Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Getting Serious About Assessment

About ten years ago, there seemed to be a great deal of interest in new assessments that would take us beyond multiple choice, beyond the recall of factual knowledge, and then along came NCLB and everything seemed to go backwards. But a piece in this week's Education Week ("Assessment in the Age of Innovation")suggests it may be time to get serious about good assessment practices again:
American students today are largely evaluated based on their factual knowledge. A recent study by Robert C. Pianta and his colleagues at the University of Virginia’s Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning found that the average 5th grader received five times as much instruction in basic skills as instruction focused on problem-solving or reasoning. Our existing assessment system tends to reinforce rote instructional practices emphasizing the drilling of facts likely to be on a test, rather than problem-solving and reasoning strategies difficult to capture in multiple-choice test items.

The new assessments will have to do the following:

• Be largely performance-based. We need to know how students apply content knowledge to critical-thinking, problem-solving, and analytical tasks throughout their education, so that we can help them hone this ability and come to understand that successful learning is as much about the process as it is about facts and figures.

• Make students’ thinking visible. The assessments should reveal the kinds of conceptual strategies a student uses to solve a problem.

• Generate data that can be acted upon. Teachers need to be able to understand what the assessment reveals about students’ thinking. And school administrators, policymakers, and teachers need to be able to use this assessment information to determine how to create better opportunities for students.

• Build capacity in both teachers and students. Assessments should provide frequent opportunity for feedback and revision, so that both teachers and students learn from the process.

• Be part of a comprehensive and well-aligned continuum. Assessment should be an ongoing process that is well-aligned to the target concepts, or core ideas, reflected in the standards.

Read the rest here (registration required).


Michael Moore said...

I read this piece and I am reminded of what Sheridan and others tried to do in California a few years back. Also, can you think of the first policy wonk in DC who would want to hear this? Can you think of any Presidential candidate coming up with alternative assessments as an education platform?

Michael said...

In our preliminary discussions as a strand group at the CEE summit, the teacher reform group has focused on assessment as a common point of interest we share with various audiences, and one through which we might successfully convince those who it is possible to sway. That might not be policy wonks, but teacher candidates and parents could be more receptive. The question is, what can we do to show the success of other methods to those audiences in ways that don't contribute to the arguments of our detractors?

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