Educators’ Superpowers: Activate!

Superheroes of Assessment LiteracyLife and learning today is all about the questions – not the answers. Ernő Rubik, inventor of the Rubik’s Cube, created something more than a puzzle – he created a question waiting to be answered – and this is the beauty and the challenge that we all face and embrace as educators.  What is our role in this changing learning design? What role does assessment play in this design?

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has provided us with a great gift – the opportunity to reimagine our assessment systems. As we teach, learn, and grow, it is essential to provide professional learning to teachers, coaches, and school leaders to support a common understanding and vision around assessment. It is also critical to reevaluate these assessment systems and eliminate redundant, misaligned, or unused assessments.

In my home state of Maryland, lawmakers clearly voiced concerns about the assessment system in our state. In 2015, they established a commission to make recommendations regarding how to improve the way in which local, state and federally mandated assessments are administered. A key component required the Maryland State Department of Education to survey and assess how much time is spent in each grade and in each local school system on administering local, state and federally mandated assessments, and compile the results of the survey into documents that are consistent across local school systems and grade levels.

Much can be gained from the practice of collecting and reviewing the school, district, and statewide data and listening to input from a variety of stakeholders. ESSA emphasizes the value and necessity of the involvement of stakeholder groups in the process. Students, parents, educators, principals, superintendents, educational organizations, unions, and board of education associations all provide valuable perspectives in the data and assessment discussion.

The Commission to Review Maryland’s Use of Assessments in Public Schools provided recommendations, including stakeholder involvement such as administrators and teachers (inclusive of elementary, middle, and high school with an emphasis on representation of the various student service groups, such as Special Education and English Learners), parents, community and business partners, and the local education association. Globally competitive assessments ultimately support the good teaching and learning that creates strong citizens and a robust economy; all members of the community must be engaged in the planning conversation for this assessment journey.

Maryland’s state superintendent Dr. Karen Salmon summarized our assessment responsibilities recently: “One thing I think we traditionally do in education is we are always preparing kids for our past and not their future, and I think that is something we have to get away from. We need to remember that testing is an integral part of instruction. If you don’t test, you never know if you are successful in what you are teaching. We need some measures, some statewide measures, but we don’t need 10 measures, we may need 1 or 2.” In this age of learning, we as educators must focus on providing the best assessment system to prepare our students for their future – and one that is rich in feedback and opportunities for student ownership of their own learning. As Dylan Wiliam has said, “It is not about being right or wrong, it is about learning.”

We must also remember that assessment and instruction are inextricably linked. Assessment is not merely the end; it is the beginning, as well as the navigational beacons along the way. Therefore, when reviewing and rebuilding our assessment systems, we must take time to consider three critical questions with regard to assessments:

  1. What do you value?
  2. What is your purpose?
  3. What level of information do you want?

Let these guiding questions inform the discussions you have in your school buildings, districts, and states. Focus on what truly matters – our students and their learning. After all, their success is the ultimate goal, and their achievement is the North Star as we plan the why and the how to get them there. Formative, summative and interim assessments, like MAP, will let our students and educators know how they are progressing on their learning journeys. Just as assessment feedback helps us shape the instruction which moves students along on that journey, it also provides students with a critical pairing of purpose and perseverance for the trip.

So as we consider the gift of assessment system redesign brought about by ESSA, take a moment to reflect on the etymology of the word: Assessment. “To assess” derives from the Latin verb “assidere,” to sit by. Hence, in “assessment of learning” we “sit with the learner,” and that implies that it is something that we do with and for our students rather than to them.

It is clear that assessment has a purpose and a pivotal role to play in responsive teaching and learning…”

In this time of challenge and opportunity, it is clear that assessment has a purpose and a pivotal role to play in responsive teaching and learning; however, there are no simple solutions.  May we all have the courage to be superheroes of assessment literacy and craft assessment systems that empower all of our students, embolden their creativity and curiosity, and provide them with the feedback they need as touchstones in their life-long learning journeys.

This post is one of a series of blogs on Multiple Measures Done Right: The Seven Principles of a Coherent Assessment System. Check out our on-demand webinar for more insights on building assessment systems that work, or the previous posts in this series: “Going for the Gold”;How to ensure district goals drive your assessment selection”; and “Why we need assessment literacy as part of teacher preparation.”