Meaningful Assessments on Large and Small Scales

How Can We Make Assessments Meaningful? | Edutopia.

I came across this article courtesy of one of my colleagues from my time in Phoenix this past summer (thank you!). I think it’s a very thoughtful piece on meaningful assessment.

It’s also positive and hopeful about some things that I worry about quite a bit. For example:

Thankfully, with the Common Core standards exemplifying the 4Cs: Creativity and Critical Thinking (through performance-based assessments), Collaboration, and Communication (in particular through the use of interdisciplinary writing), we are looking at a more fluid future in testing formats. As long as the format itself is aligned with real-world skills, a meaningful assessment does not need to be lock step with a particular structure anymore.

It would be great if our current testing regime moved toward a “more fluid future in testing formats.” It would be great if the tests that those big consortia are building to assess the CCSS (and to market to states across the country, including mine) focused on “the 4Cs.”

I’m just not so hopeful that this will happen. At the frequency that testing is mandated by legislation in our country (and on the rise in many states including mine), I worry that states will turn to what is most efficient to roll out.

There is nothing efficient about meaningfully teaching and measuring creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication.

These “4Cs” are at the core of my teaching and the assessments I build for my students, but I’ve yet to see a large-scale, standardized test built for thousands of students to take that effectively measures these things. Especially not in the case where results are available in a timely manner and where it is cost effective to score the tests.

The AP tests come close to achieving this, but the grading is not efficient; nor is it inexpensive. I just cannot imagine my state (or any other) able to employ that kind of testing on a wide scale–at least not until things improve with education funding.

My disenchantment with the hope in the article aside, there are some things I really love about it, like this:

Transparency and Why It’s Important

That requires taking the effort to inform the students why the assessment has value. Some teachers still balk at this job, as if students should just trust that what we do in school has value to what happens outside of school. However, kids are smart these days. They know that bubbling with a #2 pencil is antiquated. They know that much of the content we teach them can be found via Google if they were so inclined. But as savvy as students are, they don’t know everything about communicating their content, and we owe it to them to make sure that not only are our tests aligned with skills they must know for their future, but to make sure that we’ve been transparent in our rationale.

Yes! All assessment events students encounter in school be genuinely meaningful to them. And they are not dummies about this. Not at all. Where else in their futures will they need to bubble with a #2 pencil? They know when we teachers may be droning on and on about something that they can easily look up on their smart phones, and their anger at us simmers (or boils over, depending on the time) when we waste their time doing this. What we need to teach our students is totally different now that there is a world of information at their fingertips. We need not give them that information that they can access on their own. We need to teach them how to sift through the information, how to use it, how to communicate their ideas about it.

It’s like when I tell my students that I know they can use Facebook to make their plans for the weekend, but I’m not sure that they know which communication technology tools to use (and how to use them) to manage a collaborative project with a team on the other side of the globe. That’s the kind of thing their world will demand of them, and I plan to teach them how to do it.

The article asks:

So how can high-stakes assessments be meaningful to students? For one thing, high-stakes tests shouldn’t be so high-stakes. It’s inauthentic. They should and still can be a mere snapshot of ability. Additionally, those occasional assessments need to take a back seat to the real learning and achievement going on in every day assessments observed by the teacher.

I totally, completely, agree with this. But again, I’m just not convinced our current testing regime can or wants to achieve these goals.

I also loved this tidbit:

But frankly, any assessment that sounds cool can still be made meaningless. It’s how the students interact with the test that makes it meaningful.

Indeed, which is why I love that the rest of the article focuses on ways that a classroom teacher can ensure that his/her classroom assessments are truly meaningful. It suggests even a rubric or checklist for a teacher to use to assess assessments for the qualities that can make them meaningful to students. I like this so much that as soon as I’m finished with this blog post, I’m going to post the article on my department’s webpage and email my department inviting them to take a look at it and talk about it.

I think I’ll go do that now.

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