Thursday, August 12, 2010

Assessment Simplified

Too many people make assessment far more complicated than it needs to be. Here's how I simplify assessment into about as simple a way as I can think of:

There are two steps to assessment: you gather information about student learning and you share that information with others such as the student, parents and administration. Occasionally, you might add the hint of an evaluation, but otherwise students should experience their successes and failures not as reward and punishment but as information. Because homo sapiens can only ever experience grades as reward or punishment, we don't need them to gather or share this information about student learning.

The worst kinds of assessments encourage students to do only what they are already good at and hide their mistakes so that the teacher can judge. The best kinds of assessments encourage students to take risks and make their mistakes transparent for the teacher to use as a way to plot future learning. In other words, assessment is less about gotcha and more about diagnosing learning.

Just like learning, assessment should be about working with kids to construct and apply their understandings to create and perform for a purpose and in a context.


  1. Joe, I couldn't agree more. I have been working in the past couple of years to get to this level of assessment. My classroom web site encourages students to converse on our message board, to create photo galleries and embed them on their private web sites and to build a complete web site with multiple pages throughout the year. They and I discuss their work, and I always give them chances to discover their errors and change them as they see fit.

    Last year, we did a quarter-long journaling project, which I intend to make a year-long project in 2010-2011. The kids loved putting themselves in place of others, and I allowed them to share their work and assess each other as well as themselves.

    This sort of web-based portfolio assessment is a work in progress, but I'm hopeful that it will be effective.

    Thanks, as always, for your insight.

  2. Joe, how do you see using this type of assessment in your classroom?

  3. I think it's important for us to make a distinction between assessment AS learning and assessment OF learning.

    With "assessment as learning", I want my students to be risk-takers and explore new ideas and skills. My role, as the teacher, is to provide them with the feedback they require to deepen their understanding and improve their proficiency.

    With "assessment of learning", I expect my students to pull together all their strengths to highlight all they have learned.

    "Assessment of learning", however, makes up the smallest part of my course's assessment. It's what we do when there's a need to report. The magic occurs during the "assessment as learning" part of the course...and that happens every day (hopefully!)

    Related to the same topic, I really enjoyed reading Rethinking Classroom Assessment with Purpose in Mind

  4. I think we have to be really careful to assess based on criteria and not just what looks "cool" in the classroom. If as teachers we are not willing to teach and assess curriculum, then we shouldn't be teaching in the public system. Furthermore, we need to have a realistic idea of what grade-level achievement looks like and be willing to accurately report it to parents when the time comes. I agree that traditional grades can hurt a student's ability to learn, but at the end of the day, teachers need to be accountable to parents, and ultimately the students, by reporting accurately. Worse than giving a grade is giving one that isn't based on fact.

  5. @anonymous: if you get a chance, I replied to your comment as a new post here:

  6. Joe, thanks for simplifying. I'm going to use Damian Cooper's book (high school edition) to start a book study in my school - a way to create a common language and possibly a cross-curricular community for dialogue and problem solving.
    Richmond, BC

  7. For the record, I knew that Anonymous had to be my good friend Dave. (He admitted to it over a beer just the other day)

    He's such a good friend that he's willing to be wrong in every conversation we have. (mostly kidding)

  8. I KNOW! As an elementary school teacher we're always telling kids that it's "OK to make mistakes" but if we test and grade them then our behavior undermines this reality.
    It's not OK to make mistakes on a "test" if you're aiming for an A grade now is it?
    I have recently returned to higher education and I get grades. They mean almost nothing to me because, unlike my own schooling, I don't even get to satisfy my competitive nature by comparing my grades with the other students. In addition, I seem to get A grades regardless of how much or little time I invest. I know this because I am one of those curious minded people who likes to "test the system". When the system "fails" I feel my motivation drain away!
    Learning still occurs for me in the other tasks (such as wikis and discussion posts) but the grade are a waste of time.

  9. Holy crap. I just had that "ah hah!" moment. Joe, you are a genius. Your ideas should be universal, ESPECIALLY in special ed. Get rid of IEPs and grades, and just let the comments speak for themselves.


Follow by Email