Three Ways Educators are Rethinking Assessment

A recent Gallup poll indicated that student engagement is on the decline in schools. Specifically, what’s trending downward is students’ sense that the schoolwork they’re doing is important, interesting, and making them excited for the future. This data is one more example of why it’s time to rethink what and how students learn in school. It’s time to rethink assessment.

GOA just wrapped Rethinking Assessment, its most popular pop-up professional learning course to date, featuring nearly 300 participants from 60+ schools across 12 countries. A part of the Rethinking School series, Rethinking Assessment asked educators to zoom in on different assessment models and collaborate with other participants on improving existing strategies for assessment. The course also featured interviews with guest experts Jay McTighe and Kevin Mattingly, who set the foundational understanding on the state of assessment in schools today and the potential of assessment practices for the future.

Rethinking Assessment was organized around three parallel units where educators could choose different pathways to explore how to design new ways to assess.

Anchoring each of these parallel units were questions such as:

1. How can formative assessment inform teaching practice and student learning?

2. How can teachers design authentic assessments to advance learning through the development of critical thinking and problem solving skills?

3. How can student feedback be used to encourage students to extend their learning while leveraging student growth and metacognition?

Three key ideas emerged from conversation in those units:

1. Assessment should be organic and fluid

Assessment is a process. Kevin Mattingly drove the point home in his interview, encouraging educators to modify their thinking about formative assessment to integrate the idea of formative feedback. Assessment should be ongoing with students receiving continuous feedback on their work and concrete support on how to apply the feedback. Educators in Rethinking Assessment recognized the importance of being intentional in carving out time in the classroom to press pause, reflect, and provide students with feedback.

“After the first batch of reading, I realize that I need to re-institute a habit I had had for a few years. I need to press pause on our class conversations with three or four minutes still left in our class. I want to explicitly take this time as the students are packing up to point out explicitly what was accomplished and how our conversation that day may have moved us toward some learning goals.” -Jim Doherty, Wyoming Seminary

"Our performance tasks are usually quite intricate, and the authentic learning that is taking place takes ample amounts of time and multiple representations (iterations) to demonstrate understanding of complex ideas. Don't rush these iterations — the struggle to advance the idea is where the learning happens." -Andrew Podoll, The Delta School

“The goal-setting seems especially important as a means for using the feedback. The idea here also directly addresses two of Kevin Mattingly's points that I found compelling: (1) the misconception ‘that assessment involves this unidirectional flow of information from student to teacher’ and (2) we must ensure that students USE the feedback that we are giving them (and yes, we must carve out time for students to use feedback).” -Jen Neubauer, Nueva School

2. Students should have agency in the assessment process

It's clear to educators that they need to push students to move beyond just going through the motions of school. Participants asked how, as educators, can we provide students with the opportunity to engage and have a stake in their own learning? How do we involve students in the assessment process? What, then, becomes the role of the teacher?

“I wonder about motivation, especially intrinsic motivation. What inspires a student of any age to work on something that may not be particularly interesting — even if that skill/habit can be of real use to them? Is it our job as educators to help create a broader and more compelling narrative? Do we invite students into that work?" -Andrew Housiaux, Phillips Academy

"The promise of refocusing student attention on learning, rather than ‘satisfying the rubric’ is incredibly appealing. I sometimes see very high-achieving students do what is essentially the bare minimum on assignments so that they can move on to the next thing. They're ambitious, often over-committed, and their goal ends up being getting something done rather than truly learning something." -Adrianne Jacobs, Harpeth Hall School

"My preferred (and fledgling) strategy... design an assessment that relates to performance goals rather than content goals; have students understand that it is not for course credit, but that they will evaluate/grade the assessment themselves (using my criteria); then ask students to write down what they think they need to work on further to better reach the goals." -Malcolm Fenton, The Dalton School

"The purpose of assessment is to advance learning." -Jay McTighe, in conversation with GOA Executive Director Michael Nachbar

3. Authentic Feedback

Participants valued providing tangible, transparent, and actionable feedback. For many, authentic feedback consists of reframing feedback as a conversation with students. It requires asking students to interact with and respond directly to teacher feedback and creating situations in which students are designing the criteria for the type of feedback they want to receive.

"I wonder if 'Question Asking' as feedback provides space for students to take even more action and control of their learning as they have to wrestle with the questions provided to them as feedback and must then discover what the next steps are in advancing their work?" -Andrew Podoll, The Delta School

"In our lives as adults, we don’t use analytical or holistic rubrics. The SPR feels like a very natural way of interacting with my students. I couldn’t be happier to have come across this concept." -Peter Holowka, West Point Grey Academy

"I've also found that asking for feedback from students, authentically, really helps build trust and create a safe and supportive environment in which we're all learning together. It makes such a difference!" -Shira Daryn, American International School of Chennai

Do these ideas resonate with you? Do they reflect work that’s already happening at your school? We urge you to engage in conversations with your colleagues on rethinking assessment in departmental, divisional, and full faculty meetings. Reach out to educators at other schools to learn more about how they’re rethinking assessment. Share out your findings on Twitter using #rethinkingschool.

GOA will offer additional courses as part of its Rethinking School series. Subscribe to our newsletter below for updates on new course offerings and dates!

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