Angela Freese is Director of Learning Analytics and Systems Improvement in Stillwater Area Public Schools in Stillwater, MN. She works with teachers on strengthening learning systems around assessment, curriculum, and instruction to leverage student achievement.

A Resolution to Keep: Sustainable Systems of Assessment

It’s that time again. We are four weeks into a new year; a time for renewal, an opportunity to refresh and rejuvenate, and a sense of hope to reinvigorate a part of your personal or professional well-being. You may have been among the estimated 40% of people who set a New Year’s resolution. Surprisingly enough, when it comes to keeping those resolutions, one-quarter of us will have fallen victim to abandoning our resolution within the first week of January, and nearly 75% of us will have slipped away from our resolution within the first month.

 

We acknowledge that it is most difficult to be at our greatest professional capacity when we are out of sync with our personal needs. I hope you are among the 8% of people who will actually succeed in fulfilling your resolution this year! Yet we can also acknowledge, due to our relentless pursuit of helping all students learn at high levels, we often have to make a choice between our own needs and those of our students. In the spirit of both self-preservation and professional well-being, let’s explore a resolution that would be mutually beneficial to both ourselves and our students: creating sustainable systems of assessment.

 

Here at the Assessment Center, we are grounded in six core tenets. These tenets work in harmony so that educators can collaboratively create healthy systems of support and feedback for their students as well as empower those same students to own their learning and partner with their teachers in order to achieve high levels of success. As we resolve to create such systems, the good news is that it’s not too late. We can start right now as we begin this second semester! Let’s explore a few resolutions, linked to our six core tenets, that will guide us in creating those sustainable systems of assessment we most desire:

 

Students are invested in their assessment. Remind your students that you believe in them. They might not yet have learned the skills and concepts you need them to, but actively promote an efficacious spirit in your students that helps them see the pathway to getting there. Consider the power of student-teacher feedback loops as a practice that will inspire students to better understand where they are on the learning highway, where they need to be, and how you will work in partnership to get there.

 

Communication creates productive results. Our students will be unable to fix their learning challenges if they are not aware of what those challenges are. The knowledge of where students are currently performing in relation to where they need to be cannot reside only with us as the educator. Students want to know how they are doing. Despite what emotions they may project, they do care! Take an upcoming lesson and insert a moment when students can collaboratively score work samples together. Work with your team – or someone at the grade above or below you – to give a common writing task, for example. Create the criteria for success with your students and then have them collaboratively score another class’s work (without names, of course!). When students see authentic samples of work and have an opportunity to connect that work to the success criteria, they can more clearly see what might need to improve (as well as what is already satisfactory!) about their own work.

 

Assessment architecture is planned, purposeful, and intentional. Personally, I become so much smarter when I can learn with others. When we each bring what we already know to the table, we often leave with a more cohesive and aligned representation of what we know now. Take some time with your colleagues to develop a common understanding of your standards and what evidence you will use to determine mastery of those standards. Develop rubrics or scoring criteria for assignments and projects together. Map out your moments to check for understanding so that students have enough opportunities to learn the material, and respond to your feedback, before they are expected to show mastery.

 

Assessment purposes maximize the learning. Similar to some of the ideas in the suggestions above, when we are intentional about our evidence-gathering from students, we can use that evidence to respond more specifically to what our students need – when they need it – to inform our instructional next steps. Take a moment to reflect on an upcoming unit of study. Identify the moments within your learning plans when you could gather information from students on how well they are understanding the content. Reflect on how you are setting your students up for success with the activities and formative assessments you have planned.

 

Evidence informs real-time instruction for instructional agility. Everything students say, do, or produce in the classroom gives us insight into their current levels of knowledge and understanding. We tend to feel like we’re “testing all the time” when we aren’t able to leverage that evidence in a way that helps students learn more. Find a time within the next week when you can organize the results from a “bell-ringer” activity, exit slip, or quick quiz into some differentiated, targeted learning opportunities for students. Start small, and your students will win big!

 

Interpretation of assessment results is accurate, accessible, and reliable. Talk with your colleagues about the intended learning outcomes for an upcoming lesson or unit of study. Have some dialogue around how you will know that your students have successfully learned the material you are teaching them to the required level of depth and rigor. See if you can agree to collectively gather evidence as a team to use as a discussion point at a future team meeting. This practice will support a more cohesive response to the question, “How will we know they have learned it?”

 

In the spirit of more deeply engaging in high-quality assessment practices with your students, reflect on the suggestions above. How will you kick-start your resolution of creating more sustainable systems of assessment in your classroom?

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