by Dr. Anne Davies
The purpose of classroom assessment is to support student learning and to communicate that learning to others. In order to support student learning, classroom assessment needs to involve students deeply in the assessment process, provide specific, descriptive feedback during the learning, and include evaluative feedback as required to communicate and report progress over time. This helps build a shared language that everyone can use to describe growth and learning.
There are several essential elements of the classroom assessment process that supports student learning. To ensure success for all learners, especially those who struggle, students need to know what they already know, what needs to be learned and what success looks like. Students also need to learn how to guide their own learning through being involved in setting and using criteria, giving themselves feedback for learning (self-assessment), setting goals, collecting evidence and communicating that evidence of learning to others.
In order to communicate learning meaningfully to a variety of stakeholders, teachers involve students in collecting and organizing a broad range of evidence or proof of learning. Further, as teachers review evidence of learning from three different sources (observations of students engaged in learning, conversations with students about their learning, and reviewing their products (i.e. notebooks, tests, quizzes, projects, assignments, electronic data), they compare each student's learning not to other students but to the learning destination. This requires that teachers not only understand what students need to know and do but that they understand the level of quality appropriate for the course or grade level.
When students are engaged in the assessment process, they learn to self-monitor their way to success. As Rick Stiggins says, "Students can hit any target that they know about and holds still for them." Teachers achieve deep student involvement through assessment activities that provide assessment data and help students understand what is important and what quality looks like.
What can assessment for learning look like in classrooms?
Teachers and researchers are finding that when students are deeply involved in the classroom assessment process they become more aware of their strengths, and areas needing improvement. They can then choose to take action to close the gap between where they are in their learning and where they need to be.
Kindergarten teachers may ask students to set criteria about what counts during snack time. They begin by self-assessing as a group and then learn to self-assess as individuals using a simple dart board target with the words, Right On, Working On It, and Just Beginning.
An elementary teacher regularly sets criteria around any product or process that is important to student learning. Sometimes they arise from a problem area such as "What's important during clean up time?" Other times the question is designed to prompt a class discussion around what is important when engaged in activities such as: reading non-fiction text, preparing a reader response, writing up a science lab report, or presenting orally to others. What is noticed over time is that students' self-assessments become more realistic and detailed when they have helped set the criteria.
One Science teacher requires students to do a major research project. This project is worth 40% of their final grade. For several years as many as 40 to 60% of the students from her classes did not submit their project. This past year she tried one thing new and asked each class to set criteria for the major research project. The results? Every student in every class submitted the project. She commented, "It was amazing. The only thing I did differently was to involve them in setting the criteria with me."
A high school teacher has her history students keep a portfolio. The portfolio has four sections: proficient writers, organized and productive researchers, collaborative and responsible group workers, and a fourth section that they select based on their personal goal for the course. Prior to the end of the course they complete final examinations where they present their interpretation of how well they have met the clearly defined targets.
How long will it take to implement assessment for learning?
Sometimes people ask, "How long does this take? How fast can we get there?" Assessment for student learning and school improvement is an on-going journey. Do you recall the Gary Larson cartoon with two camels crossing the desert? There was a man on the first camel and a women and two children on the second. "Are we there yet? Are we there yet?", the children asked. The man on the first camel turned back and said, "Don't you get it? We're nomads." When it comes to classroom assessment that supports student learning, we continue to seek to learn more. We can ask no less of ourselves; our students are worth it.
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