Three Things I Believe about Assessment

As the school year comes to a start I am thinking about everyones favorite topic… ASSESSMENTS…

Assessments are often misunderstood, and therefore hated by all parties involved.  Students hate taking assessments  because of high stress and feeling assessments are unfair, teachers feel the need to “teach to the test” as they are often assessed by their students scores, and schools feel the need to impress parents with high test scores.

Most teachers hate assessments, in all ways, and feel like it takes away from learning.  We see lots of teachers leave the teaching profession becasue they hate the pressure from parents, and schools to achieve high scores.  I know, and I’m sure you do too, many teachers who feel like our current assessment system has failed students and therefore have given up hope in all forms of assessment.  I’m going to tell you three things that I believe about assessment (and a bonus belief at the end), and hopefully with some thought and reflection you can find a way to start believing in assessments again.

It should happen regularly

Assessments shouldnt be an exam at the end of a course that covers everything covered to evaluate the students learning and assign a grade. This isn’t realistic, and sets everyone up for failure. The student wakes up sick that day, has anxiety and struggles taking tests, or just has a bad day and that student will not be evaluated or assessed.  Placing too much importance on one single activity is not how we should be assessing students, and also misses out on many of the amazing benefits that assessments have.

Assessments should happen regularly, on an informal basis assessment is continuous as you watch how students absord content, where they are strong and need to be pushed or where they struggle and need extra attention and assistance, but even outside of informal assessment more formal assessment should occur often.  Assessments are great ways to learn, both students and educators gain a lot of insight from assessments.  Regular assessment shows students where they are strong and where they need to improve, as well as show teachers what areas they may not have covered clearly or fully to a class or group of students and allow them to modify their teaching to insure full comprehension.

The Practicals:

When I was in university many of my professors loved to do daily comprehension tests over the reading we were expected to have covered before class, or previously covered content.  While I found this annoying, it was beneficial in ensuring that content was covered, and helping to highlight the areas that needed to be readdressed. Beyond daily quizes other more informal methods of ongoing assessment include in-classroom discussions, board work, homework, and (my favorite) discussion groups (online or via mobile classrooms).  More formal methods of ongoing assessments include unit project work, student led lessons, quizes, Kahoot comprehension tests, Self or peer checked mastery sheets, comprehension checks, group collaboration study groups, and many more.

It should be individualized

Todays education system revoles around a few key tests that dictate a students future, and unfortunately this is a fairly poor way of assessing a students knowledge.  Creating one test, that every student in the entire country, state or even district will take and is by definition standardized doesn’t very accurately assess what a student “knows”.  We rely heavily on these exams to gauge a students value, a schools value, a teachers value, when in reality all this really measures is how well a student knows a specific set of information on a given day under a specific set of circumstances and given the opportunity that was designed for them.

Let me give an example of absolutely how silly this is.  We have three students, all going to take a test that will measure their knowledge and decide who will get into their desired university.  They all get to a question about the Citric Acid Cycle, where they are asked to name what compound is necessary at a specific step. Student A see’s the picture in the question, and remembers her study guide had the same picture, and in the blank space their was  a “NAD+” and therefore selects the answer on the sheet.  Student B reads the question and immediately recalls the entire process of metabolism and could fully explain the how, what and why of the Citric Acid Cycle, and therefore selects the correct answer as well.  Student C gets to this question, and has no clue what the question is even asking, but guesses “NAD+” because she hadn’t guessed C in a while on her answer sheet.  All three of the students got the answer correct, but was their knowledge really accurately assessed?

The Practicals:

Assessment, whether as an evaluation of knowledge, an evaluation of teaching, or a learning tool should be personalized and specific to an individual, or a class.  Now this may not always be the case, as their is a time and a place for memorizing facts, and having detailed knowledge of specifics, but assessment should be individualized and specific.  This can be done in a variety of ways, but the easiest way to do this is to get away from multiple choice, true false, and fill in the blank forms of assessment.  Yes, this is easy, but at what cost? Challenge students to use their critical thinking skills, challenge students to show you what they know, not just get past the bare minimum.  Having studetns answer open questions, going beyond the first level of Blooms Taxonomy in your assessment methods, and using more active, collaborative or project based assessment leads to an individualized and a more detailed and comprehensive method of assessing students true knowledge and potential.

It should mirror real life!

When I think about my life as a high school student, way back in the day, and think about the word assessment I think about sitting in the student center taking my ACT, I think about sitting in Science class filling in bubbles on a multiple choice test, I think about fill in the blank questions, and I think about my Calculus exams solving equations while silently sitting at my own table not being allowed to look around.  Even when thinking back to University I think about doing “clicker” questions from the projector, taking thick paper exams, sitting at an isolated computer taking my MCAT, or labeling body parts on a diagram.  But in the real world how many people are ever in this situation? Do surgeons walk in for surgery and say ok no talking, eyes down, pass in your papers when you are finished. DO bankers come in to work and have their boss put up questions on the television that they have to text an answer in before being told if they are right or wrong.  This isn’t realistic, but we demand to keep it how we train and assess students.

In the real world work is more collaborative, more project oriented, people constantly have access to more information and outside resources, and one test rarely dictates your entire future.  Don’t read this as me saying that their isn’t a time or place to have many of these types of exams.  I don’t want a surgeon who doesn’t know their anatomy perfect, or a car designed by an engineer who hasn’t mastered physics, but we need to understand that the real world is where we are sending our students, so we should start preparing them now!

The Practicals:

Ways to do this can actually make the learning process more enjoyable for everyone, and can be personalized to the likes and needs of a specific teacher or class.  Some of the ideas I’ve already discussed such as collaborative assessment, inquiry based assessment, and project based assessment obviously fit well here.  Some ways you can get creative are by taking the topic or subject you are teaching and thinking about how this fits into the real world or into a job in the real world and using that as your model.  Teaching a unit on economics could be assessed by giving the students a specific role to play within an economic situation and allowing them to actually use the principles they learned.  Teaching a class on human physiology could be assessed by having students conduct scientific experiments on themself (or through a computer program or simulation) based on various knowledge or principles you want to assess.  Get creative and think how this can be used in the real world, and the assessments will not only be more meaningful, the students will enjoy it more.


Bonus: I believe that the way we assess our students will change… for the better

This will take everyone chipping in, doing their part and advocating for a better education system, the education system we need, and the one our students deserve!

2 thoughts on “Three Things I Believe about Assessment

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