The verdict is…

The last week sure has been one for the history books. Regardless of which side of the political aisle you are on, watching history in the making is fascinating…and frustrating at the same time. It seems like so many people already have their minds made up and the evidence just doesn’t matter, but truth be told, this is often the case in all walks of our lives whether it is in the Capitol, the courtroom, or the classroom. Whether it is an impeachment hearing, the trial of a Hall of Fame football player, or in the TV courtroom of Judge Judy, evidence is always subject to interpretation.

The glove didn’t fit. Was this because it was the wrong size, the wrong person, or just great acting?

Was it a perfect phone call or was did the words spoken display evidence of quid pro quo?

Often, your biases leading up to the analysis, help you form your interpretations of the evidence. It is very rare that we actually let the evidence speak for itself. Our own biases and our own beliefs, often taint what we see.

In courtrooms, we are often in search of the “smoking gun” to convict, but even then arguments can be made about self-defense, justification, faulty facts, or insanity. Evidence is ALWAYS up for interpretation.

As a career educator, I am increasingly frustrated with how often we make destiny changing, life-altering decisions based on evidence that we think summarily tell us everything we need to know.

Schools are closed and shuttered because students are not showing the requisite levels of achievement on a test. Teachers are dismissed because students are not showing expected levels of growth. Students are labeled and placed into programs because of identified deficits with little attention to hidden skills and talents.

Here is the truth:

A test cannot be valid or invalid but the inferences we draw from them can be. The same evidence is presented in a court of law whether you represent the plaintiff or defendant. The only difference is the inferences that are drawn from the evidence. Interpretation of evidence often matters more than the quality of evidence.

In schools we test kids. That reality is not going anywhere. It only seems to grow. What we do have power over, however, is how we interpret the results of any assessment we give. Do we give assessments to judge or to support? Do we assess to identify strengths or deficits? Do we assess to plan or to label?

I am a huge proponent of assessment. I actually believe the single greatest thing we can do to improve educational outcomes in schools today, is to increase assessment literacy. Even in spite of how much we test students today, I actually believe we don’t assess students enough….and that is the problem.

Because we don’t collect daily information that we can use to alter, adjust, and inform our instruction, we allow others to come in and create assessments that they use as the definitive truth to convict. Instead of collecting daily evidence of student understanding and instructional effectiveness, we allow others to present our case using their own “smoking gun”.

Assessment will never be able to be used to plan if we are always using it to judge. Evaluation inhibits transparency. Transparency leads to vulnerability. Vulnerability leads to growth.

As educators, we have the power to take control back. We won’t win the fight over testing, but we can control the narrative of the evidence. If we use evidence to help us create the future, if we collect evidence free from bias and self-fulfilling prophecies, if we use evidence to honestly guide our next steps, then eventually, capstone assessments will be seen as redundant. They will be seen as excessive and as instruments that simply tell the same story we are already telling. If we want to get “big data” out of schools, it is up to us to learn how to use the daily interactions, the everyday opportunities, the frequent progress monitoring to help us create and craft unique opportunities for EACH student so that EVERY student can continue to grow.

Stay tuned later this spring to read more in my upcoming book: Making Assessment Work: A guide for educators who hate data but love students.

On the 15th of each month, I will send out my 2 Cents to The Lasting Learners e-mail group. Sign up today and get my latest thoughts on leadership and assessment…and honest, it’s only ONE e-mail a month:

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