Saturday, May 14, 2011

Assessment As Easy As Cookies

Testing is to assessment as a chocolate chip is to a chocolate chip cookie.  The problem, however, is that current educational policy tends to focus on only one chocolate chip (i.e., tests), as opposed to the entire chocolate chip cookie (i.e., assessment).  Of course, people have a tendency to use the words "testing" and "assessment" interchangeably.  Certainly, the two words have a lot in common; that is, they both seek to measure student progress. Testing, however, is only a part of assessment.  There is a part to whole relationship that exists between the two words that is often neglected.  Along with tests, effective assessment includes other measures: rubrics, quizzes, portfolios, and other related artifacts.  Nevertheless, the difference between the two ideas is profound, and it is the concept that current educational policy is neglecting to realize.

Certainly, we need to know how students are progressing, what they are understanding, and in what areas they need help.  However, I fear that we are missing the big picture, as we are merely using one tool (i.e., tests) to measure students' abilities.  A single, end of course test becomes a high stakes experience for all involved.  It is putting pressure on students, teachers, and administrators at an unprecedented level.  By no means am I indicating that accountability is bad for our schools.  Certainly, teachers and students need to be held accountable. We want to see progress being made and achievement attained.  We want to be a nation that is prepared to compete on the global stage. The concern that I am raising, however, is one that is increasingly being discussed in educational circles. How can we effectively measure student progress, while emphasizing learning over test taking?  How can we more adequately prepare our students for the world of work that awaits them?  How can we continue to be an educated citizenry prepared to compete globally?

I think we need to begin by using multiple measures to assess student progress.  What are your thoughts related to the role of accountability in schools?