What do today’s educators and Goldilocks have in common? Both face big decisions to be made among a spectrum of choices. Goldilocks faced just a few decisions, and none of them impacted a classroom full of students! But just like Goldilocks, educators—from teachers to principals and district administrators—are looking for the right fit, the perfect balancing point between too little and too much. For educators, assembling assessment systems that are “just right” is a daunting challenge, but not an insurmountable one. The key lies in the concept of balance: balancing needs against resources and finding the right balance of assessment instruments and procedures. The “just right” amount of assessment takes as little time away from classroom instruction as possible, yet yields trustworthy information that supports the learning of every child. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach; each school’s unique needs inform what’s right in each classroom.
The first step toward creating a balanced assessment plan is clearly articulating your assessment needs— this includes understanding what standards you must meet, what measures of growth matter, and what activities have real instructional impact. School administrators and support personnel, including health and counseling services, should be at the table with teachers to discuss all the issues. It’s critical to engage with the whole child when considering assessment needs. Academic assessment is a crucial piece of the puzzle, but it is only one part in the whole.
The second step is understanding the full array of assessments that each class or grade currently engages with, including classroom-based assessments such as quizzes, end of course tests, research papers, performance tasks, etc. Again, all staff must collaborate to share and discuss the various assessments at play within each building.
These two steps—knowing what you need and understanding what you already have—allow you to make strategic decisions as you balance your needs with your resources. This assessment evaluation requires some level of assessment and data literacy—not only about assessment in general, but about the specific instruments that are used locally. Ask questions like:
- What kind of data do our assessments provide, and in what format?
- What instructional or educational questions do the data help illuminate?
- Who has access to the data?
Students benefit tremendously in the long run when each school takes time to understand the various assessment needs, the instruments available, and how to use them. Although this sort of intentional, collaborative work can be time-intensive up front, such careful and strategic planning will help you maximize data so that students are supported as they progress on their unique learning paths. There is no such thing as an assessment system that fits everyone, but each school can create one that is just right for their students. Such a balanced approach to assessment must include multiple measures, feedback opportunities, and measurement credibility—all this will ensure your assessment approach truly supports student learning, and that’s what matters most.
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