Purposeful Assessment

Like changing for the sake of change, assessing for the sake of assessing has some major downsides. Meaningful assessment can take many forms (try a search for meaningful assessment), but it should always have one outcome: improved opportunity to for students to learn.

This from a recent post on the Rational Mathematics Education blog: “Creating ANY good test item is challenging, but creating test items that actually tell us what we need to know to improve teaching, learning, and parenting when it comes to academic subjects is a major challenge.”

Ask Kermit. It’s not easy being green. And it’s not easy to write a good assessment that gives meaningful data.

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Raising the Bar; or, Change for the Sake of Change

I picked up this bit of news out of Delaware. The state should be applauded for their efforts to raise the bar on student achievement. However, it doesn’t seem like they’re looking forward to scores increasing at all. They have assumed that raising the expectations on the test will result in an increase in the number of students that do not pass the test.

Change for the sake of change is not really responsible, yet we do it all the time. An increase in student achievement won’t come from changing a test or adopting a new textbook. Change comes when we design and implement a meaningful curriculum based on student needs.

Rethinking high school math

I came across an interesting article in the Delaware Cape Gazette regarding high school math. There were two things that attracted my attention:

High school Principal John Yore said teaching geometry at ninth grade is ideal. “The top scores come from students who’ve had geometry or better. Students who take geometry at ninth grade do better at upper-level high school courses and on any standardized test, including the SAT.”

In response, I would say, “Of course they do!” If you take geometry in ninth grade, you are far more likely to take an upper-level course, let alone do well at it. It is difficult – nearly impossible – to take a Calculus course if you don’t take geometry in ninth grade. One result of taking an upper-level course is a higher score on standardized tests; most college entrance exams  assess content through precalculus.

[One board member] asked if the district needed to address math at the middle schools, as well. Robert Fulton, high school education supervisor, said both middle schools already have math specialists. The priority is the high school, he said, which needs support.

So what do the math specialists do? Ideally, the specialists’ time is spent working with teachers, focused on effective instruction. But this isn’t enough. The board needs to be asking what systems have been put in place to address students that fall behind in middle school. Waiting to address problems in high school doesn’t work (I’ve been there).

In this case it’s about instruction, but it’s also about effective (and early) intervention.

The Whole Truth…

I had the opportunity to talk about assessment with a group of elementary school teachers earlier this week.  Our discussion focused on scoring, with particular emphasis on the scoring of constructed response items similar to those that appear on many state assessments.  In Colorado, there exists a set of holistic rubrics for this purpose.  They are sound, but require some understanding of what is being measured to be used effectively.  We also talked about preassessment – why and how to preassess kids.  This topic is better suited for a later post.

Knowing that this presentation was looming on the horizon, I had been on the lookout for assessment-related ideas anywhere I could find them.  So last Saturday, while enjoying a Shrekmarathon with my wife and kids, I found what was looking for.  In the first movie, Shrek overhears Fiona lamenting about her ugliness and thinks she is talking about him.  Dejected (he had just worked up his courage to express his undying love), Shrek walks off into the night.

I showed this one-minute segment to teachers.  Then I made my point: when it comes to assessing student learning, be sure

  1. you have the whole picture; and
  2. you have the right picture.

Sometimes, whether observing students working or scoring an assessment, it is easy to miss the big picture or to only get a part of the picture.  If we use assessment data to guide our instruction, but we’re working with an incorrect or incomplete picture, then our instruction will miss the mark. 

So next time you think assessment, think Shrek – and get the whole picture the first time.