| Volume 63 | Number 3
Assessment to Promote Learning
Assessment to Promote Learning
Many articles in this issue assert that, as Siobhan Leahy, Christine Lyon, Marnie Thompson, and Dylan Wiliam (“Classroom Assessment: Minute by Minute, Day by Day,” p. 18) put it, teachers need to shift from quality control to quality assurance in assessment—from checking off whether students can show one-time proof of mastery to frequently checking in on how deeply learning is taking root. Dylan Wiliam, Paul Black, and other researchers have supported the approach of assessment for learning for more than 10 years. With this approach, teachers gauge students' understandings before they begin instruction and assess student work frequently throughout a teaching unit to probe whether students are grasping concepts and skills necessary for further learning.
Rather than rely on formal end-of-unit tests, the four authors believe teachers should take the view that:
Everything students do—such as conversing in groups, completing seatwork, answering and asking questions, working on projects, handing in homework assignments, even sitting silently and looking confused—is a potential source of information about how much they understand. The teacher who consciously uses assessment to support learning takes in this information, analyzes it, and makes instructional decisions that address the understandings and misunderstandings that these assessments reveal.
Discuss these questions in your group:
- How might teachers observe everyday activities for 30 or more students in the midst of giving instruction and managing the class? Invite teachers who do this kind of regular assessment to speak to your group. What kinds of strategies do they use to make the process of assessing for learning manageable?
- Do you agree that this ongoing, daily assessment is more meaningful than in-class tests in which a student must show evidence of learning in a standardized form within a fixed period of time? How does assessment for learning compare to open book tests or performance assessments? What kinds of assessment most accurately reflect the way students will likely be required to perform and assessed as adults in a work environment?
- Consider an Olympic event as a metaphor for assessment; an athlete may labor hard and impressively master physical skills but may still “flunk” if he or she makes a mistake in a one-shot performance. How do traditional forms of school testing compare with this “no second chance” approach?
- Is there any value in expecting a student to be skilled and poised enough to perform brilliantly on demand every time? In what professions or areas of nonschool life might one need the consistency to pass this kind of assessment?
Divining Student Reasoning
Observing the skills that students demonstrate day after day is complicated; divining how each individual youth is thinking and reasoning requires even more creativity. As Marilyn Burns (“Looking at How Students Reason,” p. 26) notes, even correct answers may be based on weak reasoning or misconceptions. If these misconceptions stay invisible, teachers will face much more work to help a student strengthen the learning foundation.
Consider two of the strategies that Burns found helpful for judging the state of her students' foundational reasoning. She has each student mathematician write a word problem based on an unsolved equation, and then write down at least two ways to find the answer. Burns also at times requires each student to lay out the reasoning and methods he or she used to solve a math problem, even for correct answers.
Brainstorm how you might use these strategies in areas other than mathematics. How could you instruct students to complete homework or even take traditional tests to include some element of showing their work? For example, when students take a multiple choice test, you could ask them to write on a big sticky note next to each question their reason for circling their choice. What adjustments might you try for students answering questions posed from a textbook?
Nonacademic Factors and Extra Credit
One assessment question is to what extent grades should take into account such nonacademic factors as amount of effort or timeliness. High school teacher Tony Winger (“Grading to Communicate,” p. 61) divides assessment for major student assignments into academic components—which reflect depth and quality of learning—and nonacademic components.
Winger believes that allowing students whose learning is clearly subpar to boost their grade through extra-credit work perpetuates the idea of grades as a reward rather than as a clear communication about what a student knows. Craig Huhn (“How Many Points Is This Worth?”, p. 81) describes a situation in which extra credit, in the form of academic points for student contributions to a school food drive, conflated academic accomplishment with characteristics like generosity and responsibility. But some might argue that allowing extra effort to raise a grade rewards those students who show good work practices and ambition.
Share and discuss your classroom practice. Do you ever permit students to perform work beyond class expectations to raise their grade? If so, how do you judge the quality of that work—and does its quality determine how much you credit the extra work toward a student's overall grade? How might you handle students who zealously perform extra work that reflects the same shallow learning or poor expression?
Copyright © 2005 by Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development