Laura Greenstein will be presenting her ideas at the 2016 Annual Visible Learning Conference in Washington D.C. in June 2016.