Eileen Depka, PhD, has a background in assessment, common assessment design, rubric development, standards-based assessment, question design, classroom questioning practices, positive practices in grading and reporting, and the implementation of standards-based grading and reporting.

Understanding the Big Picture

I think I always knew how important it is to connect the dots as we work to implement new ideas and provide professional development, but recently I was reminded of the crucial nature of making connections to make learning meaningful.

I spend a lot of time in the world of assessment, and I am very committed to the assessment process, so I will use this realm as the basis for the discussion. Each part of the process is important to student success, and understanding the entire process helps support the effectiveness of each individual aspect of the process. The process helps us understand the “why” of what we are doing. Without the big picture, we are engaged in individual, disconnected events that may have purpose, but lack direction.

See the big picture

I am reminded of the poem, The Blind Man and the Elephant (John Godfrey Saxe, 1872). In the poem, six blind men approach the elephant in a different location and “see” a completely different creature due to the portion of the elephant they can touch. The moral basically states that no matter how much they argued the look of the elephant by the part they were touching, none of them had an idea of what the whole elephant looked like. The same can be true if we look deeply at any piece of assessment, but fail to view it as an entire process.

That being said, let’s look at components of the assessment process I have identified below:

  1. Identify and disaggregate the standards.
  2. Create learning targets directly associated with the standards and share them with students.
  3. Design or identify assessments that:
    • Will provide data which will clearly identify student strengths and challenges
    • Have an appropriate balance of foundational questions and rigor to ensure student understanding.
  4. If the assessment is intended to be a common assessment, discuss aspects of implementation, directions, supports, teacher involvement, and anything else that might impact the outcome of the assessment and potentially skew the data.
  5. Design lessons that are directly connected to the standards and content being assessed. Implement the assessments.
  6. After each assessment is given, collect and organize the data. Analyze the results to determine individual and group strengths and challenge areas.
  7. Identify and implement next steps.

Each portion of the process is important to student success. Each portion can be taught in depth, as there are processes that can be used within each step that will lead to a quality outcome. Each portion deserves that time and effort are allotted to it to support and develop the knowledge and skills necessary for successful implementation. The difficulty is that there is only so much time in a school year—so what do we do?

Time is valuable, make the most of it

Let’s get back to the title of the blog, Understanding the Big Picture. Wouldn’t it be great if all educators within the school or district understood how all pieces fit together? The pieces become meaningful when their purpose and place within the big picture are clear. Why do we need to disaggregate standards? Why do we need learning targets? How do we respond to data? The answers to these questions are clear when the purpose and process of assessment is also clear. With clarity also comes a greater possibility of acceptance of the process, the ideas, and the implementation.

As a result, because the time for professional development is limited, why not start with the big picture and then get specific with the components in need of more time and attention? Understand the process first, then delve into the parts, making sure to remind all involved of how the work of the day fits into the big picture, the process, and goals for the year.

The more transparent we are with the plan and the purpose, the greater the possibility of support, acceptance and engagement. Clear, accurate, on-going communication is key. Share the whole, share the pieces, connect the pieces to the whole. Provide support and engage in new learning. The parts only appear essential when understanding their role in the big picture.  

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)