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ASCD Annual Conference and Exhibit Show

2016 ASCD Annual Conference and Exhibit Show

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Assessment in the Learning Organization

Edited by Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick

Table of Contents

Shifting the Paradigm: Giving Up Old Mental Models

Shifting the Paradigm: Giving Up Old Mental Models

Insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
—Albert Einstein

The 19th century British physicist and astronomer Lord Kelvin is quoted as saying, "When you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is a very meager and unsatisfactory kind."

Based on this archaic, technological, and reductionist theorem, we have tried to translate educational goals into observable, measurable outcomes. We have become fascinated and enamored with:

  • amount of time on task;
  • numbers of questions asked at each level of Bloom's Taxonomy;
  • gain scores on achievement tests;
  • class size, including numbers of students and the ratio of students to adults;
  • length of time in school;
  • I.Q. scores as a basis for grouping;
  • numbers of days in attendance;
  • minutes of instruction;
  • percentages of objectives attained;
  • numbers of competencies needed for promotion;
  • school effectiveness based on published test scores; and
  • numbers of As and Bs on report cards.

These obsessions reflect the statement by Irish social commentator George W. Russell that, "When steam first began to pump and wheels go round at so many revolutions per minute, what are called business habits were intended to make the life of man run in harmony with the steam engine, and his movements rival the train in punctuality." Yet we agree with William Glasser (1992): "What is most needed in the public school is not new personnel or equipment but a new philosophy and a new structure for using what we have." And as Jacob Viner observes, "When you can measure it, when you can express it in numbers, your knowledge is still of a meager and unsatisfactory kind!"

The Paradigm Shifts

As we let go of the machine models of work, we begin to step back and see ourselves in new ways, to appreciate our wholeness, and to design organizations that honor and make use of the totality of who we are.
—Margaret Wheatley

Wheatley (1992) agrees that up to this time, all our organizations have been constructed on notions derived from 17th century Newtonian physics and on cherished assumptions that ours is a world of things, mechanics, leverage, hierarchies, and rigid organizations. We are being challenged to reshape these fundamental world views, however, through new sciences and fresh discoveries and hypotheses in biology, chemistry, and quantum physics. We are discovering that this is not a world of things but a world of relationships. As Wheatley points out, "To live in a quantum world, to weave here and there with ease and grace, we will need to change what we do. We will need to stop describing tasks and instead facilitate process. We will need to become savvy about how to build relationships, how to nurture growing, evolving, things. All of us will need better skills in listening, communicating, and facilitating groups, because these are the talents that build strong relationships" (p. 38).

We are learning that power in organizations—power to get work done, to teach, to learn, and to transform lives—is energy. Energy needs to flow through the entirety of organizations. It cannot be confined to positions, functions, levels, titles, or programs. As Wheatley contends, "What gives power its charge, positive or negative, is the quality of relationships. Those who relate through coercion, or from a disregard for the other person, create negative energy. Those who are open to others and who see others in their fullness create positive energy" (p. 39).

A quiet revolution is taking place. It is a revolution of relationships and a revolution of the intellect, placing a premium on our greatest natural resource—our human minds in relationship with one another. We are increasingly recognizing and accepting those attributes of a climate conducive to intellectual growth and self-fulfillment. The conditions that maximize creativity are being described, understood, and replicated in classrooms, schools, districts, and communities. The new paradigm of industrial management emphasizes a trusting environment in which growth and empowerment of the individual are the keys to unlocking corporate success. This view provides a new paradigm with which to consider the mission, vision, outcomes, and assessment of schools.

In his book and video programs on paradigm shifts, Joel Barker (1989) develops a convincing scenario about how we develop mental models from which we interpret the world. The process of building these models is what we, as educators, refer to as constructivism. We know also that people support what they create. And we have learned from the work of Piaget that when we are placed in a state of disequilibrium with our existing mental models, we construct new ones. Typically in our society, however, people await the new model. They express frustration that a new recipe has not been formulated. Their traditional paradigms have "plateaued" (Bardwick 1986). As we hear in school life, "Show me the new model; prove that it works first before I will believe you."

A change in mental models, for most people, implies the unknown. It implies psychologically unknown risks of a new venture, physically unknown demands on time and energy, and intellectually unknown requirements for new skills and knowledge. In addition, people who are invested in their present ways of working believe that if they can just do what they are currently doing better, everything will improve. Part of this notion is supported with a current interpretation of continuous improvement: Work toward higher quality by cutting the number of errors.

We have clearly entered the information age, and we face a two-fold dilemma in a world that is constantly redefined through increased information technology. One dilemma is identifying practices that we should not change but work to improve. The second dilemma is to invent new practices that are reengineered in fundamental ways that change the way we operate. With increased technology, we will be able to enhance our practices through the use of databases that can be synthesized, tracked, and reorganized as never before. Clearly, such new databases will dramatically change the role of assessment.

