Assessment is not a bad thing, if we are assessing and measuring the right thing. For years, we took the easy way out and said we would measure learning by watching and evaluating teachers. Building principals would schedule one or maybe two trips into a teacher’s classroom during the course of a school year, would study the actions of a classroom teacher, maybe even provide her with some feedback, and then give her an evaluation score based upon her behaviors. What we found out with the advent of the standards movement, however, was that by only collecting evidence of the teacher we often made incorrect inferences about whether or not students were actually learning or if they were learning what was needed and expected. Some came to believe that we needed to have high impact summative assessments to measure student learning in order to quantify teacher success.
The tests we gave our students were often times multiple choice, criterion referenced, fill in the bubble formats that did very little to inform us on whether or not students truly understood material beyond recall. These tests were often good predictors of whether or not students would perform well later in life playing Trivia at a local restaurant, but did little to provide evidence of greater life success and citizenship. Even at the university level, entrance into higher education is often based on far more than a single test score. Simply getting a good score on an entrance exam like the ACT, SAT, or GRE often only forces an admissions officer to take a deeper look into an applicant’s grades, extra curricular activities, and citizenship. There is nothing wrong with using a test as a screener for more information. This is what your family doctor may do when checking your blood pressure and pulse. Our troubles begin when we begin thinking that a singular test provides all of the evidence we need. We cannot think that although our students learn material in a number of ways, they should all be prepared to demonstrate it only one way. Like a lawyer proving his case to a juror, it is often a culmination of evidence that leads to a verdict. There is rarely a singular data point that unilaterally leads to a decision of guilt or innocence in a courtroom. A lawyer collects and presents a variety of evidence to prove a point. There is not one simple test that can be presented to a judge or jury to draw a consistent conclusion.
In our classrooms we need to begin removing our own assessment arrogance and realize we need to get into the evidence collection business and not the test grading business. Our job is to assess learning so as to make instructional decisions. Our job is to help our children learn and grow like never before. We must embrace our power and influence. We must be bold enough to make the decisions necessary and humble enough to seek support. It is through Bold Humility that we make the changes necessary to help our children change their destinies and enter the world they will help create.