Standards and assessment.
Two words that are packed with so much meaning for educators. When you hear those words, do you cringe? Or do you get excited about measuring your students’ growth? Do you see standards and assessments as opportunities for students to drive their own learning?
Because standards and assessment can indeed be exciting, and they’re an integral part of a teacher’s practice and a student’s learning, Teaching Channel and Ashford University have partnered to bring you a new, graduate-level, three-credit course on the subject.
I’d be very surprised to find a teacher that has fallen asleep at night thinking, “In what ways can I bore my students tomorrow?” However, school is changing — and with it, so are the roles of teachers and students.
Rows of individual student desks with a teacher in the front of the room are becoming a thing of the past. Collaborative and flexible workspaces with multiple teachers and support educators are the new norm.
The way we consume information has also changed, and teachers are no longer the sole sources of information with a duty to impart knowledge to our students. Students are consuming media and information every day — from the time they wake up until the time they fall asleep. They ask Google a question to be met with an instant response.
How might we adapt our roles as educators to facilitate learning and thinking in an impactful, purposeful way in this new learning environment?
“What gets measured is what gets done.”
I hear this mantra often in the educational world. While some people might read it and sigh, thinking about all the testing our kids have to go through, I see it differently.
Why accept the current frame, that assessment is a tool merely for evaluation? What if assessment were a process that is fulfilling for students and teachers instead of draining?
How might we rethink “What gets measured is what gets done,” and shift our focus toward documenting students’ potential instead of merely passing a test?
One approach I find effective for this work is digital portfolio assessment.
Walking around the classroom, clipboard in hand, I moved as quickly as possible, diligently checking for homework completion, assigning five points to those who had it done, two-and-a-half to those who had it partially done, and zero to those who didn’t do it. It was super scientific and truly measured learning… (he says sarcastically).
Luckily for my students, since then I’ve grown quite a bit in my understanding of assessment practices, and as I look back at them over the past 14 years, it’s not with disgust (although that would be justified at times), but with hope — and the knowledge that change is possible. I author this piece not to judge current practices, but in the hopes that some of the ideas below might shed new light on ways to take a fresh approach to assessment, and improve learning for all students.
As a teacher myself, I feel your pain when a capable student chooses — yes, chooses — not to perform well academically. Cajole as we might (and do…) to convince kids like these on the merits of academic accomplishment, many of them look at us with that blank expression of adolescence that speaks volumes in its silence.
What they don’t say are things like these:
- “School is irrelevant to what I’ll eventually do in life, and we both know it. Tell me how linear algebra will help me become a better attorney.”
- “If you really cared to help me, you’d let me test out of what I know how to do so that I had time to pursue stuff that is important to me.”
- “The reason I don’t do the homework is that I’ve already proven to you through my class performance that I understand this stuff. Wouldn’t you be as frustrated as I am if you had to do such meaningless work every night?”
More times than not, smart students who choose to do poorly on purpose have very good reasons for being disillusioned with their middle and high school experiences. And these students may be on to something. Research on gifted students and other high achievers has shown that many of them know 50% or more of the grade-level curriculum before it’s “taught” to them.
As educators, we all know how important it is to assess student learning. Often, formative assessment strategies focus on student understanding of content learning. But what about language learning?
Whether or not you have ELLs in your classroom, our students are always improving their language skills. Why not try a formative assessment strategy that checks in on both language and content?
Here are four ways you can assess all students for content and language learning in your classroom:
Can your students contend with the disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda that floods their phones, tablets, and laptops?
Since the 2016 presidential election, there’s been intense concern about whether people can make sense of digital information. Our work at the Stanford History Education Group may have contributed to the unease. Over the past several years, we have designed short assessments of civic online reasoning — the ability to effectively search for and evaluate social and political information online — and in November 2016 we released a research report that indicated that students from middle school to college struggle to evaluate online content. Our assessments revealed that students had difficulty distinguishing ads from the news, imposters from verified social media accounts, and lobbyists from independent researchers.
So what can teachers do to tackle this problem?
One place to start is with our short assessments. Below, we detail four ways to integrate one of our assessments into instruction.
Do your students meet your test announcements with an audible groan?
You probably want to be more creative, but there’s just so much content you have to explore with your students and so little time. It may seem impossible to break away from those boring but efficient paper-and-pencil tests. But what if I told you that creativity and efficient, effective assessment are not mutually exclusive?
There are many creative and exciting ways to assess student learning and measure applied proficiency beyond the traditional paper-and-pencil tests.
Take some of these great ideas for a spin in your classroom sometime soon.
Popular culture often presents school assessment in the narrowest possible fashion. Based on what we see in films and television, it would seem that assessment in schools is restricted to a narrow range of tests: How often do we watch students in fictional classes being told they have a pop quiz tomorrow or see them practicing fill-in-the-bubble SAT questions?
This might be a stereotype of teacher practice, but it speaks to a deeper issue that teachers face: It can be difficult to see the full range of options open to us when we’re trying to find the best way to assess our students.
Testing itself represents just one small subset of assessment practice, but it’s a good example of the broader problem. There are a lot of different ways to use tests to assess your students, but in the hubbub of a busy classroom, it’s easy to default to the same one or two test types and use them in the same old way.
The best way to avoid this trap is having some alternative testing strategies in your toolkit to widen your options.
When we think of assessment, we often think about tests. But good assessment is much more than tests — it’s a chance to discover what our students understand so that we can help them learn and grow.
Just like with everything else, assessment looks a little different for young students. Our squirrelliest little ones are not likely to sit down for many formal assessments, so the majority of them may be informal. Most of the time, students’ learning can be assessed without them even realizing it. But getting students engaged in the assessment process can be powerful as well.