It’s gotten to the point where I shudder every time I hear people with plans to “increase student achievement” or “improve schools” because whenever I dig more deeply into what those phrases mean it always comes down to one thing: improving standardized test scores. And the reasons are clear:Â they’re easy to give and to make sense of, they provide our competitive society with some way to rank what’s happening with schools and students, and because we’ve build a billion dollar industry on making sure every kid learns the same thing in the same way on the same day so he or she can pass the test.
Problem is, far too little of what those assessments “measure” is what I care about as a parent.
I read this fascinating article about a the recycling company TerraCycle yesterday. It called the company “The Google of Garbage,” and I couldn’t help but beÂ taken by the creativity that the founder Tom Szaky brings to his business approach. The company is located just down the road from me in Trenton, NJ, and my environmentalist author/wife Wendy actually did some work with Tom a few years back when the company was just getting started. Here’s the article’s description of the way he got his start:
Szakyâ€™s novel business plan was to ‘make a tremendous amount of moneyâ€™ out of the leftovers from the Princeton canteen. The scheme involved shovelling the food slops on to a Heath-Robinson-like conveyer belt, where worms would gobble up the leftovers and turn it into worm casts, which were then liquefied to form a rich fertiliser for the gardening industry. Apart from the labour, mostly provided by the worms, and the cost of running the machine, it was a zero-cost operation. Szaky decided to sell this home-brewed plant food, Earth Plant Fuel, in re-purposed soft-drinks bottles with spray-gun tops bought from a remainder company. In the two years it took for orders from shops to start trickling in, he dropped out of college and TerraCycle was born.
Now I know that this isn’t the usual story, but you can’t help but love it when someone has an idea and has the guts to pursue it. It’s passion, and as you read the rest of the article, you can see that almost his entire business is about solving problems, most of them other people’s, like how can we reuse used tea bags and make them into something useful.
May just be me, but in 20 years, I want to be reading that story about my kids, about their passions being fulfilled in ways that can earn them a living solving problems and helping to make the world a better place. And I want my kids’ schools to help them do that, not teach them to know the dates of the Second Continental Congress (which is what Tucker was looking up on Wikipedia last night because he knows it’s going to be “on the test.” Sigh.)
So when I was reading Douglas Reeves chapter “A Framework for Assessing 21st Century Skills” in the “21st Century Skills: Rethinking How Student Learn” book that I wrote about a few months back, I was really interested in the focus points he provides for assessment:
- Learn (What did you know? What are you able to do?)
- Understand (What is the evidence that you can apply learning in one domain to another?)
- Share (How did you use what you have learned to help a person, the class, the community or the planet?)
- Explore (What did you learn beyond the limits of the lesson? What mistakes did you make, and how did you learn from them?)
- Create (What new ideas, knowledge, or understanding can you offer?)
These are not sequential, but ongoing, and in all of these, Reeves moves the conversation not only away from the standardized framework to a more fluid one, but advocates doing all of it transparently, and, importantly, focuses on group assessments not just individual ones. This type of learning and assessment should be shared widely and should be built upon by others. It gives a whole different picture of learning as an ongoing process, not an event, not something that can be summed up in the reporting back of a few facts and figures on a short answer test.
A couple of snips from the essay that stood out:
Students are not merely consumers of education laboring for their next reward. Their success is measured not just in terms of tests passed, but by the ways in which they apply their earning to help others. They measure their significance not by how they have distinguished themselves, but by the impact that they had on their communities and the world.
Educational leaders cannot talk about the need for collaboration, problem solving, critical thinking and creativity and at the same time leave teachers and school administrators fenced in by obsolete assessment mechanisms, policies and assumptions.
Two depressing facts about assessment keep weighing me down in all of this. First we teach what we assess, and second, we get the assessments we can afford (both in time and in money.) Neither of those two facts gets us very close to a much needed, systemic upgrade of assessing learning. And as Reeves notes, a third depressing fact is that this will require us to be able to step out of our own school experience, to be willing to define success in ways that are unfamiliar and more nuanced. That may be the biggest barrier of all.
