Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Assessment On My Mind

I've been thinking a lot about assessment the past few days. Not the high-stakes tests that come once a year or the benchmark tests that come a little more often or even the assessments that come at the end of a unit of study or the end of a chapter. 

It's the day to day assessment that's on my mind. 

We talk a lot about using formative assessment and observational assessment and performance assessment and standbys like checklists and more recent things like exit slips. Teachers at my school use all sorts of tools to assess kids on a frequent basis, and this week we're thinking about how we do that on a daily basis. 

You did NOT hear me say we test our kids every day (do I need to repeat that?). You did, however, hear me say that we are assessing daily. In fact, most teachers do it almost constantly. We're watching, listening, noticing--who can do what and to what degree or in what way. Who is struggling. Who almost has it. Who had it already. 

What gets hard sometimes is articulating that and communicating to others how we're assessing. What evidence do we have? Are we taking notes in the plan book or in a conferring notebook? Do we have a checklist on which we note which kids can do what we're teaching for and which need more support? Do we often look at student work--analyze it? Not analyze like spend a long time picking apart every tiny detail, but looking at the work to see if kids are getting it and if not, which parts they do get and which parts they don't yet.

But what it really boils down to is not what kind of assessment tool we'll use, but what it is we're looking and listening for. There are lots of ways to do the assessing and record the evidence. The thing is, if we don't know what it is we'll see or hear if the kids get what it is we're teaching each day, the tool we use to check doesn't really matter. For example, we often say we're using observation as an assessment (and I think it's probably the most powerful one we can use); however, teachers sometimes struggle when asked to say what it is they are looking for when observing. That's the important part.

This week, I've been talking and thinking and working with teachers on this aspect of assessing. Can we say what it is we'll see/hear to know whether or not kids are learning what we are teaching. If we can't, how do we know our teaching is working? Most of already are assessing almost continually--as we walk around, work with kids, look at their work....doing the teacher stuff we do during lessons. It's just that we don't usually pause to say exactly what it is we need to notice. 

What about you? When you think about assessing, do you think first about the tool? Or what it is you're looking/listening for? Think about it this week--see if you can name what it is you'll see/hear if kids are taking on the things you are teaching. 

Yep, I threw down a challenge. :) 


  1. It's a consistent topic of conversation at our school, too, because we do no formal testing. Everything depends on product & teacher observation & reflection of what students are doing/how things are going, along with student self-assessment & reflection. It's difficult to put into words, isn't it? I think one important point is to look at where you want to go (the end goal) & then see who reaches that goal, & how well. Oh-you've started me thinking of how to put this all down-such a challenge!

  2. I know so much more about my kids than what is on a formal assessment. It comes from walking around as they practice what I've taught. It comes from my hug at the door in the morning. It comes from listening to them read, listening to them talk- interact, ask questions and yes PLAY. Assessment is day to day- hour to hour. When I meet with parents it's these assessment tools that I rely on, not the formal-state or textbook tests that they throw at us.

  3. I'm glad you're thinking & writing about this topic. Yes, it's constant and almost a state of mind.