The system that has served us in an industrial age now needs to be reexamined. In order to change mental models, we must first examine the assumptions of our present models. For example, we have assumed that there is a need for highly specialized work; each department represents a discipline that has its own order of business. This is true from the perspective of the classroom as well as from the central office. We assume that those who are responsible for accounting are quite separate from those who are responsible for curriculum and instruction. As a result of this specialized and often fragmented organization, assessment has also become narrowly defined. Our present assessment breaks apart knowledge and skills and, in the most narrowly defined way, tries to produce information for instruction.

An additional assumption is that we will be able to create incentives for workers—children as well as adults—by creating stronger relationships between work and inspection of it. We believe that we can better educate students when we develop better means for checking and controlling. Our assumption has been that the fear instilled by the threat of "if you don't do this, you won't get in" will serve as a strong incentive. We also assume that making learning exclusive (only a few will make it) will serve to motivate.

The concepts in this book are based on new assumptions that shift our present paradigm. They will be confusing and counterproductive under the old paradigm of education. Figure III.1 describes the existing state of educational thinking and the desired state with which the concepts of educational change and assessment must be viewed.

Figure III.1. Existing and Desired States of Change and Assessment

From the Existing State. . .

. . .To a Desired State

  • Bureaucratic institution that fosters dependence based on external evaluation offered as summative rather than formative.
  • The assumption that change takes place by mandating new cognitive maps and training people to use them.
  • Assessments that limit the frame of reference by which people will judge the system.

  • A system that recognizes the necessity for those who are being assessed to be a part of the evaluation process, to become self-evaluating. A system that encourages continuous external feedback to be used for ongoing, self-correcting assessment.
  • Operating within people's maps of reality (personal knowledge) and creating conditions for people to examine and alter their own internal maps.
  • Assessments that assist learners in understanding, expanding, and considering alternative frames.

  • Assessments that impose external models of reality.
  • Assessments that communicate that knowledge is outside the learner.
  • Assessments that signal that personal knowledge and experience are of little worth.
  • The conception of curriculum instruction and assessment as separate entities in a system.
  • Each aspect of the system that is assessed is considered to be separate and discrete.
  • Individual and organizational critique perceived as negative and a barrier to change.

  • Assessments that allow different demonstrations of strengths, abilities, and knowledge.
  • Assessments that allow the capacity to make meaning of the massive flow of information and to shape raw data into patterns that make sense to the individual.
  • Assessments of knowledge being produced from within the learner.
  • Communicating that the learner's personal knowledge and experience is of great worth.
  • Assessment is an integral component of all learning at all levels and for all individuals who compose the system.
  • All parts of the system are interconnected and synergistic.
  • Critique is perceived as a necessary component of quality for individual and organizational decision making.

In order to adopt this new vision, educators will need to experience a paradigm shift. Some of our traditional ways of viewing schools, education, learning, teaching, achievement, and talent will be found obsolescent and will demand replacement with modern, relevant policies, practices, and philosophies that are consistent with the view of multiple intelligences in a quantum world.

For example, as our paradigm shifts, we will need to let go of our obsession with acquiring content and knowledge as an end in itself and make room for viewing content as a vehicle for developing more complex, higher goals such as personal efficacy, flexibility and adaptability, craftsmanship and high personal standards, consciousness and metacognition, and interdependence and sense of community (Costa and Garmston 1994). We will dismiss uniformity in deference to valuing diversity; we will reduce our emphasis on "parts" and increase our emphasis on relationships—the true source of power in today's world.

Additionally, student evaluation will be as significant an influence as external evaluation. We will balance external rewards with intriguing activities that spark internal motivation. We will devalue competition and enhance interdependence. We will redefine "smart" to mean having a repertoire of intelligences and knowing when to use each.

Barker (1989) suggests that when adopting a new paradigm, all aspects of the system must change in accordance with the new paradigm. Paradigm shifting, therefore, does not become fully operable until all parts of the system are changed and aligned with the new paradigm.

Changing our mental models, a first step in changing paradigms, requires time as well as courage. Administrators, teachers, and parents often feel bound by traditions, laws, policies, rules, and regulations that tie them to past practices, obsolete policies, and archaic metaphors. As the late President Dwight D. Eisenhower stated, "Things are more like they are today than they ever have been."

A Catalyst for Changing Mental Models

The question most frequently asked about changing mental models is, "How do we help people realize the need to do this?" After all, unless there is a real need to change, change will not take place within the entire system.

Consider that growth and change are found in disequilibrium, not balance. Order is built out of chaos, learning takes place, understandings are forged, and, gradually, organizations function more consistently as their vision is clarified, their mission is forged, and their goals operationalized.

Wheatley reminds us that reality is actively constructed, and this construction occurs most effectively when the whole system is in the room generating information and thinking about what it wants to be. In schools that operate in this fashion, codes of discipline, school rules, and policies are assessed for their consistency with the organization's new mission and goals of interdependence, self-evaluation, and self-modification. Kriegel and Patler's book If It Ain't Broke, Break It! is a wonderful title that elegantly sums up what school leaders do with crystallized, plateaued organizational thinking. Numerous strategies can be employed to break mental models:

  • Create school climate conditions in which people can take risks and experiment.
  • Rotate job assignments with tasks assigned to stretch the imagination and cognition of staff members.
  • Research alternate classroom and instructional strategies.
  • Experiment with various lesson designs, instructional sequences, and teaching materials.