(Photo: “Taking a test at the Real Estate Investing College” by Casey Serin.)
Gary Stager says
I don’t actually think that the key to bad assessment is good assessment. I think the key to bad assessment is assessment. Period.
I’ve said it before, but all assessment interrupts the learning process. Human nature has demonstrated over the past decade that assessment and ALL calls for the measurement of a child’s performance has a narcotic effect. You cannot supply assessment junkies with enough data. Their demand for more insatiable and pathological.
I want to cry when I hear art and music teachers so desperate for credibility that they urge standardized testing of their subjects. This won’t help, but will put the final nail in their discipline’s coffin.
I DO NOT teach what is assessed. I could not give a rat’s ass about assessment. That liberates me to meet the needs of my students (be they 5 or 50) on their terms, not some bureaucrat or temp working at Pearson.
There is much to learn about how we might document learning (either teachers or students) in a thoughtful fashion from Ted Sizer, the Coalition of Essential Schools and the preschool educators of Reggio Emilia, Italy. Books on these subjects may be found at http://constructivistconsortium.org/books
I also recommend that your readers check out Alfie Kohn’s video on grading and homework – http://bit.ly/duEEOE
Will Richardson says
You mean school-y assessment. Certainly, you would advocate helping kids self-assess, no? In that light, I care a great deal about my children’s ability to look critically at the results of their efforts and to ask more questions, make adjustments to their thinking or process, etc. And also, I care about how they receive “assessments” from peers, teachers, etc. Shouldn’t we as educators be encouraging and modeling that kind of “assessment”?
Gary Stager says
Of course, “school-y” assessment is the most egregious example. However, we would do well to stop torturing terms and stretching them beyond their logical usefulness.
Assessment is a school term. It’s not really used in real-life. Friends and peers don’t assess one another in the high-stakes coercive fashion that educators use assessment.
Peers do manipulate others through other means.
Peter Skillen says
Ah yes. Assessment and evaluation – in our wonderful data-driven world. You need to read “The Social Life of Information” by John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid for their take on how more ‘information’ does not indeed address the issues unless the social context is acknowledged.
But, I wanted to note something about this comment from the post – “focuses on group assessments not just individual ones”.
In 1987, Lauren B. Resnick gave a presidential address entitled “Learning In School and Out”. It is still one of my favourite papers as it gives an excellent example of this and other dimensions. Check the pdf out at:
Will Richardson says
Thanks for the link. I’ll process it over some fondue. ;0)
Peter Skillen says
Ben Grey says
While your points about standardized assessment are well posited, I think you’ve slightly misstated the nature of assessment in general. I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but the way I read your comment, it sounded as if you are saying all assessment, of any kind, is a waste of time.
Formative assessment is one of the most powerful components to learning. It would be unfortunate if someone read your comment and thought that any and all kinds of assessment held no value. I’m aware you are not a fan of his, but I do believe Grant Wiggins was absolutely correct when he spoke about assessment and said this, http://bengrey.com/blog/2010/04/assessment-is-a-bad-word-3/
Thanks for the forthright post. Your struggle with standardized assessment is one I hope more and more parents come to realize. I think about this daily as I see my 17 month old son growing and speed toward his collision with formal education. I’m both alarmed and saddened by the imminence of that convergence.
One quick question. You said, “First we teach what we assess…” Candidly, what else should we be teaching? Why would we ever have an assessment which was not rooted in what we expect the students to be learning? Even if the learning takes an unexpected turn, our assessments should reflect what is being learned. I don’t think the issue is that we teach what we assess. I think the problem is what we’re teaching. There is absolutely a way to engage students in the process of learning that doesn’t lead to a rote recitation of what will be on a standardized test. Or lessons that teach students how to answer multiple choice questions or follow the formula to increase the chances of getting all the points on an extended response. Certainly, as you mentioned, that is a convention of the fact we don’t have good assessments that we’re using for high-stakes testing. And certainly I would agree with you that it is troubling we’ve broken down learning and lowered the bar to meet the demands of the typical standardized test. But that isn’t an issue with all assessments. Even with the Reeves example you list, the assessment would still reflect the learning goals you have for students. You would still teach to the test. And that would be a good thing if the assessment was a quality one. In that case, as you well stated, the learning goals would look dramatically different than the unfortunate, trite standardized test we too often see presently.
