Assumptions about Assessment

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.

5 thoughts on “Assumptions about Assessment

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  1. In the past few weeks I have learned more about assessment-driven instructional design through the Understanding by Design (UbD) framework. One aspect that stood out to me as I read about UbD was the expectation of a performance task to synthesize learning and demonstrate transfer of knowledge from lesson to real-world situations. I have been taught to value the process over the product and that development and I’m not fully grasping how to integrate this concept with my existing assumptions about assessment. I suppose that each individual element of a portfolio (my school has required elements such as a self-portrait, nursery rhyme repetition, and attribute chart) represents a performance in that students have learned the parts of their body and are developing their sense of identity so the performance task suited to assessing this is a self portrait. As a child continues to grow, their ability to represent their understanding grows and completing the same performance task again offers new insights about the child’s development. Performance tasks certainly aligns with my third assumption that assessment should leave the student feeling proud of their accomplishments and specific ideas for improvement. Creating is empowering and reflecting on the process gives students ideas about how to improve.

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  2. This week, I took a closer look at feedback, and what constitutes effective feedback from a teacher, peer, or self-evaluation. One key takeaway this week was from an article by van den Berghe, Ros, & Beijaard (2013) and their statement that “learning goals should be clear, since feedback essentially is information about how the student’s present performance relates to these goals” brought validation to my original assumption that feedback should leave the student with an understanding of specific areas for improvement. In the early years, this does not need to be a formal conversation, but when a student watches another child ride a bicycle and desires to master the same skill, their own attempts offer immediate feedback as to whether they have mastered the goal or not. Additional feedback from the teacher to “push your foot down” adds additional feedback to help the child ride the bicycle. In all, this week’s key takeaway was that feedback requires the teacher to explicitly state the goal and provide enough feedback so that the student has a metacognitive understanding of how far they are from achieving the goal and what steps to take to get there.

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  3. This week, I thought about my assumptions and the affordances of using technology to improve these experiences. For example, since assessment involves communication between two parties, digital tools like feedback notebooks, SeeSaw, or Class Dojo allow teachers and students to communicate even when they aren’t in the same room. It also provides a running record of feedback, revision, and progress over time. Keeping a portfolio or other digital collection of work, complete with self-reflections and teacher comments can result in a collection which longitudinally shows a students’ strengths, areas of accomplishment, and demonstrates where progress has been made as a result of a cycle of revision.

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  4. I might need to adjust my 3 things a little now that I’ve learned more about game assessment. Assessment still does involve 2 parties, but one of those could be a virtual interaction. You can get feedback from a game without another individual being present. Instead of assessment being part of a cycle, it might be more accurate to describe it as a marker on a journey. Some are more significant than others, but they all provide a snapshot of where the learner is in a particular moment. I still stand by the final point that it should leave students knowing where they need to improve.

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