Wednesday, November 4, 2015

How Should We Assess Assessment?

This is sort of a weird question I've been thinking about: "How can I best assess my students ability to assess and evaluate?"

I teach future teachers, and I have been thinking about assessment and evaluation a lot lately, because we've been learning about this in my "Planning, Instruction, and Assessment in Middle School" course. (Formerly known as "Middle School Curriculum and Instruction"...we are changing our focus a bit to better capture the key tasks that make up our professional work as teachers.) The students in this course are learning for the first time some of the rigors of the work of teaching: what is actually involved in the planning process at the lesson level? The instructional unit level? The whole course level? How do we know what our students know, and how do we understand what our students understand? How do we actually teach something to someone else?

I am trying to make this course both theoretically-informed, but also practically relevant for them. For example, in our assessment unit, we have talked about all sorts of assessment- and evaluation-related topics, from different choices for formative and summative assessments, to the value of standardized tests, to how to create rubrics and criteria charts, to whether it is ethical to grade on the curve, to how standards-based assessment works, to how to write different kinds of test questions, to what grades really mean. I'm striving to make it a pretty comprehensive course. It also has a lot of meta-analysis...I'm encouraging them to dissect my own instructional decision-making (which is a little scary, to be honest) to see how well I'm modeling and illustrating the things we are learning about at both a theoretical and practical level.

My students have a test (ha! assessment!) on this material later this week. Even deciding what this test should look like became a learning activity: I shared my objectives for this unit with them, and gave them several options for ideas about how I might assess what they now know, understand, and are able to do with regard to assessment and evaluation. They wrestled through this in groups, and we eventually agreed on a viable assessment strategy--we decided it would be a test, in the end.

But what the test would look like?

We decided that I would give them 10 statements about assessment and evaluation, such as "Standards-based assessment takes much more time than traditional assessment practices." They will then state their level of agreement or disagreement (strongly disagree - disagree - agree - strongly agree) with each statement, and then articulate why they agree or disagree based upon the things we have learned about assessment and evaluation.

One of my students pointed out that they could actually have different answers in response to these statements and still get the answers "right." I agreed with this student--their level of agreement or disagreement with a particular statement has to be supported by some evidence, and really what I'll be assessing is their use of evidence to support and articulate their position. And, honestly, I think this is a key part of becoming a professional teacher: we make the best decisions we can based upon the information we have to work with, and we try to do this while being self-consistent with our own personal philosophy of education.

That's my hope for this assessment of their learning: that they will be able to apply what they have learned, evaluate their own beliefs about assessment and evaluation, and show me that they deeply understand the concepts we have been learning. Is this a perfect assessment? Perhaps not...but I'm striving to be self-consistent with my own philosophy of education here as well, and this seems like a step in the right direction for me.


  1. I like the idea of the test for your students based on their ability to use their own teaching philosophies to guide their understanding of assessment. This is exactly the sort of work that I feel like they will need to do every single day of teaching, as they make decisions about what lesson plans, interventions, and assessments will be most compatible and effective with their own teaching style. I am just finishing student teaching next week, and I would have loved as much practice as I could get to develop my own persona and teaching philosophy prior to stepping into the teaching role!

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Nate! I agree with you; every teacher has their own personal style. Dr. John Van Dyk (one of my professors a long, long time ago...) used to say that teaching is a craft, not unlike shoemaking. There is a certain universality to "shoe-i-ness"...we know what shoes are like. And at the same time, a shoemaker has his or her own personal style that comes out in the design and craftsmanship of the shoe making. In the same way, "good teaching" results from taking the universals and applying your own personal style to them. So you could say that pedagogy is both an art and a science. And that's really what I'm striving for in my class: developing both!

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  3. I'm blown away, Dave. Great balance between theory and practice. One question I had as I read the section about the group designing their assessment: "I wonder if at some point one of them said, 'Ya know what, not all of us show what we know in the same way. We need some choice here!'"

    Then I thought, wouldn't it be cool to have students design an assessment for a group of learners (or one learner -- maybe even themselves). This could be a scenario you provide or one they construct based their observation/clinical hours. Asking your students to provide a justification for the choices they're making would give you some great insight into whether they truly understand good planning, instruction and assessment.

    Keep up the great work!