Even as adults, many of us break into a cold sweat when we learn that we’re required to take a test. The idea conjures up images of being sorted into the Bluebirds rather than the desired Eagles. Just a quick look around at our fellow Bluebirds was enough to indicate that there might be something wrong with us, especially when checking out the makeup of the Eagles. This experience and our assigned meaning to it often resulted in the development of all kinds of false beliefs about our worthiness, all of which had nothing whatsoever to do with the initial classroom assessment.

Add to this example of an early childhood experience the high-stakes comprehensive testing that can result in school funding or potential closure, and it’s no wonder the boogeyman rules when it comes to the topic of classroom assessment. Perhaps it’s time to face down the boogeyman.

According to an article by The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement, classroom assessments can actually help to improve teaching.

This article suggests a fundamental shift in how educators view assessment. “Rick Stiggins, a national expert on classroom assessment, suggests that educators replace their assessment of learning with a more balanced approach, using not only assessment of learning but also assessment for learning. That is, teachers should use assessment not only to actively and continuously measure a learner’s progress but also to acquire useful data to inform their own instructional practice (Stiggins, 2004).”

Okay, Stiggins’ suggestion sounds reasonable. But the question that always follows is how we move forward. Following are highlighted next steps.

  • Involve learners in the assessment process: This step essentially requires a shift in how assessment results are used. It points to the need to help learners clearly understand the standard to which their work will be evaluated, as well as providing examples of what success looks like.
  • Provide high-level instructional feedback: Providing timely feedback can support the learning process. “Useful feedback, says author Thomas Guskey (2005), is ‘both diagnostic and prescriptive. It reinforces precisely what students were expected to learn, identifies what was learned well, and describes what needs to be learned better’ (p. 6).” Basically, feedback needs to offer suggestions on how to improve.
  • Compile and analyze assessment results: This compiled data can provide educators with a better understanding of what worked and what didn’t, leading to a better understanding of what to do next.
  • Differentiate corrective instruction: This step basically says that corrective instruction must be different than the initial teaching.

It’s pretty obvious that accountability for both educators and learners will continue to be spotlighted as steps are being taken toward education reform. This article (posted at Education.com) provides a compelling case for the value of regular formative classroom assessment and how it can pay dividends in student achievement. From the perspective of this article, it’s clear to see that the jig is up for the classroom assessment boogeyman.

Sharon Taylor
Certified Emergenetics Associate