Assessment conducted as a careful, caring inquiry designed to encourage, support and celebrate
learning can be a blessing for our students and can contribute to the well being of the whole learning community. Assessment serves a number of purposes in our learning spaces, but how do we know if our assessment practices actively contribute to blessing and wellbeing?
There are approaches to assessment that can make blessing more likely than others. The work of Richard Stiggins Et al. is one such approach.[i] Classroom Assessment for Student Learning calls for a judicious use of assessment for (formative) learning and assessment of (summative) learning with formative assessment being much more frequent than summative.[ii] In assessing for learning, we seek information about where our students are in their learning journey prior to and during the course of a unit or lesson in order to make day-to-day or even moment-to-moment instructional decisions. This information is also fed back to the learners in the form of rich, timely descriptions that reveal potential next steps in learning. This enables learners to self-assess and set goals for further learning. The goal is to maximize the learning of each student. The much less frequent use of summative assessment is designed primarily to gather evidence of current student achievement – a snapshot taken at a certain point in time to communicate information to those who make large-scale educational decisions. While summative assessment is frequently used to rank, compare or assign a grade or mark, the goal of assessment for learning is not comparative judgment or gathering scores to contribute to a final mark. Research indicates that frequent assessment as[iii] and for learning that is used to modify the learning plan to meet emerging needs results in improved student learning for all, but especially for lower achieving students.[iv] The neediest in the classroom receive the greatest blessing and the overall achievement gap in the classroom narrows.
Even though this approach bends toward blessing, blessing is not an automatic outcome. If we want our approach to assessment to be oriented toward blessing for the individual learner as well as the whole learning community, it is important that we conduct a careful, periodic, and communal inquiry into our assessment practices. I offer the following handful of essential questions to guide that inquiry:
- How does an overriding concern for student learning shape our assessment practices?
- How do our assessment practices give students a prominent role in assessing their own learning?
- How do our assessment practices help us avoid optimizing the measurable at the expense of the immeasurable or hard to measure?
- How does our approach to assessment prevent us from intruding on or interrupting learning too soon?
- How do our assessment practices strengthen the bonds of the learning community?
- How do our assessment practices reveal thoughtful decisions about what learners need to understand, know and be able to do to thrive in their futures?
elaine brouwer, Director of Alta Vista
[i] I wrote an article about this approach for the December 2007 issue of the Christian Educators Journal – “Assessment that Supports and Encourages Learning: a blessing for our students”
[ii] Stiggins, Richard J., Arter, Judith A., Chappuis, Jan, and Chappuis, Stephen. (2012). Classroom Assessment for Student Learning: doing it well-using it right, 2nd edition. Portland, OR: Educational Testing Service.
[iii] Rethinking Classroom Assessment with Purpose in Mind, http://www.wncp.ca/media/40539/rethink.pdf “Assessment as learning is based in research about how learning happens, and is characterized by students reflecting on their own learning and making adjustments so that they achieve deeper understanding.”
[iv] Black, P. and Wiliam, D. (1998). “Inside the Black Box: raising standards through classroom assessment.” Phi Delta Kappan, (80) 2, 139-148.