As the school year begins, teachers spend a week looking at test scores from the year before. They painstakingly analyze the data to make decisions to determine the next steps. There is only one problem — they are studying data of students they no longer teach. They have new students with different learning styles, interests, and needs. This scenario plays out year after year, and it can be frustrating for teachers. And at times, it makes it hard for teachers to see the benefits of standardized tests or assessments in general. The problem with common assessments is that everybody wants to “standardize” education and develop a one-size-fits-all approach to educating our students.
Unfortunately, we don't stop at the one test. We force students and teachers to prepare for the test, too. Between testing every nine weeks with the district mandated common assessment to test standards, MAP testing, and practice testing to get ready for the “BIG” test, we assess our kids to death.
Why Common Assessments are a Problem
The problem with these approaches to assessment is that we are not focusing on what matters most. The important thing we need to consider daily is that we are in the people business. Everyone has specific learning styles, needs, and interests. We take the individuality out of education when focusing on “teaching to the test” rather than teaching students. We need to create environments that promote equity, personalization, and authentic work. This quote from Bored Teachers says it all, don't ya think?
When providing students challenging and content-rich experiences, students flourish in and out of the classroom. Unfortunately, many think personalized or project-based instruction is hard to manage and assess in the classroom. However, there are ways to provide authentic assessments that meet the needs of your students and inform instruction.
Use Formative Assessments
The way I view formative assessment is different from common assessments discussed above. Formative assessment is an instructional practice that allows teachers to evaluate students frequently in a variety of ways. This evaluation is flexible and helps the teacher get a sense of how well students understand the content. Plus, it makes it easier to give feedback and adjust instruction.
While you might view common assessments the same way as stated above, the problem with most mandated common assessments is that the teacher did not prepare them. It's a big secret, and question types are not shared. These types of common assessments are not deemed valuable to most teachers.
There are so many other ways to gather the information needed to inform instruction using other types of formative assessment. Some of my favorite ideas include:
- Exit Tickets
- Fingers Up
- RAN Strategy
You can grab this formative assessment freebie by completing the form below. The full bundle can be found here.
The Power of Observation and Conferencing
There is a lot to be said about the power of observation and conferencing. One of my favorite reasons for conferencing with my students is the chance to get to know the students better.
For example, during writing conferences, I enjoy hearing the stories of my students. Learning more about their family, hobbies, and pets gives me a lot of insight into their lives.
Conferencing helps decide what types of books they would enjoy, choose topics or projects they may be interested in learning more about, and target specific skills they struggle to understand. Conferencing also allows me to zoom in on things they do know, which will enable me to build on the known to get to the unknown.
Develop Student-Centered Rubrics
When implementing project-based learning or other cumulative projects, I like to use student-centered rubrics. I create my rubric beforehand, then “guide” my students to develop the rubric for themselves as a group. I like this approach because students feel they have some skin in the game and know the project's expectations.
Rubrics are also a great way to take grades, which can be a problem for some teachers when implementing projects in their classroom.
Assess with an Authentic Audience
Rubrics can be overwhelming at times, but if you implement opportunities for an authentic audience, you can have the students reflect on the learning. I like to have students share their projects with the class, other classrooms, and even parents.
An excellent speaking and listening activity is to share the rubric with the audience. The audience is on the lookout for the components of the rubric. When the project is complete, the audience provides feedback to the learner based on the rubric.
If you don't want the audience to provide feedback, it's still a great idea to offer an authentic audience for your students. I think an audience help students see there is a reason for the work they are doing in class vs. I am just working on this to get a grade or because my teacher told me to do the assignment.
A powerful idea after share time is to have students reflect on their work. You can use the rubric with this exercise as well. Teaching students how to ponder their work is a skill that can last a lifetime.
I hope this post empowers you to rethink a few things in your classroom. Learning is not a cookie-cutter approach, even though our system wants us to standardize everything. People are human beings, and learning is messy; it is not linear or a one-size-fits-all approach.
And even though I'm writing with the student in mind, I must take this opportunity to say teaching should be personalized. You have strengths to bring to the table. And your way of doing things may not be my way or an administrator's way. Taking individuality out of the students and the instructors may be easier, but it just doesn't work.