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Towards a New Era in Educational Assessment

Educational AssessmentWhen we started AskIITians, we were of the firm belief then (and even now) that standardized assessments were vital but insufficient in determining college as well as career readiness. It appeared obvious to us (as it does to most educators) that bubbles would narrate only part of the story, while the richer, broader assessments were indispensable in displaying the complete range of the abilities of students. Hence, Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity (SCALE) developed the Deeper Learning Student Assessment System (DLSAS). Students and schools needed improved and more complete methods in demonstrating skills and knowledge and ways of conducting authentic assessments to judge their performance.

David Conley has recently released a new report which highlights the importance of this topic. In a New Era for Educational Assessment, Conley states that the time has come for a great shift in educational assessment, from over-relying on standardized tests of reading and Mathematics (which don’t throw light on readiness in terms of college and career) to the usage of multiple measures for gauging the progress when it comes to learning the complete range of skills and content that truly matter during college.

His report has come at the opportune time: Teachers, students, and parents have voiced their frustration over standardized assessment, what these assessments are lacking, and their limitations. The educational community has often remained silent when it comes to alternatives. Conley’s report offers several alternatives, and the report is crucial to the larger conversation with regards to performance assessment and what needs to change in schools.

But, what is the exact definition of “authentic performance assessment” and how will one know when it is taking place? In addition, why should one care about Conley’s report?

Genuine performanceGenuine performance assessment takes place when we measure competencies and skills in addition to just knowledge. These competencies and skills are ultimately related to success in college and career. Besides content, this form of assessment is concerned with real-world applications. Here is how you identify when you have meaningful, genuine performance assessment as it takes place in the classroom: during preparation for the test, actually attempting the test, and then applying the skills learned in real life.

Take into consideration the skill of parallel parking (or any other driving skill). What goes into learning and practicing it? Only repeated parallel parking. When you apply for a driver’s license, how are you rated for this skill? Through parallel parking. And finally, what do you implement the skill after successful passing of the test? You parallel park.

The driver’s license test is a final assessment which gives one the legal right to drive. It is not restricted to assessment in the process. The driver’s permit exam (generally an electronic or written, standard multiple-choice assessment) gauges your knowledge about the road rules. It is vital step in the process; however, not as crucial as demonstrating what you can really do with your acquired knowledge. This is where the performance test of actual driving and parking comes in.

Seen in this light, the requirement for genuine performance assessment in schools becomes more indispensable. When it comes to the process of learning, the emphasis should be on “DOING.” In addition, there is complete agreement that a driver’s license should be granted to those who know the road rules along with knowledge of operating a car.

Conley’s report helps us to comprehend the continuum of assessment types and offers an invitation to states for considering how to move their assessments “parts” and “pieces” to the “big picture.”

Standardized assessmentsStandardized assessments (even if they are performance based or include open-ended questions) provide only a small part of the complete picture with regards to readiness of students for college and career success. Tasks that are project centered require students to demonstrate and practice the same skills that they would need for the next step in the journey of learning. We think that we have to shift from having students learning to drive towards their future while observing the rear-view mirror. We need to have an eyes-forward assessment for students to prepare them for the world to come.

Conley’s Primary Findings:

  • Primary FindingsBeing college and career ready depends on more than academic knowledge and skills: Students, too, need to develop a wide range of personal and interpersonal competencies, along with practical knowledge with regard to transition to life after school. Some of the examples include financial planning, self-advocacy, setting of goals, perseverance and time management.

  • Schools can perform an assessment and teach a wide array of competencies: Research indicates that student motivation, self-discipline, persistence, college planning, problem solving, and several other vital elements of college and career readiness can be effectively assessed and thoroughly taught.

  • Traditional tests and exams are convenient but not informative: Standardized, multiple-choice reading, and Mathematical tests offer reliability, familiarity, affordability, and ease in administration. Unfortunately, they fail to offer useful information with regard to progress of students towards long-term goals.

  • States are having a re-look at performance assessments: Currently, many states are having a re-look at performance assessments to prepare students thoroughly for college and career readiness: the seeds for the movement have already been sown.

  • College and career readiness are effectively measured by a combination of tests: Multiple-choice tests have their utility, however, so do informal assessments, performance tasks, diagnostic tests, and other ways in tracking the progress of the students. No single measure is enough in judging performance of schools and guiding instruction.

Role of Educators:

Role of EducatorsConley provides an exhaustive range of recommendations for stakeholders in the education field; we have listed just a few here. This is, in fact, the starting point: a place for educators and teachers who want to witness real change occur to unite and draft agreements. For the entire list of recommendations by Conley, peruse the complete report entitled A New Era. For the present moment, let’s pay heed to his advice and do the following:

  • Define college and career readiness completely and comprehensively

  • Adapt education policy to provide greater flexibility with regard to types of data that can be utilized for demonstrating learning and growth of students

  • Seek ways for improving assessments so that they are transformed into better measures of in-depth learning

  • Determine the professional curriculum, resource, and learning needs of educators in order to implement a new assessment system.

At AskIITians, we stand ready and motivated to contribute towards these goals. The time has come for all schools and educational institutes to have an alignment with assessment of deeper-learning outcomes to truly prepare our young students for college and career success, through methods that will have real and positive impact on their lives.