It’s this inexplicable fascination and passion certain people have with the memorization of finite facts that must change. And then I think you’d see the value of assessment for what it is. A way to help kids learn. Not a way for teachers to say, “gotcha” or for certain public entities to do what these assessments are not built to do. Measure teacher effectiveness. But that’s a whole other conversation.
Gary Stager says
I meant exactly what I said. Every form of assessment – all assessment – interrupts the learning process. Assessment is the work of teachers and it infringes on learning.
Now, it’s up to educators such as yourself to determine how onerous that interruption should be, what is the balance. Who does the assessment serve?
You seem to have ignored by major point about assessment being addictive and the demands for measurement – almost always resulting in ranking, sorting and punishment. Fundamentally, this is about agency and who schooling serves – kids or adults?
You also missed my explicit endorsement of the teacher as researcher or colleague model advanced by the municipal preschools of Reggio Emilia and student exhibitions promoted by the Coalition of Essential Schools, via Ted Sizer.
As for the notion that teaching should be guided by assessment, we really part company there. You seem to suggest that there is a correct end-point or benchmark that must be achieved, even if you tolerate a bit of serendipity. I really think the whole notion of curriculum to be the height of arrogance – what some other people should know by some point in time. It’s also elusive and increasingly futile in a world where there is so much to learn, know and do.
That said, I’ll put my “standards” for what it means to be educated up against anyone else’s. I just trust the relationship between learners and adults without the coercion and capriciousness of curriculum and assessment.
Will Richardson says
Thanks for taking the time, Ben. You make some good points. To some extent, I think the “teach-assess” question is “chicken-egg” or “dog-tail”. Sure, we should teach what we assess, but my point is (and I think you allude to this yourself) that right now, the “standardized” assessments that we have for our students are what is driving what we teach. We’ve created these regimes for a number of purposes, the main one being that it is a relatively painless, cost effective way of measuring and comparing what every student can and cannot do. That tail is wagging the teaching dog. I think it would be better if we focused on learning first, and then developing effective ways to help us and our students gauge the value of what they have learned and contributed.
Nothing new or noteworthy here, just trying to articulate it differently.
Ben Grey says
Yes, we are largely agreeing here. If we could set up actual, meaningful standards at the outset, and then work our feedback loops into those standards both formatively and summatively, then I believe we would see much better progress. The establishment of what we now call standards and how we choose to assess those standards in a high-risk environment is problematic at best.
And I will respectfully disagree with your last sentence. It is noteworthy here. Just look at the discussion that has ensued. And the learning. *Insert Will Richardson smiley of choice here*
Dave Childers says
I think that a lot of what both Ben and Gary are saying here is actually similar. In my mind, if we had less intrusion in the form of “common standards” and the finite facts that have been referenced, and teachers were allowed to teach big ideas and concepts, the quality work that students would be doing would suffice for formative assessment. And it would more than enough assessment in my mind, because I’m very much with Gary when he says that it mostly serves the adults and that those adults driving this “data” culture will never, ever be satisfied.
Learning should be about discovery – not a curriculum map. And Ben, as someone with a soon-to-be 4th grader, be ready to be continually frustrated with how teaching, learning and assessment are carried out with your children.
