Assessment: What's Your Game Plan?

A game plan (sodafish/istockphoto)

Any coach will tell you that the game is than making a score. It's about knowing the rules, of course, but what separates a good player from an excellent one is knowing when to make the right play.

Assessing student achievement is no different. The way student achievement is measured should move beyond the one-dimensional goal of identifying something correctly; it should give students the chance to achieve and demonstrate a deeper understanding of a subject or issue.

“It really matters, this question of not just knowing how to do something, but when it’s the right thing to do,” says Tim Kubik, an independent curriculum consultant for Asia Society.

But adding depth to your assessments takes some thoughtful planning, and a little letting go of the traditional methods. Some tips to get you started:

Set goals. Consider what you want your students to know and be able to do when they graduate high school. For instance, in a globally centered school, the focus is on what it means for students to be globally competent with college and work ready skills. These students need to understand the world through the different subjects, but also should be able to take action to solve problems in a way that demonstrates their knowledge, says Jennifer Chidsey-Pizzo, director of curriculum development for the Asia Society.

For instance, if you’re an algebra teacher, you might set a goal for students to use linear functions and apply them in a real-world way – calculating water usage over time – that leads them to raise awareness of a global issue, such as water conservation.

Create relevant tasks. Your students will find more meaning in the algebra (and in any subject) if you give them an assignment that’s relevant to their lives. Teachers often develop student learning tasks they think are interesting and that cover the standards, but they make no direct connection to the students’ lives, Kubik says. “If the students are going to want to make the effort, you have to make it clear about why they’re making the effort,” he says.

Taking the algebra and water example, ask students to calculate their family’s water usage; this allows them to use math in the real-world, raise awareness of their own role in a global environmental issue, and take meaningful action, via a letter to their family asking them to reduce usage, a video or a public service announcement.

Put students at the center. Don’t spell out what students need to do to demonstrate their knowledge of the material. When moving to a more complex assessment, be careful of overdetermining the task for your students because you could make it alienating. Student creativity is a must, Kubik says. “If you’ve determined a task in such a way that there’s only one possible correct answer, then you have eliminated student voice and choice and the reason they should be doing the task,” he says. Use the words “you” and “your” when asking students to do something, and challenge them to figure out how to answer a driving question.

Step inside their digital world. Students need to use the tools they’re familiar with, and that means cell phones, YouTube and other media often viewed as classroom distractions. For instance, in a leadership class, a student used her blog and her cell phone to communicate with people around the world, shoot video and produce a project that answered the question “what does global leadership mean?” The more teachers allow students to use the media that is part of their everyday lives, the more meaning the students will derive from their assignment, Kubik says.

It’s also a change for teachers. “Instead of reading the same essay 75-80 times, I’m actually experiencing the reality of how my students choose to respond to it,” Kubik says.

Teachers who add this depth to their assessments are changing education to meet students where they are now. While creative assessments take a fine-tuning of the way students are taught, they ultimately create active learners who gather information they can apply to their lives.

Author: Alexandra Moses

Discussion Questions:

Have you broadened the way you assess students? How have your assignments changed to expand what you expect your students to know?

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