Having a healthy school culture is what everyone in a school desires. I can sense the state of the culture very shortly after entering a school. Seeing students who love to learn, teachers who love to teach, parents who are happy with their children’s learning and principals who lead with confidence and have pride for what occurs in their buildings are to me major indicators of a healthy school culture. Having balanced, quality assessment practices can significantly contribute to such a culture because they define the purpose for assessing, teaching, and learning. Trust is built when individuals learn and share with each other. This establishes a culture that promotes celebrating successes in assessment literacy, teaching, and learning. When balanced, quality assessment practices provide the school community with the information it needs to bring students to success in their learning, pride and confidence across members of that system will be the result.
Becoming Assessment Literate as a Team
Establishing balanced, quality assessment practices throughout a system requires assessment literacy on the part of each individual in that system. But assessment literacy is not acquired in a workshop or by attending one class. It requires that individuals learn together and grow together over time. They learn and grow together by agreeing to study multiple topics on assessment literacy. They agree to try out these new learned principles and strategies in their classrooms and schools, and they agree to come back to their learning teams and share what has worked and what has not in order to receive feedback from their colleagues. This descriptive feedback focuses on strengths and areas for improvement, and offers suggestions for further growth.
Principals who understand the impact of balanced, quality assessment practices will provide the conditions for teachers to learn together. When principals are assessment literate themselves, they can provide useful feedback on assessment practices to their teachers in their daily interactions with them.
We are wired for feedback and when it is done well, we grow in our practices and in our confidence as educators and learners. As our trust in ourselves, in our colleagues, and in our leaders increases, we take more risks to continually help each other and our students grow in learning and confidence. Schools exist as learning organizations for both the students and the adults.
Team learning builds trust among the team members. With trust, team members share their expertise and challenges with each another. The more team members share their expertise and challenges, the more each member’s assessing, teaching, and feedback practices grow, resulting in more learning for the students. Identifying what works and does not work in assessment creates a vision of quality assessment practices that unites what occurs in assessment from one classroom to another. The buildup of trust, the sharing of expertise, and the consistency of quality assessment practices across classrooms produces a school-wide environment of confidence, pride, dialogue and risk-taking along with equitable opportunities to learn for all students.
What Does Assessment Literacy Look Like?
To have assessment balance in classrooms, teachers need to know the purpose for every assessment that is given to the students. Teachers can ask:
- Is the information from this assessment for the students, the teacher, the parents, the district, the state?
- What decisions are to be made with the assessment information?
- Is everyone getting the information they need to make the needed decisions on teaching and learning?
- Is the information to be used to promote learning and/or certify learning?
With answers to these questions, teachers will know the users and uses for each assessment.
When teachers are assessment literate, they know the standards or learning targets students are to master from grade level to grade level or from course to course. Teachers can identify these targets as knowledge, reasoning, performance skill, or product targets. Teachers decipher the specific knowledge and skills students must acquire on their journey to mastery of these standards or learning targets. Finally, teachers know what assessment methods will accurately measure these different kinds of targets and are able to build these assessments with quality ingredients.
With assessment literacy, students are recognized as critical users of assessment. In the course of the daily lessons, teachers will share with students the purpose for the assessments and the targets being measured on the assessments. Teachers will give students examples of strong and weak work and will teach the students how to critique their own work against those samples. It’s important that teachers (and any other educators) give assessment information to students in understandable language. Teachers will give students ongoing, descriptive feedback on their work and will teach students how to use the information from the descriptive feedback to self-assess their own work. Once students become adept at receiving and using the feedback to self-assess, they can give feedback to each other.
With quality assessment information and feedback, students can determine what is working for them, what needs improvement and can set a plan for getting better. They can become their own self-advocates in their learning. With student input and quality assessment information teachers can better determine what to teach next for each student and can set up large group, small group, or individual lessons. If the students are engaged, learning, and valued, and as a result, happy, then the school community is happy.
Before becoming an administrator and a consultant, I taught in classrooms for over 20 years. What I shared in this blog about quality and balanced assessments practices I lived as a teacher in many ways. As a teacher, administrator and consultant, what I found to be true is that adults and students will want to come to teach and learn in their school when they find purpose for being there, are valued as unique individuals with a variety of strengths and needs, have opportunities for ongoing growth amongst successes and missteps, and see what they do makes a positive difference for themselves and others.