One recent example…we live in Central California, in a highly agricultural area. My daughter had a question about the Panama Canal (yes, in 3rd grade!) on her Social Studies test. She got the answer wrong, so I took a minute to analyze the choices and why she missed it (something that almost no teachers I know actually do with students, by the way). The test was standardized across the country, from the text book, without any frame of reference. For my daughter, she lives surrounded by canals that transport water to crops. She knows about canals. So when the correct answer regarding a canal that she has NOT seen has to do with huge ships crossing through it, it made no sense. So is it more important that she know about the Panama Canal, which has no direct effect on her life, or that she understand the canals around her that help define her environment?
My entire outlook as a teacher and – now – an administrator was never the same after I started reading Alfie Kohn, Stephen Krashen, Susan Ohanian, etc. Or after I started engaging at conferences and online with folks like Will and Gary and – more recently – Joe Bower. And the longer that I do, the more I start to believe that we have been totally brainwashed to believe that we can’t engineer learning without assessment. I think our country did pretty darn well for itself with decades and decades of public education that was not obsessed with assessment. And I don’t think we can show that we are any better off now that we are fully in the throws of that obsession.
Peter Lane says
You made a comment that I need to take issue with as a former US History teacher (8th grade): “And I want my kidsâ€™ schools to help them do that, not teach them to know the dates of the Second Continental Congress (which is what Tucker was looking up on Wikipedia last night because he knows itâ€™s going to be â€œon the test.â€ Sigh.)”
While I agree that knowing the start and end date of the Second Continental Congress are not all that important I would argue that knowing that they took place sometime around 1776 is: we did get two important documents to come out of that meeting of the minds – the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. Both of these documents have helped shape the world as we know it and how often, as Americans, we beleive it should look.
So while the exact dates are not important knowledge that it took place after the First Continental Congress and before the election of George Washington to the Presidencey of the United States is important as we understand the political, economic, and social culture of our country and why, sometimes, we do the odd things we do. Great minds are groomed and encouraged to flourish and can, ultimately, create tangible results (Earth Planet Fuel) or can create non-tangible results (politcal treatsies) that reshape the world. Both are worthy results…
Will Richardson says
Right. But the test was about a date, not about the culture that surrounded those amazing times, not about the evolution of those ideas, not about the relevance of what those framers did in my son’s life today. I’ll be gentler than Gary and say I don’t care a lick what the date was and whether or not he can spit it out when asked. What I do care about is that he gets some sense of the amazing problem solving that those folks undertook with those documents, and how those problems and techniques continue even today to be framed by the beliefs and ideals they carried with them back then.
Peter Lane says
It sounds like the wrong end of the event is being focused on in your son’s class — and that is truly a shame! The discussions that flow from the knowledge of this period of time are endless. And, unfortunately, should your state tests look anything like California’s, then what your son was looking up will more likely appear on the test than a prompt asking the student to explain the significance of the documents written during the 2nd Continental Congress.
The thought-provoking ideas that could flow from this would allow a variety of assessments to be applied to each individual student and allow instruction to flow from what the students responses direct (this is where the value of assessment for a teacher comes in — where to meet the students and where to go from that point).
Dean Shareski says
A huge problem in this discussion revolves around terminology. Assessment is way too broad a term to have any lucid discussions about until clear understanding and agreement about what each of us means is reached.
Ben’s thinking would reflect much of the work I’ve been involved with in our district over the past several years. Minimize the effects and role of grades and maximize feedback/assessment.
Assessment is not only for learning, in many ways, it is learning. I get better at something because I reflect on my skills and efforts and also benefit from feedback of others, be it a peer or better yet, someone with some expertise. Those would be our teachers. Even the term teacher needs clarification because as has been noted on this blog and many others, teachers can be almost anyone that provides that feedback and insight to help you learn. All that is assessment at its purest form. Unfortunately, we’ve made a mockery of the term but assuming it meant ranking, ordering and measuring at every step of the way. That’s where I agree with Gary about its potential to interrupt learning. That’s the type of assessment that needs to be avoided or at least minimized. But the kind of assessment that is useful for learning is what we all beg for. THere’s not an athlete, musician, student or human being in the world that doesn’t rely on assessment to make them better.
Gary Stager says
You are correct about terminology.
