Tag Archives: routine expertise

How to Assess or Not to Assess

We are currently reviewing our assessment and reporting schedule, asking ourselves if we assess the right things, at the right time, using the right tool.

We recognise we assess for different purposes; for the learner, for the teacher, for the parents, board, Ministry… there are no arguments there. We also acknowledge very clearly that students should be integral to the assessment process and as much as possible direct it and ultimately have the agency to know/request/use for their own learning.

This post is not about that side of things (or maybe it is and I haven’t made the link yet), instead an emerging theme is entering into our discussions related to the mechanics of completing some of the assessments. Let me try and explain this theme with a fictitious example…

Teacher A: Teacher A knows that that by the end week 8 they should have completed a JAM of all their students. As the assessment is required by week 8 they hold off completing any until the start of week 6, then go for it, intensely over a 2 week period to get them done. There is some disruption to classroom programme in order to make it happen.

Teacher B: Teacher B also has the same deadline in week 8. They have a different approach. Right from the beginning of the term, they start their JAMs, completing as required, usually 2-3 a week, starting with those learners who are a priority and the next steps for them are needed right now. There is minimal disruption to the normal classroom programme.

What is best? Does it matter? Perhaps if I try and explore the assumed beliefs that drive their learning, it may shed more light on it.

Teacher A: Teacher A believes that it is important that assessments are completed close together. This way they are more reliable and bring greater accuracy to teaching especially when making comparisons between learners for purposes such as grouping students in your classroom. They are driven by a do-more-less-often approach and the disruption to the classroom programme is outweighed by the value of the assessment information.

Teacher B: Teacher B understands the need for deadlines but does not necessarily agree with them, but they are a professional and do what is required. They look at each student as an individual and as much as possible want to personalise their learning. They are driven by a do-little-and-often approach that responds to the individual needs of the learners. They value the information the assessment provides for them and the learner.

I am more like teacher B than A. As a new entrant teacher I used to have my folder with a section for each student where there was an alphabet name/sound recognition, basic word lists and current running record for each student. Every day, during silent reading or pack up, or if there was a moment during the literacy programme I would call the next learner on the list up or the one I needed to assess. I did this because I needed this information to inform my teaching, I couldn’t wait for it. Students progressed at different speeds, so an ongoing, needs based assessment appraoch was required and the most effective. Even when I taught Year 7/8s for a term a couple of years ago, I used the same approach with my Probes and GloSS.

As I reflect on this now I have noted why I did it this way, and why I would continue to do so if I were be be back in the classroom…

  • completing little assessments often made it manageable and easy to meet those assessment checkpoints/expectations
  • it gave me the flexibility to assess my learners when they needed it most, especially those who you are monitoring more closely or those that you get that hunch about
  • it allowed the assessment to be a normalised part of the classroom programme, rather than something that was compartmentalised a fitted into a particular time slot
  • I it meant that the individual needs of the learner drove the assessment process first and foremost
  • it reinforced that assessment tools have value but there is greater value on the day-to-day learning conversations and observations taking place every moment of every day… and with minimal to no disruption caused by doing a little bit often, it made more time for the real stuff.

As my thoughts wander I am thinking that maybe we should introduce a 3rd teacher too.

Teacher C has the same deadlines described above however they work in a flexible learning space with 2 others teachers. As part of the way they organise their timetable, assessment time is built into each day’s timetable so at least 1 teacher has the time to complete any required assessments while the other 2 manage the learning of the students. Teacher C also happens to lead the maths learning in this collaborative team so she assumes responsibility for all maths assessments, undertaking testing, sharing outcomes both individually with teachers and collectively to analyse any trends. Teacher C beliefs that assessment is a collaborative exercise, that responds to students need and uses the collective expertise of the teachers to analyse data and plan next steps.

There are so many different teaching/assessment scenarios that you could illustrate to add to the dialogue around this theme. I do not expect my teachers to be clones of one another and I acknowledge that there is no right approach, but I do think there are ways you can work that are smarter and that keep learners and learning at the centre. So what do I really want though? Ideally I want to rip up/delete our schedule because:

  • teachers have the knowledge, skills and understanding (confidence?) to use the right assessment tool at the right time to best meet the needs of their learners
  • I have the professional trust to give teachers that agency
  • assessment should be meaningful, timely, and driven by the needs of the learners, not driven by a document or standard
  • as teachers naturally inquire into their practice, they need data to check the effectiveness of their actions.

Thoughts of adaptive expertise are coming into my head now, and one particular slide (#17) from a presentation called Schooling Improvement: What do we know? Perhaps Teacher A is caught in parts of routine expertise, Teacher A is beginning on the adapting pathway?

slide17
Schooling Improvement: What do we know? Helen Timperley Professor of Education The University of Auckland New Zealand.

I guess that as I ponder what this all means, if anything at all, I will continue to review what we do for or assessment. It is part of our ongoing review, changes have already been made in terms of teacher feedback, and now as we compare what we do alongside what others school do, it will only bring more clarity to the process of finding out what works best for us, in our school with our students. But, changing a few mindsets along the way will not be a bad thing…