How do our assessment practices help us avoid optimizing the measurable at the expense of the immeasurable or hard to measure?
What and how we assess signals what we value. Much of the current school reform rhetoric advocates adopting higher, better standards accompanied with frequent testing to assure the standards are met. Policy makers treat students as sources of data to be mined to evaluate teachers and rate schools. This approach pushes schools to optimize the measurable at the risk of neglecting the immeasurable or hard to measure.[i] While Christian schools enjoy more freedom that public schools in the scenario characterized above, there is a subtle or not so subtle pressure for us to prove that we are as good as if not better than the school down the road because we are standards-based and data driven and our test scores prove it. If we want our assessment practices to bend toward blessing, we must avoid a preoccupation with letters and numbers to the neglect of other ways of learning?[ii] Letters and numbers are important but so too are the less bookish avenues to learning such as ‘free play’[iii], hands-on project or problem-based learning, place-based studies, and interest- and passion-fueled learning. Rather than signaling a primary occupation with informational text, assessment that tackles the hard to measure will value the effort of young people to figure things out for themselves, which includes hypothesizing and creative, imaginative, divergent thinking.[iv] There are many hard to measure facets of learning for young disciples-in-training. Have we identified these facets? Have we made a collective commitment to account for them in our assessment practices? Have we identified the kind of data we need to help potential disciples-in-training to thrive in their learning? How can we help each other avoid an assessment approach that majors in the measureable 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?
While we may distinguish between assessment for and of learning in our assessment practices, too often assessment of learning is far more frequent than assessment for learning. Research indicates that frequent, formative assessment improves the learning of each student and, when practiced by the learning organization as a whole, facilitates school improvement as well.[v] Blessing-oriented assessment practices need to flip the pyramid making assessment for learning far more frequent than assessment of learning. Overuse of summative assessment can promote deficit thinking, causing anxiety, depression, and a sense of helplessness all of which inhibit learning.[vi] Rushing to judgment or intruding on learning before learners have adequate time to engage in the learning, to become proficient with new skills and processes, and to learn from mistakes and missteps can compromise the safe space that learners need to continue to grow, robbing them of the joy and love of learning. [vii] What is the ratio of formative to summative assessments in our actual practice? How do our grading practices protect the important role of assessment for learning? Do we recognize those times when we need to withhold assessment (formative and summative) to avoid intruding on or interrupting learning such as during ‘free play’ and states of ‘flow’?[viii] For our assessment practices to bless, we need to remind each other that the point is not assessment. It is learning. Sometimes it is a blessing to withhold or delay assessment.
elaine brouwer, Director of Alta Vista
[i] Richardson, Will. (2012). Why school: how education must change when learning and information are everywhere. NY, NY: TED Conferences LLC. 15/35.
[ii] Brady, Marion. (November 10, 2013). “What’s wrong with the common core?” Accessed on 11/12/13 at http://www.alternet.org/education/whats-wrong-common-core.
[iii] Gray, Peter. (2013). Free to learn: why unleashing the instinct to play will make our children happier, more self-reliant, and better students for life. NY, NY: Basic Books.
[iv] Brady, Marion. (November 10, 2013). “What’s wrong with the common core?”. Accessed on 11/12/13 at http://www.alternet.org/education/whats-wrong-common-core.
[v] 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. P. 22-23.
[vi] Gray, Peter. (2013). Free to learn: why unleashing the instinct to play will make our children happier, more self-reliant, and better students for life. NY, NY: Basic Books.
[vii] Gray, Peter. (2013). Free to learn: why unleashing the instinct to play will make our children happier, more self-reliant, and better students for life. NY, NY: Basic Books. P. 165-166, 294.