Thinking and learning, including self-reflection and goal setting is not assessment. They may be distant cousins, but they’re not the same thing.
While we’re at it, multiplication “practice” has nothing to do with the practice engaged in by master musicians.
The feedback received on a show like “So, You Think You Can Dance,” is often tough, based on clear expertise and most importantly, DESIRED by the recipient. A masterclass with a great musician, artist, author, etc… is similar in nature.
This is profoundly different from the nature and role of assessment in school!
On another note, school reform and innovation is dependent on a willingness to challenge the norms of assessment I dismiss here in this blog.
My doctoral research was based on creating a successful alternative learning environment for the most at-risk learners within a prison for teens. The Governor, Commissioner of Education and state legislature freed us of all curriculum and assessment requirements. This freedom was essential for us in creating a learning environment in which the needs, interests, passions, curiosity and competence of students who were habitual school failures were able to grow and reacquaint themselves with learning.
Most other “school reform” efforts merely prepare students to increase achievement (another vulgarity) on other people’s assessment instruments.
We need to save the city from Godzilla (assessment).
Ben Grey says
Gary, I agree with much of what you discuss in your Reggio Emilia material, but you’re missing it on assessment.
Assessment is merely feedback. And feedback is imperative for learning. You can’t have learning without feedback.
While I agree with your position on the kind of assessment you are discussing, you are still only discussing a limited aspect of the construct. Assessment is feedback. It is that simple. And that complex. Like any tool of learning, it can be misapplied and misinterpreted. I believe it would make your point more poignant if you focused on the types of assessment you feel are detrimental rather than stating all assessment is evil. Because it simply is not.
Will- Sorry to carry this on. I don’t mean to comment-jack this post. I will absolutely carry this conversation to another space of you’d prefer it didn’t carry on here. I don’t want to distract from the other great ideas being posited.
Steve Ransom says
Ben, the more I think about this, the more I’m not so sure that assessment requires feedback at all – and this is much of the problem with much “assessment”. A great deal of time is spent measuring or evaluating performance, but far too often there is a lack of valuable feedback given to the learner being assessed. A grade is mere reporting and often not useful feedback at all. Standardized forms of assessment are also more often than not a reporting of performance along with a rank and distribution in comparison to others. The student receives little to no actual feedback on his or her performance beyond that. As Gary says, assessment benefits the system more than it does the learner. However, I certainly do agree that it is possible to use assessment to provide valuable feedback to the learner – and that great teachers strive for this. It’s a shame that it isn’t often situated naturally in the learning context, as I think Gary is suggesting.
Ben Grey says
The type of assessment you are referring to is certainly the kind that I believe provides the best example of how not to use assessment in education. And, that is only one part of assessment.
Like I said, assessment is simply feedback. It isn’t exclusively held to ranking or distributing a comparison of one over another. When I play golf, I am constantly assessing my game. I’m gathering feedback about how I’m playing and how I need to improve. The same can be said for a runner getting split times during a track practice. Or a musician. Or a student learning how to learn. The feedback is essential. And the feedback is assessment. It doesn’t have to compare one to another. Or rank learners. It can simply inform the learner of what they are learning and how they are doing along the process. One of the best examples of this is evidenced in video games. That’s the type of feedback/assessment we need to capture for our students. It’s immediate, meaningful, and informs the next step in the learning process.
I’d highly encourage you to read Rick Wormeli’s work on formative assessment. He nails it. As does Grant Wiggins.
Steve Ransom says
Perhaps we are down to the level of semantics, but I still believe that feedback requires assessment of some form (formal or informal; summative or formative) and that assessment doesn’t require feedback at all… although they ideally should work together. I would argue that evaluating a musician’s performance as a B- is not feedback at all, but rather simply an assessment without context. A runner who is getting useful and descriptive information that he/she has been trained to know what to do with is entirely different than giving a student a 80%.
But, I think we do both agree on what assessment should be…
These are great problems to wrestle with.
