Educators have also become jaundiced about a critical but complicated topic in the teaching-learning process – assessment. RTI-based practices require evidence and yet we face a paradox – we believe that we assess too much, but we do not possess the information required to inform our work. We feel that we do not have time for assessments. We recommend that all staffs inventory the assessments that they are currently administering to ensure that we are gathering the timely information that we need to ensure that all students learn at high levels, but without redundancies and inefficiencies.
We will benefit from embracing the notion that instruction and assessment are inextricably linked, and that checks for understanding and observations count and can inform instruction and grading. We must recognize that screening and pre-assessment, as is the case with other tests, can absolutely save time. Screening reveals students with such profound deficits that they will most certainly experience difficulties within the year, at some time and in some content area. Let’s save time and students’ senses of self-efficacy by initiating supports immediately. Pre-assessing prior to units will reveal students with gaps in their knowledge of immediate prerequisite skills, gaps that will likely necessitate interventions within the unit. Let’s pre-teach prerequisites before and at the beginning of units to fill gaps, prepare students for success, and minimize the need to spend time later on interventions. By the way, pre–assessments can also reveal that students already possess knowledge of content in upcoming units. By compacting content, we can avoid wasting time on content for which students already possess understanding, thereby allowing time for more depth of study or more practice with other content. We must have these conversations with staff that feel that there is not time for more assessment. And, we must help staff with the practical steps required to inventory assessments, link instruction and assessments, and screen and pre-assess in a successful way.
RTI-based practices will inevitably raise the issue of fairness. Some teachers express the belief that it is not fair to other students, students who passed the test the first time, when we allow multiple opportunities for students to take a test. Or, some teachers feel that we are not teaching responsibility when we allow multiple opportunities. We have an important decision to make, because we simply cannot have both a firm commitment to all students learning at high levels and a firm commitment to only one chance to demonstrate that mastery. They are entirely incompatible. We all recognize, as parents, uncles, aunts, and/or teachers, that children rarely learn at the same rate and in the same manner. To terminate instruction at an arbitrary date and suggest that learning of that content is at an end, and the one-time opportunity to demonstrate mastery is upon us, defies all logic. But, what about teaching responsibility? What are we teaching students when we communicate that they don’t have to actually learn the content being assessed; that they are off the hook and need not keep trying? Does it not teach responsibility when we demand that students keep up with the new content and receive additional support on old content until they reach the level of understanding needed for them to be successful? We are teaching children perseverance, to learn how to learn, and to continuously strive to improve. The “real world” for which we are preparing students is a myth. Colleges and universities increasingly embed multiple layers of supports for students. Careers have always provided multiple opportunities to enter the profession – multiple chances to pass the state teaching exam; multiple opportunities to pass the bar; multiple opportunities to revise the thesis or dissertation. It will not be easy and it will take collaborative action to design a system that provides remediation and allows for additional chances to take assessments. However, we cannot continue to defend a stance that denies the reality of the ways and rates at which individuals learn. It is disingenuous, or worse, to craft mission statements that promise high levels of learning for all, without the fine print that expresses that there are no second chances for the 5-18 year olds we serve.