Myth Busting: 3 Things We Always Get Wrong About Assessment

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photo credit: Ionics via photopin cc
photo credit: Ionics via photopin cc

With all of the discussion on this blog about eliminating grades, replacing them with feedback, and the overuse of testing, it would be very easy to think that all assessment is the black sheep of the education world and should be eradicated from the face of the education system.

Ask any parent or teacher, “Do schools do enough assessment?” and you’re likely as not to get a response like, “Enough? Are you kidding? My kids are tested to death. There’s way too much assessment, and it gets in the way of teaching. If there were only less assessment, we might be able to teach more and kids would learn more. Enough assessment…are you for real? Sheesh.”

Teachers have recently been making news by declaring they are joining the national opt-out movement and refusing to administer the avalanche of tests being imposed by administrators and politicians. Recently, Karen Hendren and Nikki Jones, from Skelly Elementary School in Tulsa, Oklahoma, published an open letter declaring, “in the recent years, the mandates have gradually squelched the creativity and learning from our classrooms.” They go on to list the assessments that they believe are crowding out real teaching in their first grade classrooms.

I believe I speak for the team at Brilliant or Insane that we agree with the premise: there is too much mandatory standardized testing in schools. But it’s important not to ignore the value that good assessment practices bring to improving the teaching and learning that can take place in a classroom.

The flaw is in thinking that all assessment is the same (that is, bad) and is done for the same purpose. Here are three misconceptions about assessment that, if we understood them better, would help us make better arguments about real, constructive reform in schools.

Myth 1: Assessments are about reducing students to a number.

Too often, when I ask what assessment is for, the response is, “To assign a score to a student.” Whether it’s for purposes of ranking that student among others in her grade, or merely to generate a score so that the teacher has “enough in the gradebook to calculate a grade.”

Assessment shouldn’t be thought of as a “grade generator.” Instead, think of it as collecting “evidence of learning,” which leads us into our next myth.

Myth 2: Assessment is an event that interrupts teaching and learning.

When we assume that assessment interrupts learning, we lose the opportunity to use assessment to improve learning. We often equate assessment with a “test.” But as has been discussed at B or I previously, here and here, assessment can be an opportunity to open a dialogue with students. Frame assessment as a process where students get to “show what they know.” If you include Mark Barnes’s SE2R feedback, assessment becomes a powerful tool to continuously improve what students know, understand, and can do.

Myth 3: Assessment is bad for kids.

This is a natural conclusion in our current environment. We test kids so often in so many ways that it’s hard not to see the negative effects. But assessment isn’t inherently bad for kids, any more than eggs are inherently bad to eat. The problem isn’t the eggs or the assessment, it’s how they’re used. If we eat too many eggs too often, it’s unhealthy. But in balance, and used appropriately, they are beneficial to our diet.

Likewise assessment should be a part of a balanced educational diet. Do just enough of the right kinds of assessment to check your progress and make sure you and your students are still on course.

Part of this means being extremely thoughtful about your assessment and plan it as carefully as you plan your instruction. In my next post I will talk more about what this means and how to choose your assessments.

In the meantime, what other myths about assessment do we need to remember, and how are you rethinking assessment in your classroom?

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Gerald Aungst

Supervisor of Gifted and Elementary Math at School District of Cheltenham Township
Gerald Aungst has more than 20 years experience as a professional educator, specializing in digital technology, mathematics, and gifted education. In his various roles as a classroom teacher, gifted support specialist, administrator, curriculum designer, and professional developer, he has worked to create a rich and vibrant learning culture. He is also passionate about improving learning opportunities for all students. Gerald is a founder of and

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