Will Richardson says
Ben…comment here as much as you like. I’m honored to host. ;0)
Very late to this discussion but…
I think you may be confusing assessment and evaluation as there is often so much overlap. Assigning a grade is evaluative (as are standardized test results), feedback is usually more descriptive as indicated by many others above.
We’re lucky in Ontario to have a pretty progressive look at different kinds of assessment..and it’s mostly descriptive and to encourage reflection and improvement, hopefully with the learner in mind, rather than the teacher.
I’m reminded of Seymour Papert’s Constructionism and the idea of creating a public artifact that is subject to scrutiny, which = feedback. I’d have to agree with Gary and Peter…feedback that promotes learner agency and control rather than teacher assessment is the best scenario.
Dean Shareski says
I think that many are trying to invoke this type of assessment that is warranted and welcomed by the learner.
But yes, I agree that most times these conversation and intentions, though well meaning, is often quickly turned into the traditional rank and file that most schools and districts obsess over.
I’m simply advocated for understanding assessment in a way that honors the learner and seeks only to help them learn more, not to order or punish. I’m not willing to abandon this shift because of the baggage that many carry.
Will Richardson says
You shouldn’t abandon it, but in all honesty, that kind of assessment isn’t nurtured, celebrated, utilized at all in most public schools. (And, notsomuch in private schools either, though there is more of an opportunity for it.) I totally agree that “assessment” however it’s defined or framed should seek to “help them learn more” instead of define what they already know.
Steve Ransom says
To me, this quotation that you post goes a long way in this discussion:
“Students are not merely consumers of education laboring for their next reward. Their success is measured not just in terms of tests passed, but by the ways in which they apply their earning to help others. They measure their significance not by how they have distinguished themselves, but by the impact that they had on their communities and the world.”
Balance here in this discussion seems to be a good thing. The problem right now is indeed that formal assessment and standardized everything is what is driving teaching… and in many cases, hampering/limiting learning. Our society has become obsessed with ranking, lists, accreditation, competition, and other outward measures of “success”, worthiness, and merit. It is bigger than this issue of assessment. It is a reflection on socio-cultural changes in general.
All I hear about these days from parents with children in high school is pressure to get good SAT scores, pass the Regents, take more AP courses… Colleges/Universities are obsessed with efforts to improve their rankings, often tied to incoming freshman SAT (or some other measure) scores… I see kids carrying such a burden of these pressures to “succeed”. I never hear mention of their passions, the really interesting things that they are pursuing in school, the great experiences they are having,…
We have created a meritocracy largely built around such outward measures of success that can be easily measured and quantified… largely influenced by socio-economic status. I think all of this craziness is moving us further and further away from the “ideals” of education and a democratic society with liberty and justice for all.
Gary Stager says
I really wish educators would consider drawing a line in the sand and limiting the scope and destructive power of assessment. I stand by my earliest statement, less assessment is better than more.
Gary Stager says
Let me attempt to clarify this one more time.
Fundamentally, the tension in education is over agency. Who is control and who benefits from an action.
I am all about granting maximum agency to the learner.
Assessment benefits the teacher (or system). It’s an unquenchable thirst too often at odds with the needs or desires of the learner.
When a learner is engaged in an authentic apprenticeship experience, feedback may be desired BY the learner because it BENEFITS the learner first and foremost, not the system.
Assessment, regardless of its motivation, results in ranking, sorting, judgement and punitive measures towards the learner.
In a previous comment, you stated “I DO NOT teach what is assessed. I could not give a ratâ€™s ass about assessment. That liberates me to meet the needs of my students (be they 5 or 50) on their terms, not some bureaucrat or temp working at Pearson.”
How do you know the needs of your students?
Ellen Hrebeniuk says
We have had “issues” with our national benchmarking tests in literacy and numeracy (Naplan tests). The tests provide schools with very detailed information in their results. Some schools have encouraged disabled students to stay away on test day, and one teacher was reported to be altering answers (matter is still under investigation) in an effort to improve the school’s result! The problem is the continual threat that Naplan results will be used to rank schools. This is particularly absurd given that the Naplans focus on the *minimum* standard, not the maximum (my son’s results were given as “above Band X”).
