What do you think of when you hear the word “assessment?” For me, it instantly invokes all the senses from childhood experiences- the joy of coloring in the bubbles on Scantron tests (and the added fun of bubbling in all the e’s in my name on state tests), eye strain from trying to keep on the right line, smell of rubber erasers, the itch of eraser shreds on the desk, the adrenaline rush of giving a presentation, and more have all shaped my ideas of assessment.
As I think generally about all assessments, three features immediately come to mind that I believe are broad features across all age groups and assessment methods.
Assessment involves at least 2 parties. At times, both parties are peers offering feedback and requesting clarification while projects are underway. Sometimes, assessment comes from a mentor to a mentee. One individual possesses the knowledge and skills that the other wishes to acquire. In this situation, assessment involves identifying areas that the mentee has improved their understanding as well as areas for future growth. I also think of assessments created by national organizations where the goal is to compare the student against a standard. These assessments can be useful when we want to know where a student is in relation to a defined level of mastery. These assessments are not necessarily inspirational for promoting future learning, but do offer a snapshot of the learner at a specific moment in time.
Assessment should happen as part of a cycle. Assessment should occur before, during, and after learning and as a result of each step, some modification or review should occur from the learner to move their understanding forward. How a student is assessed at each step might not be the same. With my learners, an initial assessment typically involves observations for the level of vocabulary used as we start a new unit. Do my ESL students already know some vocabulary or are we starting at the beginning? Do they have any misconceptions? As we progress through the unit, I look at how students are using new skills and vocabulary. In my context, this evidence is collected through photos and videos. When we reach the end of a unit, we can use sets of photos from across the unit to gauge mastery of each skill.
Assessment should leave the student feeling proud of their accomplishments and with an understanding of specific areas for improvement. In preschool, one of my favorite moments for assessment was when we were preparing for student-led conferences. After saving work samples from the year, I loved sitting with each child individually to look at how their writing and drawings had changed during the year. Self portraits gained new features and writing became more ordered and legible. We would prepare a showcase folder for each child to share with their parents and even at a young age could take pride in their accomplishments.
If I had to offer a self-assessment of my understanding of assessment practices, it would be that my understanding of assessment is firmly rooted in my experiences as a student and in the experiences I have had working in two schools. While I have not had negative assessment experiences, I am aware that assessment does affect other schools, student demographics, teachers, and communities in different ways. I’m beginning a journey to improve my understanding of assessment and look forward to one day looking back on this post with a better understanding.