Assessment has become perhaps the most controversial issue within schools. We understand – the resistance exhibited by frustrated educators was inevitable when:
- The content, critical thinking, and problem-solving that we strive to include within our classrooms is not matched in assessments.
- The ways in which we expect students to demonstrate mastery in the classroom is not matched in assessments.
- The roll-out of new assessments from national, state, and district leaders has been less than respectful, collaborative, inclusive, or clearly explained.
- Assessments are used for high-stakes purposes (student and staff evaluation) that are supported by neither research nor common sense.
And yet, we must assess student progress. We must gather evidence regarding the efficacy of our efforts, we must use evidence to inform future teaching and learning, and students must be involved in assessing their performance and take increased ownership over their learning.
Effective use of formative assessment, developed through teacher learning communities, promises not only the largest potential gains in students’ achievement but also a process for affordable teacher professional development.
Wiliam & Thompson, 2007, p. 57
Evidence is the engine that drives learning. We must take-back and take control of assessment. Evidence gathering must be a central element of collaborative systems of support.
Reviews of accountability data from hundreds of schools reveal the schools with the greatest gains in achievement consistently employ common assessments, nonfiction writing, and collaborative scoring by faculty.
It’s not enough for staff to simply assess and gather evidence as individuals. Common assessments, used to inform teaching and learning must be our goal.
Assessment for learning…when done well…is one of the most powerful, high-leverage strategies for improving student learning that we know of. Educators collectively at the district and school levels become more skilled and focused at assessing, disaggregating, and using student achievement as a tool for ongoing improvement.
Fullan, 2005, p. 71
If we do not have common evidence gathering opportunities scheduled at common times, we cannot:
- Collaboratively design effective tasks
- Collectively analyze student work to determine students and staffs’ relative strengths and needs
- Ensure continuity of expectations, both horizontally within a grade level or course and vertically within adjacent grade levels and courses
We propose a new model of education, in which teaching and learning cycles are iteratively informed by frequent evidence gathering opportunities – cycles in which both teachers and students play an active role. We acknowledge that we all struggle with a perplexing paradox: there is a perception that we assess too much and a simultaneous desire for more information to strategically inform supports for students. To resolve this paradox, we recommend that we commit to the following:
- Evidence that emerges from any and all assessments that are administered is used by teachers (and ideally, students) to inform future learning. We do not administer assessments solely to determine a grade, to earn points, or to rank and sort (teachers or students). This is necessitate the timely availability of evidence.
- We inventory the tests and assessments that we administer to check for gaps and redundancies in the following areas (with a commitment to add or subtract as appropriate):
- We frequently, proactively, and efficiently screen to identify students with significant deficits in the foundational areas of literacy, numeracy, and behavior so that intensive, ameliorative interventions can be provided.
- We assess student mastery of the prioritized skills of a grade level or course at depth, so that we can provide feedback, we can provide more time and alternative strategies when students have not yet demonstrated mastery, and we can provide opportunities involving more depth and complexity when students have demonstrated mastery.
- We diagnose students’ specific needs when difficulties are identified.
- We frequently monitor the progress of vulnerable students who are receiving targeted supplemental supports.
Well-designed assessment practices are an absolutely integral element of a collaborative system of support.
Studies have demonstrated assessments for learning rivals one-on-one tutoring in its effectiveness and that the use of assessment particularly benefits low-achieving students.
Stiggins, 2004, p. 27
Simply stated, we cannot fulfill our professional obligations in the absence of evidence. Only by frequently, accurately, and efficiently checking for understanding can we meet all students’ needs and ensure that they are future-ready.
One mark of schools that make headway on the achievement gap appears to be their propensity to promote and organize conversations based on evidence of student progress.
Little, 2006, p. 10
Collaborative systems of support will not be sustained or successful if we do not collectively determine the extent to which all students are responding to instruction and intervention. We must design organized systems of gathering, analyzing, and employing evidence to drive teaching and learning.