Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Teaching and Testing vs. Student Learning and Assessment

In a 2011 issue of Ed Weekly, Peter DeWitt published an article discussing how our focus on testing should be shifted to assessment. This idea of assessment, whether formative or summative, has been widely spoken and debated for quite some time. Our movement towards common core standards and PARCC assessment has forced our shift to summative testing. In other words, we are preparing students for end of course summative assessments that provide an "autopsy" of how well the students have mastered skills and content. By incorporating "Student Growth Percentage Scores (SGP's)" in teacher evaluations we are also assessing how well teachers have done in ensuring such mastery with a defined group of students. 

While there is value and relevance to summative assessments, our goal as educators is not to teach, it is to ensure student learning. In order to meet that demand we need to employ formative assessment to constantly check for understanding. The results of which will impact our pacing, lesson plans, follow-up assessments, interventions and support models.

In most schools teachers embark on this challenge in isolation. They develop tests, quizzes and other formative assessments  on their own. Teachers calculate percentage scores, averages, and hopefully varied levels of itemization resulting in data analysis for their group of students.

The work of DuFour, DuFour and Eaker support a hybrid approach to formative assessment by introducing common formative assessment.  The advantages of teachers teaching the same content developing common assessments are highlighted in their many works.  It is important to note that they are speaking of assessments and not content tests. These assessments provide a variety of prompts, questions sets and tasks that assess the skills, critical thinking, problem solving and content connected to the standards. The results of each assessment are itemized and discussed collaboratively. Interventions, curriculum changes, and  instructional planning are developed collaborative as a result of the data.

"If five teachers teaching the same course or grade level are responsible for ensuring all students acquire the same knowledge and skills, it make sense those teachers would work together to determine the best methods to assess student learning. A team of teachers could divide responsibilities for creating a unit and developing assessments. Teachers working in isolation replicate and duplicate effort. They work hard, but they do not work smart.", (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, 2007).  Other advantages cite equity, collaborative problem solving, improvement of individual and teams of teachers, systematic interventions and increased student achievement.

Teachers of the same content working together to develop 3 or 4 benchmark assessments, aligned to standards, presented timely, and analyzed and discussed collaboratively will undoubtedly have a greater opportunity to ensure student learning than high stakes, summative tests.