Assessments that Work: Using data to make progress

Nov 29 2016 0 Comments

- Karen Austin, adjunct faculty; Dept. of Teaching and Learning

Last week, we discussed several different types of assessments and when to use them. This week, I’d like to share a few informal ways to assess students and ways teachers use what they gather to make instructional decisions.

Teachers traditionally use assessments to determine what students have learned. This type of assessment, known as assessment of learning, measures how well standards have been met.

More recently, there has been a shift to assessments for learning. These formative assessments support students’ and teachers’ learning practices during the learning process instead of after. This is very important in giving teachers real-time info, and helps determine next steps, differentiate instructional practices, and helps determine outcomes and groups students for instructional practices.

What I like and find valuable about formative assessments is that they are a part of the learning process, instead of testing just to test. For example: formative assessments help us check for understanding: Did the student get it? Do they need re-teaching? We can identify opportunities to provide students with appropriate feedback so they can use that information to improve their skills and performance. Again, with such diverse groups of students, it is imperative that we differentiate our instruction.

Let’s consider a couple of informal assessments that are quick to implement. First, an informal observation. Often done using a class list or a checklist of skills on a clipboard while visiting students in groups, educators take notes on acquisition of skills or if students are struggling. Teachers then use this information to put together a skills group for those who need re-teaching, or for advanced learning. All of this is based simply on what the teacher observes. These notes can be used for individual student conferences and for goal setting, as teachers are teaching students to be owners of their own learning. These informal observations often lead teachers to ask themselves questions around their planning, such as:

  • Who needs immediate attention in order to continue with this lesson?

  • Who might need a different approach?

  • Who needs to be challenged?

This data can be used to tier students for small-group instruction, or for independent opportunities.

Another strategy is student exit cards, or slips. These are often used at end of daily lessons to give teachers quick feedback on how students perceive the lesson or perform. These tell us what next steps students need to move forward, can indicate a need for re-teaching, or alert the teacher to misconceptions that can be addressed during the next lesson.

A final assessment type that takes more time, but allows students to be involved, is a portfolio. This is an assessment tool that will show students’ progress over time. Having students involved in selecting work samples and highlighting their performance keeps them engaged and motivated. Having students present and speak to their own progress is a powerful learning opportunity for both the teacher and the student.

There are other additional informal assessments teachers use to gauge the learning of students that allow for assessment to be “constant rather than at a single point in time.”

On the other side of the conversation, I must acknowledge formal assessments–or standardized tests–and that there are pros and cons to standardized testing. In education, we spend a great deal of time on ensuring learning and the learning environment is student-centered. It is my opinion assessments should also center on the learner and their needs, and assess for learning to be a continual process.

We would love to hear from you. In the comment section below, share with us the informal assessments you use to measure student progress.