Garnet Hillman is an instructional coach at Caruso Middle School in Illinois. Also a writer and presenter, she consults around the country on assessment, grading, and student motivation.

Hope and Assessment – Advocates or Adversaries?

How do students view assessment in your classroom or school? Is assessment something that elicits hope and a belief that students can grow? In my experience as a student, any type of assessment was the end game, whether it was a test, project, or essay. It was the last thing in a unit and the score was final. Assessment was not only a stopping point; it indicated we were moving on to a new unit or topic without looking back. It didn’t seem to have anything to do with the daily happenings in class. I believe this had to do with the way assessment was framed for me. Assessment was communicated as a noun and a separate entity from instruction and practice. In the early years of my teaching career, it was much the same. I created stand-alone assessments that were used for judgment and making decisions about grades. I never connected the idea of hope with assessment.

As I moved forward in my practice and learned about assessment more thoroughly, I realized it should be framed in a different way. Assessment is a vital part of learning infused into daily lessons and practice. Nicole Dimich Vagle explains in her book Design in Five: “Assessment has become an integral part of evaluating high-quality educational practices and informing the most effective next steps in students achieving more.” (p.2). It provides invaluable evidence along the way, feeding instructional decisions, guiding student learning and forming a loop of communication between student and teacher.

When evidence is received from student assessment, teachers arrive at a fork in the road. It is a critical moment and the decision made impacts how students move forward. At this point in time, there are two choices – to treat assessment as a noun, or use assessment as a verb.

When assessment is used as a noun, there is some level of finality. It becomes bounded by a feeling of ‘one and done’. Students have been trained to know that assessment is the end of something and you can’t go back. There is no hope in a lack of proficiency that cannot be revisited. A definitive stop to the learning is communicated in this treatment of the word. An assessment feels like an independent object and compartmentalizes learning. A fixed mindset is promoted; assessments are given and taken. This has been the status quo in education for many years. Assessment as a noun is static.

In taking the alternate route the part of speech changes and assess is a verb. It is an action that indicates movement. Newton’s first law states – An object in motion stays in motion. This is the crux of the natural learning process; it is never done. We may move on to other units or themes, but learning is a constant. Students need to understand that further proficiency with standards can be demonstrated at any time, even if the unit has changed. The action of the verb moves students forward and gives the sense that support is provided along the journey. Assess derives from the Latin word assidere meaning to sit beside. As teachers, we sit beside students, assess their work, and give them feedback.

Which choice feeds hope? Which choice builds self-efficacy for our students? The answer is clear. Assessment is a verb and should be used as such. In her book Mindset: The new psychology of success, Carol Dweck writes, “…we found that the students with a growth mindset earned better grades in the course. Even when they did poorly on a particular test, they bounced back on the next ones. When students with the fixed mindset did poorly, they often didn’t make a comeback.”  (p. 61). This noun/verb variance may seem like a small difference, but it’s significant since everything we do as educators is communication to students. Moving students forward is guided by the language we use and the example we set. The discourse we model will be internalized and replicated by students. Assessing them happens every day and is infused as a natural part of learning. Timely feedback paired with varied assessment tools supports students on the journey of learning.

When framed properly, hope and assessment are advocates, not adversaries. When assessing students as an open-ended progression, the word yet surfaces. Yet fuels hope, plain and simple. Hope is built upon the idea that setbacks and failure are an essential part of learning. When the journey is valued more than the destination, students build confidence in the process. They develop self-efficacy and believe that success is on the horizon. Once modeled, practiced, and honed, the act of assessing facilitates student learning. Success breeds success, and the result is hope.

References:

Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success (p. 61). New York, New York: Random House.

Dimich Vagle, Nicole. (2015). Design in 5: Essential Phases to Create Engaging Assessment Practice (p. 2). Bloomington, Indiana: Solution Tree Press.


Comments

  1. Maggie Maslowski

    Love this!
    Though it’s very difficult to change our mind frame (and students’ mind frames and parents’ mind frames), it is essential when we truly reflect on our learning goals. Do we want our students to learn the skills or do we want them to learn the skills on our time frame? I alway go back to my own two children. They both took potty training differently. One needed a few months to fully learn to get out of diapers during the day and during sleep, while the other one wouldn’t start until later, yet once he was out of diapers during the day, he was out of diapers for the night. I don’t grade my children on how they were potty trained, yet I definitely wanted them to learn the skill. And, that’s what we have to ask ourselves. Is our goal to teach turning assessments in on time or is our goal to teach the skills. Yes, accountability and responsibility are essential skills but they can be taught differently. We should NEVER punish students for not learning on our time. We should teach them to keep trying and to continue growing and continue learning from their mistakes. That’s the lesson. That’s the skill. Thank you Garnet for sharing that learning is the goal and that assessing our learning is an action that we should take seriously.

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