Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Standards-Based Assessment and College Readiness

I recently received this email from a former student who is working in a school exploring standards-based assessment:

Hi Dave!

Long time, no see! I am emailing you as credible source on standards-based grading. I have been doing digging with this stuff and I feel like I have somewhat of a good grasp on what it does and how it's assessed. My only question is how it aligns with college readiness. Being that you seem to have some knowledge in this area :) and are at higher education level, could you help me answer this question? I am interested in it and think it is beneficial to help kids really learn the content, but I just feel that this is what is holding me back from being completely on board with this new system and mindset.

Thanks for your help in advance!

What a great question! I was glad she asked.

I had to think about my response a bit. Does standards-based assessment help prepare students for life beyond school, whether that means college or other opportunities? I think it does.

Here's my best thinking on this for now, and subject to future revision:

Standards-based assessment requires a shift of thinking, both for K-12 teachers and for those of us teaching in higher education. My opinion is that higher education has held sway over high schools for a long time, and that many of the procedures and policies currently in place in high schools isn't necessarily because it's what's best for students, but because "they have to get ready for college!", which means high schools do certain things to try and have them "ready."

I'm of the opinion that if students...

  • are well read, 
  • have strong writing skills, 
  • can think critically and analyze arguments, 
  • have well-developed math skills, and
  • have experienced the arts (I'm a big believer in arts education as foundational for success throughout life!)
...they will be ready for college.

And I actually think that standards-based assessment makes it all the more likely that students will develop these kinds of skills, with the emphasis on feedback and multiple attempts to show proficiency.

It's funny: I think that in general, Kindergarten and graduate school are the places that have assessment figured out the best.

  • In kindergarten, teachers have very clear expectations of what their students must learn, and often even provide checklists to document the learning. 
  • In graduate programs, there is a standard of excellence that must be met; your faculty advisor gives you feedback, and you rework your ideas based on that feedback, and this process reiterates until you've met (or exceeded) the standard of excellence. 

    Kindergarten checklists...such clear indications of performance!

    Basically, that's what I see standards-based assessment doing today for elementary, middle, and high schools. Yes, it's different than what has been done in the past…but it's not unheard of to assess student work in these ways. In fact, it makes a lot of sense to me!

    What do you think? How well does standards-based assessment prepare students for college?


    1. I agree, Dave - standards based learning and grading will do a great job preparing our students for higher education. They will have the skill set and knowledge of how they learn to carry forward as the content and concepts become more complex and demanding. I feel that 'ready for college' means helping our students be learners for the long haul!

      1. Grateful for your feedback, Garnet! Sounds like we see this issue the same way. Nice to know I'm not running completely off the rails... :-)