My sons’ primary school won’t play games. They have used last year’s results constructively, altering their teaching to focus a bit more on the areas the children struggled with (eg pronouns). It probably helps that the school is not prestigious — it’s a local public school in a not-so-rich area. It is much more difficult to resist teaching to the test in an area where your school has to compete for enrolments.
Carl Anderson says
To build on Gary’s earlier suggestion that we think about the role of assessment in terms of learning that occurs outside school settings I think it might help even to think about it in the context of other species. Take my dogs for example. Aside from formal training experiences I have observed two distinctly different types of learning experiences they engage in on their own. One involves learning by cause and effect and the other involves discovery.
An example of cause and effect learning is problem solving. This type of learning is fueled heavily by a motivation to attain a result. For example, for most of the day my dogs have free reign of the back yard but at night I lock them in the garage. My shepard-husky mix, who is our most hyper dog and arguably the best problem solver, doesn’t like this kind of confinement and constantly works to find ways to get out. The results of both her failed and successful attempts to open the dog door (or break it open) are forms of feedback and through this trial and error she engages in self-assessment until she has learned what she needs to satisfy the desire that motivates her.
The other type, discovery learning, has no motivational force and also lacks assessment. An example of my dogs learning through discovery is one day my newfoundland discovered, while digging a hole in my yard, that the soil below was cool. When he was a pup, and even a young adult dog, he rarely engaged in digging behaviors but through discovery he learned this was an effective way to keep cool outside on hot days. No one taught him to do this, it was not motivation that led him to dig (if I remember right he was digging because I forgot to trim his nails), and there was no assessment in the form of trail and error. I suppose you could argue that his discovery that the ground was cool was a form of feedback but it certainly was not assessment. And, how do I know he learned that the ground under the top layer of soil was cool? He only digs on hot days and he always sits in his holes. He has one this for ten years (he is 15 years old).
I also have done some minimal training with these dogs. In those cases the curriculum is set by me and it is my desire for them not to jump up on people, sit when asked, and come when called that is driving the learning. In training I rely heavily on formative assessment every step of the way to observe whether the dog is learning these desired skills and behaviors and whether I need to differentiate my instruction. I also rely heavily on feedback in the form of praise and treats.
I think most schools, educators, and policy makers mistake learning for training. Training requires assessment an feedback, learning doesn’t.
Gary Stager says
or should bark, “Woof?”
Peter Skillen says
Ok, I don’t even know where to start with this. Maybe we should set up a collaborative document to discuss it! Oh wait a minute! Then we would be working together – giving feedback to one another. Oh – I guess we are all doing that now…in response to this post. We are assessing one another’s ideas and hopefully building some new understandings as a result.
Ben Grey makes this comparison of the terms ‘assessment’ and ‘feedback’. A necessary, and natural, process.
Gary talks about agency – ‘who is in control’. That is an issue that overrides much more than ‘assessment’ – although it brings to that necessary process a vulgar taste and brutal implementation. I hate THAT form of ‘schooly assessment’ as much as anybody.
I like the distinction made here in Ontario between ‘assessment’ and ‘evaluation’. (PDF – http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/policyfunding/growSuccess.pdf)
I love the assessment piece – I hate the evaluation.
We can distinguish between assessment ‘for’ and assessment ‘as’ learning.
“As part of assessment ‘for’ learning, teachers provide students with descriptive feedback and coaching for improvement. Teachers engage in assessment ‘as’ learning by helping all students develop their capacity to be independent, autonomous learners who are able to set individual goals, monitor their own progress, determine next steps, and reflect on their thinking and learning.”
This is in direct disagreement with what Gary said: ‘Thinking and learning, including self-reflection and goal setting is not assessment. They may be distant cousins, but theyâ€™re not the same thing.’
Semantics play in here a great deal as others have said.
