Educational Assessment without Numbers

Educational Assessment without NumbersI was recently over at the Educational and Psychological Measurement group at LinkedIn reading a discussion on Assessment without Numbers. The question at the heart of the discussion is this:

What does a number mean? If someone gets 80 on the TOEFL iBT what does it actually mean? Is someone who gets 85 better than someone who got 80? Really? How?

This question reminds me of an incident with my youngest daughter. I remember asking one of her high school teachers to clarify what he meant when he told her she scored a 79.2 and if it had been a 79.5 he would have given her a B. My questions to him were, “What does a .3 learning look like? What does it mean?” At that time I was doing research about scoring and grading, and how the results were used and shared.

One of the folks in the conversation brought up some good questions: “How do we want the results to be used? What methods of score reporting and interpretation support our intended uses?” This to me is really the starting point.

Ken O’Connor has done work on scoring and grading that has proven quite useful and the title of his book says a lot – How to Grade for Learning. Are we using assessment results for a score or for learning? This leads into formative assessment – the kind talked about by Dylan Wiliam, Sue Brookhart, Jim Popham, Margaret Heritage and others.

What if all educational assessment(s) was not graded? What if we used feedback – descriptive feedback that moved learning forward – and what if we gave students the opportunity to use that feedback right then and there?

As Royce Sadler (1989) states:

For learning to happen, students must…

Hold a concept of quality roughly similar to that of the teacher,
Compare his/her current level of performance with the standard, and
Take action to close the gap.

What if the focus of educational assessment was to help kids close the gap or move beyond?

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