Susannah O’Bara is area superintendent for the Denton Independent School District in Texas. She has been an elementary school administrator for more than 15 years.

Leading for Assessment Literacy

It isn’t about grades. We must stop focusing our conversations on grading and what a paradigm shift it is to grade based upon standards. Certainly we have been grading “against standards” for years, otherwise against what measure are we grading? The purpose of assessment, and the importance of the proper use of it, is about educating the children of today and ensuring that they are ready for life beyond high school. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, as many as 20% of college freshman enroll in remedial English or math coursework (NCES, January 2013). These remedial courses are not providing students’ credit towards their diploma, yet the cost is significant. As educators, it is our responsibility to utilize every opportunity during our students’ educational journeys to prepare them for their future beyond high school graduation. As a campus or district leader, it is expected that you lead the way through a transition in which all students are ensured a rigorous curriculum where mastery is the outcome for all, not simply the goal.

When leading a staff, students, and a community through change, the conversation must begin with defining or clarifying our purpose as educators. When we start with conversations about our work and why we opted to become educators, would anyone say they chose this career to sort and select students based upon who could demonstrate mastery of an assigned task most quickly? The “why” for many educators doesn’t align with the “how” of the work. So to begin any shift in practice, leaders must first begin by asking the teachers they serve about the collective “why” of their purpose as an educator. Teachers need opportunities to discuss why they do the work they do. It is imperative that they focus on what they intend to accomplish as an educator. Teachers should be given time to reflect on their current practices and why they utilize these practices. Educators must be expected to analyze what purpose their practices serve. As a leader, dedicating time to leading this intentional conversation that allows for reflection of individuals and teams, is critical for a successful transition to the proper use of assessment.

Commonly when a leader is inspired to guide those being served to assessment literacy, they inform the staff that a transition is on the horizon and begin planning for it procedurally. Perhaps teachers are assigned specific reading and articles to study to get prepared. Often a team is developed and policy is well thought out and written by the team…and for the team. It is critical to remember however, that most often the members of our team are those we classify as our “go-getters” and our highest quality teachers. In order for this transition in practices to be effective, the process must involve all stakeholders. As a leader, it is imperative that the initial conversations and transition planning be slow, thoroughly designed, intentional and inclusive of all those involved. The leader must begin with why, proceed slowly, communicate constantly and intentionally, stay focused, and constantly monitor the implementation of the expected change.

A sure way to cause the transition to fail is to rush the process. Educators are individuals that are committed to do what they believe to be best for their students each day. It is unfair for a leader, or a small team, to identify a new instructional practice and expect all teachers to quickly understand and embrace the change without careful deliberation. Hard working teachers, spending countless hours educating our youth, deserve the respect of time and a thoughtful, reflective transition process. As the leader, it is your responsibility to allow for deep understanding and thoughtful transition in practice.  Once teachers understand the purpose and how it aligns with their natural desire to serve, they will become your strongest advocates, supporting an effective implementation within the school community.

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