The classroom climate, too, can foster risk taking as students experiment with ideas, share their thinking strategies with each other, and venture forth with creative thoughts without fear of being judged. Value judgments and criticism are replaced with acceptance, listening, empathy, and clarification of each other's ideas. Students learn, use, and assess their skills of communication.

In the past, archaic compartmentalization of the disciplines kept school staffs separated. But traditional content and subject matter boundaries are being selectively abandoned and replaced with relevant, problem-centered, integrative themes that are chosen because of their contributions to the thinking, learning, and community-building processes.

When a system seeks ways of knowing whether it is, in fact, accomplishing its mission, it turns to assessments. Assessments are tools for measuring; they are ways to gather information about the success of a practice. Unfortunately, in the past we have too often assumed that assessments and tests are synonymous. We now realize that there are many ways to measure, only one of which is a test. We now have tools such as portfolios, exhibitions, and observations (see the matrix in the introduction to Part IV). Our measures are no longer limited. As a result, we find that we can gather information about success in areas that we always claim to value but find few ways to evaluate. These areas include the capacity to collaborate and work on a team; the capacity to communicate effectively in ways other than writing; the capacity to solve complex problems and offer multiple solutions; and the capacity to perform as a scientist, artist, mathematician, or historian.

New measures give us a window through which we can examine how well we are working toward the goals most systems have embraced such as problem solving, effective communication, and critical and creative thinking in all subject areas. When teachers open these windows, they find change inevitable. The assessment data strongly suggests the need to change instructional practices.

For example, a teacher decides that students will keep portfolios as a way of collecting information about mathematical problem solving. She wonders first what will go in the portfolio to reflect the student as problem solver. She initially decides to have students collect sheets of problems that have mathematical operations such as multiplication and division. As she reviews these sheets, she realizes the information is insufficient. She knows that problem solving should be a demonstration of what the student does when faced with a complex situation in which the answer is not immediately apparent or cued by the instructions. Simply knowing that a student can perform an operation is not sufficient data.

The question she asks next is, "Does the student know which operation will be most appropriate to apply when faced with a new situation?" The portfolios now start to include the results of complex problems. As she finds increasingly more complex problems to present to students, they complain, "This work is too hard." They are accustomed to being placed in situations that do not call for persistence (another quality she highly values). We see this teacher's paradigm shift as she struggles with:

  • convincing herself that she must provide instructional situations that offer students more opportunities to be self-directed, work in teams, and solve complex problems;
  • staying the course when students observe that the "game" is changing; and
  • finding appropriate measures that continue to refine her understanding of student learning as well as provide rich feedback for class members so they take responsibility for their learning.

There is a necessary disruption when we shift mental models. If there is not, we are probably not shifting; we may be following new recipes but we will end up with the same stew!

Of all forms of mental activity, the most difficult to induce . . . is the art of handling the same bundle of data as before, by placing them in a new system of relations with one another by giving them a different framework, all of which virtually means putting on a different kind of thinking-cap for the moment. It is easy to teach anybody a new fact . . . but it needs light from heaven above to enable a teacher to break the old framework in which the student is accustomed to seeing.
—Arthur Koestler


Bardwick, J.M. (1986). The Plateauing Trap. New York: Bantam Books.

Barker, J. (1989). Discovering the Future: The Business of Paradigms. St Paul, Minn.: Infinity Limited Incorporated Press.

Costa, A., and R. Garmston. (1994). Cognitive Coaching: A Foundation for Renaissance Schools. Norwood, Mass.: Christopher Gordon Publishers.

Glasser, W. (1992). The Quality School. New York: Harper Collins.

Koestler, A. (1972). The Roots of Coincidence. New York: Vintage Books.

Kriegel, R.J., and L. Patler. (1991). If It Ain't Broke, Break It! New York: Time/Warner Books.

Wheatley, M. (1992). Leadership and the New Science. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

From Paradigm to Practice III: Shifting the Paradigm: Giving Up Old Mental Models

As described in Part III, it is difficult to observe change unless you have a sense of what preceded the change itself. We have provided a "from-to" chart (Figure III.1) to help define the basic shifts we are seeking. Ann Johnson and Kathryn Schladweiler describe a process they use in staff development to help teachers shift their mental model of limited paper-and-pencil testing to performance-based tests. Patricia Hoffman describes the struggle to form a new mental model of the role and function of meaningful report cards intended to communicate student progress toward the district's new goals. Charlotte Danielson explicitly describes changing the assessment practice by examining the old paradigm for testing in light of a new one. Robert Swartz clarifies the picture through his concrete examples of the shift from limited and narrowly defined questioning to questioning that requires critical and creative thinking.


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