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What matters is what we measure, thinking about assessment practices.

This month’s edition of Educational Leadership, Measuring What Matters, focused on student assessment.  In this post, the articles will be summarized so that you get the big picture of what matters most when thinking about student assessment.
Jay McTighe (@jaymctighe) wrote the opening article, Three Key Questions on Measuring Learning.  His three questions that all educators need to address when designing assessments that measure important ideas are:
  1. What really matters in a contemporary education?
  2. How should we assess those things that matter?
  3. How might out assessments enhance learning that matters, not just measure it?
He points out that with question one we have to breakdown what we assess into: (1) knowledge; (2) skills; (3) understandings; and (4) long-term transfer to new learning.  We tend to focus our assessments mostly on knowledge acquisition.  McTighe points out that authentic performance assessments need to be designed to assess for understanding and transfer.
With respect to how we assess, McTighe writes that we tend to assess the things that are easiest and not the things that matter most.  The majority of teacher assessments measure lower-order cognitive skills and were predominantly multiple-choice, matching or short answer.  He suggests that teachers explore building assessment portfolios to take more responsibility for their learning.  Teachers need to challenge themselves to create a variety of assessment types so they are gathering different types of information associated with learning.  
Finally, if assessments are only used to measure what students have learned, we are wasting the potential of assessments to inform future learning.  With the implementation of authentic assessment strategies, projects, and performances, students will be more motivated to engage in learning.  It will be more relevant and meaningful if the assessments are designed to mirror what happens in real-world situations.
We need to signal to students and parents that school is designed to prepare students for college, career and life.  The more authentic and varied our assessment strategies are the more likely students will see the value and purpose of their education.  We need to answer McTighe’s three questions.
Lee Ann Jung wrote a piece entitled, Scales of Progress.  In this article she introduces an approach for measuring progress called, goal attainment scaling.  Using this process, teachers help students track their progress towards individual learning goals.  She writes:
Goal attainment scaling offers teachers a way to communicate clearly both what is expected and at what level a student is performing on a learning goal. 
What I find most interesting with goal attainment scaling is that students can be brought in to own and manage the assessment process.  When used as Jung describes the teacher and student are measuring progress on a goal over an extended period of time.  She describes how it can be used in any curricula area.

In their article, Accounting for the Whole Child, Sara Krachman et.al. (@Transforming_Ed) share research that links strong social-emotional learning (SEL) programs to student achievement.

In one study that measured young peoples’ levels of self-control, 95% of the participants in the top quintile of self-control went on to graduate from high school, compared with 58% of the in the lowest quintile.
As educators, we know that students who come to school motivated to learn and engage are more likely to succeed.  The motivation to learn and engage are dependent upon a healthy sense of self that is built on a set of emotional qualities like self-control, resilience, perseverance, and concentration.  Our goal in school should be to prepare teachers to recognize, affirm, and evaluate the social-emotional growth of students.  In addition, schools need programs and professional development for teachers so that students have worthwhile learning experiences during the school day. 
The authors discuss different initiatives that are focused on program development and assessment of SEL skills.  A noteworthy initiative is being developed by The Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy.  The exSEL Network is a group of school districts that are piloting programs and assessment tools to study the impact of SEL programs.
In conclusion, the authors write:
 The world is asking more and more of today’s students.  We owe it to them to prioritize the effective development of skills and mindsets that will guide them toward success.
It will not be sufficient to have them remember facts for high-stakes tests, only to forget the materials months later.  They need the SEL skills to persevere in the face of challenges.
Nancy Frey, Douglas Fisher and John Hattie (@john_hattie) wrote a piece entitled, Developing Assessment Capable Learners.  They point out that teachers need to restructure their assessment practices to put the students at the center of the assessment conversation.  They ask, “what if they were more assessment capable?”
Here are their six qualities of an assessment capable student.
  • They are aware of their current level of understanding.
  • They understand their learning path and are confident enough to take on the challenge.
  • They can select tools and resources to guide their learning.
  • They seek feedback and recognize that errors are opportunities to learn.
  • They monitor their own progress and adjust course as needed.
  • They recognize what they’re learning and can teach others.
I think this is an admirable list.  We should design to achieve each of these qualities.  However, it will take some significant shifts in teachers’ mindsets.  Classroom structure, instructional strategies, and assessment practices will need adjustment.  Linking back to Krachman’s SEL article, students will need to develop the social-emotional qualities that result in more active participation in their learning outcomes.  All this is doable, but will require a focused effort on the part of teachers and administrators.
Here are some quotes from Frey, et.al.
It begins with building a strong and positive climate that emphasizes learning over performance.
Students and teachers need to share established goals for learning.
Feedback is the most underutilized tool we have as teachers.  But if feedback is not timely, specific, understandable, and actionable, the promise of feedback will not be realized.
We have to teach students how to lean—not just what to learn.
Assessment capable learners need teachers who have a clear understanding of the learning intentions and the success criteria and can communicate them to students.
Many of their ideas come from John Hattie’s work highlighted in Visible Learning for Teachers.  From his study, we know that teachers who promote assessment capable students allow their students to assume responsibility for their learning and performance. 
In Measuring What Matters, there are other articles that explore pre-assessment, formative assessment, ending the use of points, and performance assessments.  All of them add to the conversation about how to change our assessment practices to best meet students’ needs.  

Peter Drucker, American management consultant, educator, and author, is attributed with a number of quotes that are pertinent to this topic.

If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.

So if we want to improve student achievement, we have to “measure” the multiple factors that impact our ability to achieve goals we set, such as prior learning experiences, cognitive readiness, and social-emotional readiness.  We also need programs in schools that help students develop these skills.  Finally, teachers need to adapt their practices to bring students more directly into the conversation of assessment, allowing them to control and use the information in productive ways.

1 comment on “What matters is what we measure, thinking about assessment practices.

  1. In the recent edition of EdWeek (Feb 7, 2018), there is an article, Experts to Plot Map on Social-Emotional Learning for Schools. In the article they point out the importance of schools defining a coherent and effective SEL program for students. These programs do have an impact on helping students connect with school and engage in their learning.


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