Changing The Way We Think About Assessment

Written By: Starr Sackstein


It seems like a blur now, the beginning of the summer. Almost like a dream when I had the opportunity to collaborate with some of the most amazing people for a wonderful project.

The three-day writing journey was one I’ll never forget and one that has forever opened me up to the idea of writing with a group of people.

A couple of years ago now, I was fortunate enough to complete a writing project with Connie Hamilton, but before that, I had never committed to sharing my writing for more than a thousand words. Writing for me was private and somewhat personal.

But now I know it doesn’t always have to be.

The project itself is a special one. Each of 10 authors wrote a chapter contributing to changing the way we think about different educational topics.

The proceeds of our compilation will go to a worthy cause and the ideas tackled in the book will hopefully help educators consider necessary movement around big educational change.

My topic was changing the way we think about assessment.

No surprise there, right?

But what made my topic special was the way it fit so well with the other chapters. Each writer’s ideas interconnected with another making for a very cohesive read together.

First up comes Jeff Zoulchanging the way we think about change. He addresses how and why we need to make changes with the changing times. It’s worth a read if you haven’t seen his take on this issue. Remember change is key as we move forward with the way we think about education.

Then comes Tony Sinanis talking about changing the way we see learning. Tony shared some great takeaways from his chapter. You should check out his post on learning.

After Tony, comes Kayla Delzer, my new friend and colleague who shares her ideas about changing the way we think about relationships in school which transitions nicely into my chapter on assessment.

When we think about assessment these days, we must look beyond the data and the standardized testing too often associated with the idea. Assessment is an opportunity for student empowerment and personal reflection and growth. Assessment is the way we know what kids know and can do and how we propel them to progress and growth.

Learning is an exceptionally nuanced process and assessment is an essential part of it. It’s necessary to check in with ourselves and others, to ensure the depth of our understanding and to chart a course for future learning.

As we change the way we think about assessment, we need to question long-held practices and consider the impact on our kids. Who is the one doing the learning and who is responsible for it. The more we put students in the driver’s seat, the more they take away from the experience. True learning happens in more authentic settings, and just because we are in school doesn’t mean that learning can’t or shouldn’t be authentic.

Consider co-designed student formative and summative projects that incorporate a variety of learning skills and interconnected content. Consider our students makers in the most highly intrinsic sense. When we allow students to have control of how and what they learn, the more curiosity becomes a part of that process.

Assessment needs to be about student goals, student performance, student reflection and student self-assessment with the teacher as an essential coach or facilitator in the process. We bring our knowledge and expertise and create environments in which students share ideas and grow collaboratively.

The relationships we build determine how successfully these risk taking ventures will go. Children aren’t used to being in charge of their learning, so we need to teach them how and then show them how and then empower them to do.

A big part of changing the way we think about assessment is modeling the practices we want students to become adept at. We want them to reflect on successes and mistakes. We want them to set new goals based on those experiences and we want them to keep moving forward.

As you are considering thinking about assessment differently, next week, you’ll be able to check out Tom Murray’s ideas on changing the way we think about educational technology which can be a big helper in how we shift our practices in assessment.

There have been many tech shifts I have made in the last decade to ensure the most beneficial learning practices and skills for my students, particularly in how they show what they know and how they apply it to other learning.

In what ways have you changed the way you think about assessment in your career and how has it benefitted your students? Please share.

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