8. Assessment

Definition of "Assessment"
A teacher must understand and be able to use formal and informal assessment strategies to evaluate and ensure the continuous intellectual, social, and physical development of the student.  There are large divides between what a student thinks they know, what a teacher thinks a student knows, and what a student actually knows.  Assessments are tools that provide objective measurement to the wide variety of work that students undertake in school.  Because all students communicate their understanding in different ways, it is important for a teacher to use a variety of methods to assess the most complete picture of what a student can do.  In addition to a variety of forms, assessments should be tiered -- after completing a formative assessment and collecting its feedback, a student should have time and support to learn the concept and an opportunity to demonstrate their improved understanding.

Supporting Artifacts and Analysis
  • Formative Daily Quizzes:

    Assessment should not be left for the end of a unit.  Students need constant feedback to monitor how they are doing and where they need to focus their energy.  Since receiving new SMART Response hand-held devices this year, the entire Byron math team has started working to build short daily quizzes that quickly check student understanding.  Though the answer will be either "right" or "wrong" (no partial credit or comments like a paper quiz could support), these quick checks let students know where they stand.  They are particularly helpful for students who are over-confident: instead of wasting class time under the assumption that they already know how to do something, these students are given a reality check by the data.  Daily quizzes also help me to focus on problems that most students struggle with when I'm at the board.  Finally, the quizzes on the responders add one more tier of assessment that students can improve on before being assessed on the summative test at the end of the unit.  The daily quizzes artifacts page includes assessments I built to complement lessons in Algebra 1, Geometry, and Statistics.

  • Unit Assessment Plan / Example Checklist/Rubric for Statistics Paper:

    This rubric covers a 1.5 week (block schedule) project.  The project involves describing a Minute To Win It game, collecting all necessary data, performing statistical calculations on the data, writing a team paper on a sample of the data, and evaluating teammates for their contribution to the project.  When facilitating project-based-learning, I try to remove as much focus from the grading as possible while laying out clear expectations for what students need to accomplish.  Thus, I use a rubric, particularly those in a checklist or completion-based format, whenever possible.  I found that laying out clear expectations for what students need to do is enough to get them excited and achieve at a high level.  When students are falling below expectations, I provide interim feedback on specifically what they can improve.  On future rubrics, I will build in "response to feedback" as a graded category, but from my current students, I have yet to run into any issues of students not responding or trying to "cheat" my system.  I like using well-defined rubrics because expectations are clear and grading feels fair for both the teacher and the students.

  • Assessment Toolbox:

    This assessment toolbox is a collection of evaluation methods for setting up and assessing student work.  Methods include student contracts, concept maps, learning logs, and rubrics, and portfolios.  I created this document before I began my internship, but I have referenced it many times.  Written or multiple choices tests are the default method of assessment, but many students fail to show off what they know and what they can do on this single form of assessment.  As a teacher who wants students to show me their understanding in many forms, I need equally many ways to measure that understanding.  Project work, which is often open-ended, is not easy to assess.  I have used written reflection, rubrics, checklists, team evaluations, and portfolios with projects this year.  I intend to build in more ideas for effective evaluation as I iterate projects in future courses.

  • Seven Practices for Effective Learning:

    This is a short summary of my philosophy on goals and assessment at the beginning, middle, and end of a unit in response to a similarly-named article I read on best practices.  I am opposed to single-shot learning, where students are expected to go from task to performance and succeed on the first try.  Since starting my internship, however, I learned how the best of both worlds can be balanced with formative assessments.  At Byron, students are not given an opportunity to re-test, though they are able to make corrections to get a very low test up to 50% or 60%.  Instead, interim quizzes are used to check understanding 2-3 times each unit in a test-like set of problems, and daily quizzes on digital response devices have been added as yet another layer of formative assessment.  Students who are clearly not ready for the test are given extra remediation ahead of time so they have a chance to succeed without a re-test.  I included this artifact as a reminder of what I strive to do with my students.  However, I now believe after my internship experience in Byron that the ways of achieving some of these ideals look very different than I initially anticipated.

Synthesis
If the essential learner outcomes are the skeleton of a course, then well-designed assessments are the meat on the bones.  An objective carries no meaning without a way to measure it, which is why I believe that assessment design is one of the most important parts of effective teaching.  Once you have a method of assessment nailed down, you can design many creative ways to prepare students to succeed on the assessment.  More importantly, you as a teacher can measure how well you did at preparing your students to meet the learning objectives and improve instruction each time you teach.  Formative assessments are check-points, both for the teacher and the student, to see how well a topic has been mastered while it is still possible to reteach or relearn the skill.  Assessments are not always tests -- in fact, if a teacher wants to best understand what a student knows and is capable of doing, assessments must take a variety of forms.  Teachers should not be the only people who measure student progress -- the best teachers facilitate peer feedback and self-reflection as a check of progress and methodology before, during, and after a unit.  Assessments provide evidence that teachers are teaching effectively and students are growing each day.