I engaged in an email debate with a colleague today…one who I respect and admire hence the email debate. We were disagreeing on whether or not we need to incorporate another test to see whether or not kids are meeting the benchmark.
It brought to mind this post by Ben Grey where he asks why teachers cringe at the word assessment. I responded to the post (mine’s the one with the grammar mistake…I tend to do my blog reading late at night when the kids are in bed and I am tired), but the idea has stuck in my head.
We do cringe when we hear the word assessment…but I think it’s because we’ve gotten confused at what the word means. We’ve confused the word assessment with the word test. Too many tests we give as a school/district/state/county are not meant to assess, they are meant to provide data and too often that data is useless to teachers because it comes too late or is too confusing or isn’t related to that course. A Geometry teacher can’t use last year’s state test scores for planning since last year the student took Algebra.
Our state gives a reading test three times throughout the year, but the data is hidden away on a web site without clear instructions and without any explanation of what the data means…yet I lost two days and the science teachers lost one day to get this data. For what?
Assessment is a different story. Yes, testing is one way to assess, but only if the results of the test make sense and are given back in time to do something with. I teach Language Arts, so I can use last year’s test scores at the start of the year somewhat, but it is still only one day’s worth of data and it is only a matter of weeks before I turn to my class assessments to make decisions. Assessments are the tools I use to see whether or not my students have mastered the skill at hand and the tools I use to adjust my teaching accordingly.
Assessment goes beyond the test. One of my favorite ways of doing a quick assessment is an exit ticket. One question on an index card and I know what is confusing my students or who needs remediation or who is trying to skim the reading instead of actually reading it. Another common assessment I use is writing, usually a paragraph or two addressing an issue in their reading or an essay responding to the a text. By looking at what students are pulling out of the text, I can tell how deep they are into it. Going beyond paper, I talk to my kids, especially about what they are reading and writing. I let them tell me what they need help with.
And yes, I give tests.
But I cringe when someone outside the classroom starts to tell me about assessments because they usually aren’t talking about useful assessment. They’re talking about testing and that isn’t always useful…not to teachers at least.