Karen Wootton, Director of Curriculum & Assessment, firstname.lastname@example.org
Assessing students is an issue that all teachers grapple with, not just CPM teachers. Having students share what they know and understand sounds easy enough, but as any teacher knows, assessing students is rarely simple. Do students always convey what they know? Does the teacher sometimes focus on what the student does not know? Was the wording on the test adding an obstacle to the student? Did the time constraints add an obstacle for the student or cause the student undo anxiety? Did the student just have a bad day? There are so many questions and not enough answers.
All teachers want the time spent on assessment to be useful and productive. But with all these questions, how can we be sure it really is? Many teachers have realized the power of feedback in supporting student learning and incorporate feedback into the assessment as a way to make the assessment process more productive. Providing feedback is another beast, especially when the teacher has 150 or more students who require feedback.
Recently, a teacher shared this bit of feedback on a Desmos activity in the Inspirations & Ideas curriculum: “Tech lets kids recover from mistakes more easily because of undo button, so they take more risks, and they like the visual animation. The easy do-over part helps kids persist instead of crumpling up paper and giving up.” With a Desmos activity, students can try something, and then based on the feedback, they can try again or improve their answers. This is what happens in most video games: players try something, die or lose, and then try again. Gamers play games over and over, using what they have learned in the previous games to move forward in the next game.
This feedback loop is at the heart of gamification, which makes ordinary tasks into a game. The best feedback in Desmos activities is a natural consequence of the situation, and students can often use the feedback to revise. It is through this loop that students improve and learn.
If learning is what education is all about, how can we change our assessment paradigm to help support learning through this feedback loop? Instead of viewing assessments as a moment in time where a student’s knowledge is measured, can we start to recast assessments as opportunities to improve student learning and understanding? Would it matter if a student redid a problem several times until the student “got” it? Would that somehow be “less” understanding than someone who solved a problem correctly the first time? Or would the student that kept trying, improving each time, be demonstrating more than just understanding, like perseverance or grit?
This is a different idea than allowing retakes or test corrections. It is the idea that students can keep trying during the assessment so that they are informing their teacher about more than just their understanding of knowledge or skills. It is making the assessment become an opportunity for learning.
While this might seem completely impossible right now, how can we start shifting the paradigm to help us reach such a situation? Imagine if we could get to a place in which state testing consisted of activities where students could keep trying and revising, based on the natural feedback that the activity provided. It would not give the student the correct answer but just enough feedback for the student to adjust. This would probably be a much less stressful situation for many students, and it completely changes the purpose of assessments. It is in these adjustments that students make where we can really see what students know.
Share your thoughts via a slow Twitter chat, #STAP (Shift the Assessment Paradigm) by sharing the ways you can think of to shift the way we think about assessment.