Why We Need Assessment Literacy as Part of Teacher Preparation

Why we need assessment literacy as part of teacher preparationImagine you go to your radiologist for an X-ray. She is highly qualified to do this task. The radiologist sends the film to the doctor to interpret the results. The doctor, however, only received a passing grade in interpreting the results, so she does the best she can and decides that a small black dot on the x-ray is really not important. Six months later you experience pain and are told the black dot was actually a fracture. It could have been correct with minor treatment six months ago, but now the damage is much more significant.

Yes, this is an extreme case, but it points out the impact of ill-informed or inadequate training in the interpretation and application of data results.

Scenarios similar to this happen frequently in education, and the results are no less daunting. The misuse and misapplication of data impact the lives of students every day, whether the data are used for promotion and graduation or for informing teaching. Some teachers do receive the training they need to competently administer, interpret, and apply the results of tests and assessments used to make critically important decisions concerning their students. Others may not have received this content in their teacher preparation programs. More alarming is the fact there are no requirements for teacher certification around assessment literacy standards in the teaching profession.

As defined by the National Task Force on Assessment Education for Teachers, “Assessment is the process of gathering information about student learning to inform education-related decisions… One becomes assessment literate by mastering basic principles of sound assessment practice, coming to believe strongly in their consistent, high-quality application in order to meet the diverse needs of all students, and acting assertively based on those values.” (www.assessmentliteracy.org) Without a deep understanding of what constitutes a balanced approach to assessment, as well as what constitutes an assessment-literate educator, our teachers are ill-prepared.

Currently, preservice and in-service teachers are being told to use data to inform decisions made in relationship to student learning. They are not, for the most part, being given the support they need to do so effectively. Classroom teachers are also faced with an avalanche of data from a variety of silos ranging from federally mandated high-stakes tests, to state and district interim benchmarks, to daily quizzes, observations, and performance assessments. The sheer volume of data is daunting. Teachers are not being equipped to access, sort, and apply assessment data to inform their own pedagogy, let alone to assist parents in understanding the bewildering array of evaluation tools.

It is time for teacher preparation programs to better prepare preservice (initial) and in-service (advanced) educators with the assessment literacy knowledge, skills, and expertise to effectively make the best use of robust data toward the ultimate goal of education – transforming the lives of every learner and transforming society by being an institution for social reform (Rosebrough & Leverett).

Highly effective educators forever benefit in becoming assessment literate…”

At present, I teach a graduate course in program design for practicing classroom teachers, and one of the topics we discuss is testing and assessment. At the end of the course, I ask students: How has your perspective in education changed (or has it been possibly reinforced) as a result of your newly acquired knowledge in this course? A few comments from my July teachers: “Highly effective educators forever benefit in becoming assessment literate to provide further evidence of student learning while addressing common educational goals.” And: “Steps that I believe would assist not only myself but educators across the board would be to first assist with design of summative and formative assessments.” Often, my graduate students state this is the first course where they have discussed the critical need for assessment literacy skills and knowledge.

A logical solution to this critical need is two-fold: One is to ensure that every teacher candidate leaves their credentialing experience assessment literate. This needs to be a requirement for credentialing. The second is to provide advanced programs with strong assessment literacy components for practicing educators. What might this model look like? Integrating assessment literacy throughout the program with focused content and application assignments is most likely to be successful.

Our teacher preparation program is also in the midst of a major curriculum reconceptualization process. Eight literacies have been identified and defined in order to provide candidates with the essential knowledge, critical dispositions, and performances to enter the profession. Assessment literacy is one of the foundational literacies in the program. The design clearly articulates assessment literacy skills from the first course in the initial program through to the capstone course in the advanced degree. A systems approach to assessment that includes the purpose of each tool, i.e. summative, formative, and interim assessments, how to access the data, when to appropriately use it, and how to interpret and apply the data to inform learning is the goal of the assessment literacy process across and throughout the program.

Comprehensive, balanced, and quality assessment systems have the potential to support the teaching and learning process. Providing teachers with the skills, knowledge, and expertise to be assessment literate is one piece to educational excellence. The time is long overdue to replace silos with systems that require collaboration, communication, and critical thinking.

“Why we need assessment literacy as part of teacher preparation” is one of a series of blogs on Multiple Measures Done Right: The Seven Principles of a Coherent Assessment System. Check out our webinar tomorrow for more insights on building assessment systems that work. Previous posts in this series are “Going for the Gold” andHow to ensure district goals drive your assessment selection.”