Things You MUST Think About: Smart Assessment of Student Learning

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This is the fourth in a promised gloss on each of the 11 THINGS INDEPENDENT SCHOOLS MUST BE THINKING ABOUT featured in my previous post. (I recap the entire list below the body of this post.)

#4. Smart assessment of student learning

Each student is different, and differentiation is the Word of the Day at many schools. Good differentiation, like many other aspects of good learning, begins with good assessment.

Exhortations to up the quality and diversity of classroom assessment strategies have been around since at least the 1990s, when Project Zero and Grant Wiggins first got us talking about understanding-based learning, essential questions, and authentic assessments. It’s taken fifteen years or so, but many classrooms are now characterized by multiple types of assessments and units of study that are at least to some extent designed “backwards,” starting with the teacher’s learning goals.
It’s a pretty good way to start: figure out what you really want students to know, to understand, and to be able to do, and then figure out what the evidence of such learning would be. Then construct learning experiences that lead to the learning and incorporate assessments—tests, quizzes, projects, performances, exhibitions, examinations, papers, presentations, multigenre and multimedia extravaganzas—that will allow students to demonstrate the learning.

It’s not rocket science, but doing it well isn’t always easy, and teachers need support and sometimes institutional encouragement to develop their skills at designing good curriculum and devising well-focused assessments of multiple varieties. As with collaborative work and project design, professional development—what my colleagues in the blogosphere now like to call professional learning—lies at the heart of doing it well.

On an institutional level, it’s worth considering becoming involved with some of the new initiatives designed to assess student learning in contemporary skill areas and the student experience in broad contexts. The CWRA, mentioned in #2 of this series, is one such program, and the developers also offer great professional development around things like project and assessment design. PISA (the Programme for International Student Assessment of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) is also preparing to launch a school-centric version of its truly global (and based on global standards) assessment. Then there are instruments like the High School Survey of Student Engagement (HSSSE), which will soon have a middle-school sibling ready for school use. Not only do “assessments” like these give you an idea of how your students are doing on particular and increasingly valued skills and dispositions, but they also provide comparative data that allows you to see how your students—and by implication your school—do relative to peers.

If you are interested in getting into this more deeply in a collaborative sort of way, the Independent Curriculum Group, a consortium of independent and public schools, is launching a National Assessment Project this year to explore new and better ways to assess student learning in ways that are consonant with individual school missions and aims. Contact the ICG and join the fun!

So, who is thinking about smart assessment of student learning at your school?

The 11 Things:

  1. Design Thinking. What-ing? DONE HERE
  2. Data-informed decision-making DONE HERE
  3. Collaborative learning and (related issue) project design DONE HERE
  4. Smart assessment of student learning DONE
  5. Social media—for advancement
  6. Social media—in the classroom
  7. New directions for your library
  8. Online learning
  9. Strategic professional development learning
  10. Shorter horizons for strategic thinking
  11. Being Green
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