Sunday, April 23, 2017

What's Your Number?

I am responding to prompts a little out of order. This post is actually in response to the #EduBlogsClub prompt #15: Write a post that discusses “assessments."


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If you are a connected educator, you will recognize assessment as a common topic; you can easily find one or two Twitter chats a month focusing on the topic of assessment in addition to numerous hashtags. I suppose it makes sense since as educators we are asked to assess our students regularly in order to ensure they are meeting the benchmarks agreed-upon for that grade level. I honestly have no issue with us determining how well students have mastered specific tasks.  After all, as adults, our employers expect a certain amount of productivity AND a certain level of accuracy in order to ensure our continued employment. Most of us are given annual reviews at the very least to identify strengths, accomplishments, and areas of growth. 

But here is where I begin to jump onto my soap box. Apologies in advance (or simply stop reading and move on to something else).

To start, here are my biggest issues with the way assessments currently operate in the majority of classrooms:
1. A number can not possibly provide a complete picture of a person's entire body of work. It can provide one data point as a predictor so let's change the conversation about standardized tests.
2. Professionals are rarely, if ever, placed in a single "do or die" situation, expected to perform on a test that alone holds their entire future in the balance (O.K., maybe some surgeons, but they work with a team, not solo). So why do we do this to our students?
3. Professionals generally get "do-overs" in the form of revisions, or a Q and A so why, again, are students not provided the same opportunities?

So let me dive in a bit more...
1. A number can not possibly provide a complete picture of a person's entire body of
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work. It can provide one data point as a predictor so let's change the conversation about standardized tests.
As a private high school, we do use an admissions test as part of the process to help identify who should be accepted.  We do this because we have a rigorous curriculum and want to be sure that students are not "getting in over their head". However, that number (their CSQ) is only one piece of the puzzle. Yet, too many times students and parents focus almost obsessively on standardized test scores. Pick any acronym-bearing test: SAT, ACT, AP, ACRE, STAR, or any one of the state standardized exams; these tests have gained far too much notoriety as a be-all-and-end-all in determining just how successful our students (and thus our teachers) are. But that isn't what they were meant for (as far as I can tell). If you follow the link I shared for what a CSQ is, you will see that at the very top of the page, the numbers are broken down into ranges and the language used to describe each range is "academic potential". Well, news flash: we ALL have potential. It is what we 
actually do with our potential that matters. So, let's stop talking about students as a number.  Instead, we need to consider how we are going to encourage every student to reach (and exceed) their potential.


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2. Professionals are rarely, if ever placed in a single "do or die" situation, expected to perform on a test that alone holds their entire future in the balance (O.K., maybe some surgeons, but they work with a team, not solo). So why do we do this to our students? High-stakes tests aren't the only issue here.  What about all those unit tests, chapter tests, and even section quizzes that we give to students? Yes, we want to hold them accountable, and yes, we need to understand what they know and what we need to re-teach, but for so long schools have programmed students to accept these assessments as the "final word" on their knowledge of a particular topic or subject. But that isn't reality. What about allowing test corrections, or having students analyze their mistakes so that they can actually use the assessment as a check-point and master the material in the long run? If we want to encourage students to be life-long learners, then we need to create an atmosphere where learning (and failing) is a process. It doesn't start when we are 5 and enter Kindergarten, and stop in June, then start again when we enter first grade, etc. until we have a college diploma.  No! Learning is constant.  I learn every day! My ideas and approaches have changed since I entered the field of education. I shudder to think back on my former self, as a matter of fact! 

This leads to:

3. Professionals generally get "do-overs" in the form of revisions, or a Q and A so why,
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again, are students not provided the same opportunities?
 Since professionals are constantly revising presentations, editing white papers, seeking out collaboration on ideas to land the next client, why are we not mirroring this sort of environment in schools? I recently listened to an episode from one of my favorite podcasts (EdSurge) in which a college freshman pointed out that schools haven't changed in over one hundred years when the current model was designed to produce factory "yes men". You can hear the whole podcast here.  (I highly recommend listening to this one as student voice is so important to everything that we do!) Well, we as a nation have come a long way from populating factories with high school graduates. We now encourage and celebrate those individuals who obtain higher ed degrees and look to the next generation to create, collaborate, communicate, and think critically. That will not happen consistently if we do not change our model. I guarantee that every school has some teachers that are masterful at incorporating the 4C's into their class, PBL happens regularly, and students are asked to reflect on their learning. But unless this happens across the board in every room with every teacher, students will not gain the full impact. So again I have to ask, if this is how the professional world operates, why are we not incorporating this model in our schools to truly prepare our students to be contributing members of society? Giving them opportunities to collaborate with their peers, defend their work to a panel of people (and not just their classroom teacher) provides authentic learning opportunities, gives students a reason to be invested in the process, and just might result in more engaged students who have a true understanding of the information, not just enough knowledge to regurgitate the "right" answer on a test and move on.


But I would be remiss if I just ranted and didn't also suggest a solution so here you go...

One possible solution: ePortfolios.
Portfolios, in my opinion, make so much sense. In fact, the weekly KQED Learning newsletter just included THREE separate articles about digital portfolios. You can read them all here (written by my good friend and colleague @TeckBioBek)here, and here. Portfolios, starting at the Pre-K/TK level that can follow students throughout their learning are (in my opinion) a great way to allow students to engage in the learning process, identify what they know and don't know, reflect, set goals, and reach (and exceed) their potential. I know that this would require a HUGE shift in how we approach learning, how teachers are trained, and what diplomas and degrees would mean. I also recognize that our country is pretty big with lots of players in the education arena. But ultimately, don't we want an intelligent populace that can solve problems by creating solutions? To me, that means the end of the one-size-fits -all, single-time exam and instead, we need to allow our students to show us what they know in the way that makes the most sense to them. While I realize that I am not proposing a simple solution, I also know that there are lots of people already doing their part to change what education looks like. The more of us working towards this goal of creating a learning environment that mirrors the "real world", the easier it will become. 

So those are my current thoughts on assessment.  What are yours?

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