Assessment in a multi-racial, multicultural democracy
Educators should understand that assessment is an integral part of teaching, and that children’s developmental and academic interests, accomplishments, and challenges should drive their daily instructional decisions. They should know that various types of assessments, including self-assessment, have different uses, advantages, limitations, and biases. They should understand that appropriate assessment must consider the cultural, familial, and community contexts from which children come. Educators should know how to use a variety of formal and informal assessment tools and strategies to monitor and promote each student’s learning and development; use both formative and summative assessments to determine students’ understanding in each subject area; and be aware of technological tools that can facilitate assessment.
Assessment is an integral part of every classroom. It tells us what our students have mastered, what they still need some extra help in, and gives us feedback on our lessons. Good educators need to know the different strengths and weaknesses of each form of assessment and use a variety of each in their classroom. These assessments should be taken into consideration when planning lessons and adapting curriculum.
This standard is important because it reminds us as educators that assessment is more than just test scores; its not always standardized and the results are not automatically part of a student’s grades. It goes beyond formal testing and includes classroom observations and conversations with students. Assessment is not meant to be stressful. Instead, it should be viewed as a tool that helps to promote the learning of all students despite their developmental level and background.
In a 2003 article, Richard Stiggins wrote that there are two types of assessment: for learning (also known as formative assessment) and of learning (also known as summative assessment). Standardized and end-of-unit tests are examples of assessment of learning. These assessments evaluate what the students have learned over the course of the unit or school year. Assessments of learning are used throughout the unit to monitor student progress and to help the educator to see what the students still need help in and what they have mastered. It is Stiggins’ belief that “assessments of and for learning are both important. Since we in the U.S. already have many assessments of learning in place, if we were to balance the two, we much make a stronger investment in assessment for learning” (p. 3). Stiggins is not advocating for the absence of standardized testing, rather he is pointing out that both kinds of assessment are necessary in all classrooms and we must balance both.
During my pre-practicum experience at the Lawrence School in Brookline, MA I was able to use summative assessment in a unit on digestion. The first lesson in the unit was an overview of what we would be studying during the next four weeks. Before the lesson began I asked the students to write what they knew about digestion down on a worksheet I handed them. The vast majority of my second graders had no idea what digestion was or any idea of the process; the ones that did write something down only managed “digestion is what happens after you eat.” At the conclusion of the lesson I asked my students to write down what they knew now about digestion. I then used their responses to gauge what they had learned during the lesson and what aspects were going to be important to focus on in the coming days. This assessment was not part of their grade or meant to be stressful for them. Instead, it was a reflection of what they learned from the lesson and about what they found most interesting.
In the Boston Public School system the students are given a summative assessment at the conclusion of every unit in the TERC mathematics curriculum. These assessments are meant to be measurements of what the students have learned during the unit and how much information they understood. Each test is recorded in a spreadsheet that automatically color-codes the results for you. If the student received a 3 or better (an 85 or above) they are green, yellow is for a 2 (between a 75 and 85) and a 1 is anything lower than a 75 and its red. These spreadsheets show the teacher quickly how the class did as a whole as well as the results of individual students. Artifact 5.4 is a copy of one of the spreadsheets created after a math test for the 4th grade class I worked with at the Joseph Lee Elementary School in Boston, MA as well as some of the before and after writings of my students at the Lawrence School during the digestion lesson.
Steven Levy echoed Stiggins’ views during his guest lecturer appearance during our pre-practicum seminar class the spring semester of my junior year (2009). Levy discussed assessments for and of learning with our class, but then he put forward the idea that assessments should be for the students as well. Students should be able to monitor their own progress and evaluate their own work throughout the learning process. Levy gave us an example of how we as educators could help the students to become more responsible for their learning when he talked about giving students grading rubrics for assignments before they had begun them. This way students could compare their work to the rubric and they would be able to see what they would need to add to get the highest grade. There is nothing more frustrating and disheartening for a student than thinking that he had done well on a project only to receive a grade lower than what he expected for reasons that he did not understand.
I was fortunate enough to see this project in action and later implement it during my pre-practicum at the Lawrence School in Brookline, MA. Students were given comprehensive rubrics before math packet assignments and they were able to refer to them throughout the time they worked on them. It was great to see the kids going back to check their work against the rubric; it showed me how just giving them a simple rubric really made them feel much more responsible for their learning and work.
Another form of informal assessment that I used during both of my practica were KWL charts. These charts display what the students think they know, what they want to know, and finally at the end of the unit, what they learned. These charts help to drive the curriculum taught in units because teachers can use that to figure out what topics they don’t need to spend a lot of time on, because the students already have a good grasp on them versus what they need to focus more on. These charts also allow teachers to incorporate what the students are interested in learning into the unit. This makes the students feel that they are connected to and driving the learning. Artifact 5.3 is a photograph of a KWL chart that I began with my students at the Lee during the unit on the Revolutionary War. However, even though the chart may look full it was important it was key for me to reflect on the lesson right after teaching it, because only a few students had studied the Revolutionary War before, and the rest of the class was lost during the discussion. It is important to not take information at face value; instead, you have to look deeper into the assessment to fully evaluate the class as a whole.
I feel that I am well versed in the different forms of assessment and understand that it is a key part of teaching. What I want to work on to improve my teaching is making my assessment more considerate of students’ backgrounds and cultures. I did not run into an issue in either practicum where assessment needed to be adjusted because of a student’s background and because of this I would like more knowledge on how I can do this before teaching in a classroom of my own. To prepare, I plan to read the book Culture and Context in Language Teaching by Claire Kramsch. This book details the challenges associated with teaching students whose first language is not the one they are being instructed in and how to adjust assessments accordingly.
Levy, S. (Speaker). (2009). Class Notes from Steven Levy Lecture.
Stiggins, R. J. (2002, June 6). “Assessment Crisis: The Absence Of Assessment FOR Learning.” Kappan Professional Journal, 83(10), 1-8. Retrieved Mar. 7, 2010, from http://184.108.40.206/media//stiggins_r_2002.pdf