My whole blog is focused on ‘who is in charge of the learning’. I have great distaste for the school ‘system’ and many of its practices. I see the need for ‘school reform’ – or ‘education reform’. But, I am not so naive as to think we can operate in the world with no feedback. Learning is in the connections…and that includes reasonable assessments – by self and by others – as we are doing here.
As a teacher in Ontario, I was about to do exactly that — distinguish between assessment and evaluation. 🙂
Assessment FOR learning is an engagement between the teacher and the student, ideally on an individual, differentiated, basis. As a part of their meta-cognitive development, students should be encouraged to reflect on their own learning; to self-assess their own learning journey — where they’ve been and where they want to go.
I believe many of the issues I’ve read here are more around the negative impacts of the evaluation process, particularly within a standardized model. Like everyone else in this discussion, I am incredibly disturbed by the impact of standardized testing and the resulting “teaching to the test” that I see in our schools in Ontario as well. When it’s time for the provincial literacy test, teachers and students are scrambling, and God forbid the school finds itself low in the provincial rankings that result.
Carl’s analogy with his dogs is a rather interesting one. Training versus learning … we ‘train’ students to perform in the ways expected by our culture/society, and they’re graded for it. That grade ranks them, for college & university, professional training, awards and recognition, etc…
Their performance is really the outward expression of their training, but does it reflect what they’ve learned? For many, I have a feeling they’ve simply learned what and how to perform.
A shift is needed on a societal level, not only in the school system. Evaluation is EVERYWHERE, and young people feel the constant pressure to meet the highest possible standard just to get somewhere in their chosen career. Look at what the law schools are doing as a result – http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/22/business/22law.html?th&emc=th (article in the NY Time yesterday)
Gary Stager says
While agency does indeed concern a much greater range of educational concerns, assessment is the quickest, cheapest and simplest way to rob agency from the learner.
C’mon Peter, the term, “assessment” is used 99.99999% of the time to describe what adults do to children in captive settings. We may wish that the term was more expansive, but it’s not. It’s a toxic word used to describe practices that are mostly bad for and imposed upon unwilling children.
Again, I ask why are people working so hard to claim and rehabilitate a term that in daily like if imbued with completely different meaning?
Gary Stager says
Collaboration, conversation, reading, writing, riding a bicycle and eating a sandwich are not forms of assessment.
Peter Skillen says
Gary, it is not ‘assessment’ that is the enemy – it is the pathetic and evil application of it that needs to be attacked.
Why claim and rehabilitate the term? I would ask, why let them (the evil empire) lay claim and ownership to it and make a fortune from it with all their publishing and computer-managed learning crap. The term does NOT mean the same in all parts of the world – nor in all domains for that matter.
“Collaboration, conversation, reading, writing, riding a bicycle and eating a sandwich are not forms of assessment.” But, assessment (or whatever you choose to name it – ‘feedback’) are an integral component.
And, honestly, within the contexts which I work, the term is used – and I will continue to fight for its appropriate definition and use – rather than trying to erase it from the lexicon.
Ewan McIntosh says
Sorry that I’m late to this party, but when I re-read the post I wondered why it perplexed me so much.
In Scotland, we were having the same frustrations (as were the Australians and Kiwis) at the turn of the last decade. It was, to cut a very long story short, the formulisation of Assessment for Learning, and Assessment As Learning, that provided the language through which school leaders and teachers could work this challenge, and come out the other side with both worthwhile assessments AND worthwhile learning.
I’ve banged on about it enough to you, Will, so apologies 😉 But the links to the original research basis (VERY short and accessible) might be of interest to your readers:
Inside the Black Box (original plus subject-specific versions):
Learning and Teaching Scotland’s site:
Hope that’s of help!
Pascal de Caprariis says
This posting remeinds me of the quality control guru W. Edwards Deming’s comment that one should never set goals. Instead, one should set up procedures for continual improvement.
We need to educate the young to effectively critically assess online information to weed out all of the net junk.