Let’ s admit it, this past year has been one of anguish, turmoil, anxiety, and sheer havoc for every segment of society, in particular, multilingual learners and their families who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and racial unrest. It has also been a time for educators to take stock of their priorities and think deeply about how to inject meaning into their own lives as well as those of their students and families. In response, education has taken a more humane turn, and along with it, assessment. While assessment for federal accountability purposes remains in flux, classroom assessment has been able to pivot from centering on outcomes (i.e., scores and letters) to improving teaching and learning.
Being responsive to the constant fluctuations of the pandemic’s impact, teachers and other school leaders have had to be nimble across an array of instructional contexts. Whether face-to-face or at a distance, there is always a purpose to instruction and assessment. For example, you may want to check the students’ social-emotional development, monitor their conceptual understanding, or evaluate their evidence for learning to get to know your students better.
Let’s take a look at three questions that point to purposes for classroom assessment. The following thumbnail sketches of assessment as, for, and of learning suggest how to be more focused on students and their relationships with teachers than on grading. Think about how you and your grade-level, department, or leadership team can take action by using this assessment information to further teaching and learning.
Do you want to get a pulse on students’ thinking, how they are feeling, and what they reveal in self-reflection? Being more receptive to and accepting of students’ perspectives while encouraging student agency and empowerment are features of assessment as learning.
Assessment as learning:
- capitalizes on students as resources, including their funds of knowledge and identities
- optimizes students’ abilities to be agents of their own learning through self-reflection
- represents students’ experiences, interests, and choices.
Do you want to show students how to act on feedback based on criteria of success that you have co-constructed with them? Having students and teachers decide on acceptable evidence for their learning targets signals assessment for learning.
Assessment for learning:
- involves collaboration between students and teachers, where teachers know students well and seamlessly scaffold learning experiences to maximize each student’s potential for success
- encourages students and teachers setting, reviewing, and revising of learning goals and targets
- centers on concrete, timely, and actionable feedback between students or students and teachers so that students are always aware of where they are going and their next steps in getting there.
Do you want to contribute to local accountability at a classroom, school, or district level? Using student projects, performances, and products at the culmination of a unit or common prompts across classrooms, along with uniform criteria or descriptors, represent assessment of learning.
Assessment of learning:
- allows for student choice in selecting multimodal (oral, written, graphic, visual, digital) resources for showing evidence of growth over time
- produces meaningful data that are grounded in standards, curriculum, and instruction
- contributes to local accountability.
Now that we have established the critical role of stakeholders in shaping assessment, we turn our attention to bi/multilingual learners as, wherever there are bi/multilingual learners, classroom assessment should always have the option of including multiple languages. It doesn’t make a difference whether there are just a few multilingual learners from a variety of languages/dialects or concentrations of one or two languages, all multilingual learners benefit from having opportunities to learn and express that learning in the language(s) of their choice. It also doesn’t matter whether teachers are monolingual, bilingual, or multilingual as long as they are empathic, supportive, and advocates of their students.
When introducing classroom assessment in multiple languages, one’s immediate thoughts should go to how to mitigate social/racial injustice and inequity by leveraging the linguistic and cultural resources of multilingual learners and their families. Assessment, as instruction, should be inclusive of multilingual learners’ strengths and become laser focused on embedding their languages and cultures into the process. In embracing classroom assessment in multiple languages, bi/multilingual learners should always have access to their full linguistic repertoires to make meaning. We round out assessment as, for, and of learning with some additional tenets.
Classroom assessment in multiple languages:
- contributes to a strength-based balanced system where multilingual learners’ languages, cultures, and histories are front and center
- reflects a negotiated language policy that affirms multilingual learners’ identities and deepens connections among the school, home, and community
- allows for multilingual learners’ choice of language and multimodal means of expression to maximize student accessibility and equity
- represents multilingual learners’ languages, cultures, family values, experiences, and perspectives that are aligned with linguistic and cultural sustainable curriculum and instruction
- builds bi/multilingual learners’ metalinguistic, metacognitive, and metacultural awareness within content and language learning
- revolves around integrated learning targets and goals drawing from language, content, and culture while being anchored in academic content and language development standards.
Together, assessment as, for, and of learning, whether in one or more languages, provides a full complement of data sources for making educational decisions that revolve around classroom activities. Now is the perfect time to make another new year’s resolution. As we delve into 2021 with renewed hope, let’s ensure that our students are placed up front and center where they are afforded all the advantages and opportunities to thrive.