Cassandra Erkens is a presenter, facilitator, coach, trainer of trainers, keynote speaker, author, and above all, a teacher. She presents nationally and internationally on assessment, instruction, school improvement, and professional learning communities.

Assessments as Hope

At its core, assessment has always been a process that was meant to support learning; in other words, teachers and learners would use the information from assessments to make decisions about what comes next. In order for teachers and especially learners to even fathom ‘what’s next’ they must maintain a sense of hope.

The idea of assessment as a pathway to hope can be befuddling—especially in an accountability-dependent culture. Don’t we have to tell the truth about how people are performing? And wouldn’t the truth in some cases be so upsetting that hope would be lost?

To be clear, hope can never be based in deceit, false pretenses, reduced expectations, unrealistic perceptions or a universal, Pollyanna picture of a perfect world. Educational researcher and author, Michael Fullan clarifies hope as “the capacity not to panic in tight situations, to find ways and resources to address difficult problems” (1997).

What does it look like to have hope in the classroom through the assessment process? How might we assure all learners maintain hope for future success? Here are some simple ideas to get started:

  • Make sure a learner knows more about strengths than deficits following every assessment (e.g. avoid highlighting the minuses).
  • Provide learners with diagnostic feedback. Points, letter grades, scores and stickers do not help struggling learners understand what to fix or how to fix it. Feedback that clarifies the errors being made, points the learner in a forward motion, and enables the learner to continue the learning keeps ‘hope’ in the forefront.
  • Avoid grading practices that block the opportunity for a learner to achieve mastery in the learning experience (e.g. averaging grades, refusing to accept work, giving partial credit, etc.).
  • Activate learners as resources to one another in meaningful conversations about what quality looks like. Have learners work in teams to practice collaborative scoring on student samples, engage in defending their scores by employing criteria with evidence and then coming to consensus on the scores.
  • Build a classroom system for interventions. Build time and support into units of study.
  • Build a school wide, consistent system for interventions. Build time and support into collective interventions to support struggling learners outside the classroom.

All learners deserve hope. Without it, they cannot remain motivated to continue. We have a responsibility to help learners not only succeed, but remain motivated to try. Our interactions with them make all the difference.

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