Happy September to you! Each year I find myself surprised at how fast we get to this point in the summer. Every educator I spoke with was looking forward to a mega-recharge this summer as most of us had been going steadily since March 2020 (summer 2020 found the need for intense Covid planning). I am hoping that your recharge process happened, and your energy is re-focusing towards your students!
I wanted to start by giving a shout-out to Dave Conley and Dr. Chris Thurber for their Summer Seminar Series workshop with the Status Café on 8/18!
“In the well crafted 90 minute workshop that David and Christopher presented, I came away having participated in a dynamic conversation and had activities to use in my classroom that provide examples and active engagement. Thank you NEALS for inviting educators into this experience and for continuing to create opportunities for us to grow as humans and educators!”
~Jennifer Pytleski, Performing Arts Chair and Theatre Director at Darrow School in New Lebanon, NY.
We are diving back into a year with an inkling of a more typical school year in terms of schedule. While it is important to continue with pandemic support, other items on school agendas will start to come back into focus. Two of the items on Miss Hall’s agenda are looking at the way we use meetings, and more importantly, really examining our assessment policies. In the 2008 Edutopia article titled Why is Assessment Important?, they connect the questions of “Are we teaching what we think we’re teaching” and “Are students learning what they are supposed to be learning”. While this article and interview are a worthwhile read, I can’t help but get stuck on the phrase “supposed to be learning”. Joe Feldman, author of 2018’s Grading for Equity (which I highly recommend checking out), encourages us to rethink our “inherited” grading strategies which he has found “perpetuate disparities that have been going on for years by race, income, education, background, language” (Harvard EdCast, 2019).
It would be difficult to say that assessment is not valuable. Assessment allows us to see what students know, allows us to help prescribe for the students’ futures, and allows us to get a sense of whether we are teaching effectively or not. Assessment will not be going away during my lifetime, nor should it. The more important questions that we need to wrestle with are “Why do we assess?” and “How do we assess?” our students. The most poignant question I have given my colleagues to navigate is “should you give a student a summative assessment when you know that the student isn’t ready?”. The most common reason when someone answers yes, is that my colleague has mapped out their curriculum, and that when they get to the end of the lesson, the students need to take an assessment to demonstrate (read: prove) what they have learned. My response is invariably some iteration of “that seems to indicate that you feel all students learn at the same pace”. No educator has ever responded to that question with “of course all students learn at the same pace!”. All of this leads into my hopes for my colleagues, both near and far. Here are my challenges for your assessment strategies this year.
1.Use Formative Assessments
This is the bread and butter of how an educator knows where their students are at. Frequent, low-stakes, and informal assessments are the best way to get a sense of your students’ knowledge. Entry and exit slips give you a real time sense of where they are at. Check the oil using a dipstick, try having the student write a letter to a friend about a concept. Try having informal interviews with your students, casual conversations can help identify any misconceptions that they may have.
2. Do it Differently
Please allow students to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding using different mediums. If you like to give traditional tests on paper, try to think about a student giving their answers orally or having them write their answers on the board. If a student needs to write an essay, couldn’t they also deliver that work in presentation format? Try changing the setting in which you give your students an assessment, can you go outside or to a different part of the building?
3. Post-test Conferences
Try to have a post-test conference with a student if you are unsure of an answer that they have given. The first thought tends to be: grade the question as is, giving partial credit for an answer. I would actually encourage you to meet with the student before the grade is assigned so that the student can clear up any confusion in their answer.
4. Allow for Retakes
I really encourage you to allow for retakes of an assessment whenever it is possible. Using the growth mindset “not yet” allows us to support students arriving at the material at their own pace. I can’t honestly remember the last time I missed the mark on something for my boss where they didn’t ask me to redo it, so why can’t we view our students in the same light?
Boom! There are four challenges that I believe will help us get closer to getting this thing called assessment correct! Where do you see the most opportunity in these challenges? How many can you act on?
Thanks for listening,