Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Moral Imperative of Assessment

I think this will be my last post from #AMLE2013, but you never know.

Rick Wormeli said something about assessment in the closing session I attended that has taken hold of me and keeps nagging at the back of my mind:

If you know that the child knows something, but the assessment vehicle you've chosen doesn't show it, you have a moral obligation to change it.

The phrase "moral obligation" has me. I totally agree. It's tantamount to malpractice as a teacher if you are sure a student has learned something and the assessment vehicle (test, quiz, project, essay, interview, debate, what-have-you) doesn't show their understanding of the content. We must change our assessment practices.

And of course, the question offered in response is, "How do I know that they know it, if they can't do X?"

C'mon, teacher.

If the first chance students have to show you what they know, understand, or are able to do is the final, summative're doing it wrong. 

Get to know your students.

Be actively involved in their learning.

Assess along the way.

Give descriptive feedback.

Stop grading for compliance--or the lack thereof.

Choose your assessment vehicles carefully.

Assess what you most highly value, not what is most easily measured!

To do any less is a moral failure for your students. 

And then you deserve the "F," not the kid.


  1. Totally agree. Thank you for this post.

    1. Thanks! I'm glad it resonated with you.

  2. I love to prompt faculties with the question: "What does our grading system and report card value?" From a perspective of individual students in our classes, things could only change for the better if we allowed students to consider expectations and their learning and ask them to help us best understand what they've come away with, at this point in the year. Then, of course, we can work together to decide what'll be next.

    You and Rick are 100% correct in pointing out that looking at grading from a moral perspective is a new paradigm with a greater weight to it. Well said, Dave

    1. Grateful for your support, David! I love the question you raise here. I totally agree: our assessment strategies show what we really value, and often that makes the grade a mark of convenience rather than a mark of deep learning. I understand that teachers are busy--we are all so busy! But we need to rethink what the purpose of assessment is, and find ways of getting better. My last post gets at some of this idea too:

  3. This is great David. I would add two things: One, teachers must be flexible enough to realize the planned method of instruction is not working. Two, they must be resourceful enough to pull new ideas from to get their students to demonstrate what they know. This post does a great job of reminding us what our role as educators are!! Well done.

    1. Thanks for the feedback, my friend! Flexibility is key; so is humility. It takes a humble heart to accept that your assessment plan fell short for your students. And I really agree with your point about pulling in new ideas--this is where Twitter can be a great value for people who don't have a strong local PLN within their building.