Assessments: Left Behind

Written by Nathan Lang and Jeff Veal, co-founders of LeadUpNow and #LeadUpChat

We can’t argue that there is a movement to change the landscape of education. Just google search differentiated instruction, authentic learning, or project based learning and you’ll get a plethora of search results. Blogs, models, theories, strategies, challenges and evidence, they’re all there to help support teachers move forward so that students are prepared for the college and career.

But there is still an aspect of the Big Three (Curriculum, Instruction, Assessment) that is left behind. Yes, Curriculum and Instruction have been upgraded to the iPhone 6 Plus, while Assessment is still at a Nokia flip phone. Why is Assessment so antiquated in it’s ways and how do we overhaul it?

It’s the same reason Captain Kirk always flew the Enterprise. (Well, yes there was that one time with the Klingon Bird of Prey…). They’ve upgraded the specs and standards, and installed fancier torpedoes and faster warp drives. But in the end, it it still the Enterprise. It’s all Kirk has ever known.  Even though we have seen teaching strategies come and go, the “test” is all we have ever known.  Many, will say that standardized testing is the reason classroom assessments are “left behind.” It’s time to leave that excuse behind.

The Way It Was…

When we were in school, we probably learned for one of two (or both) reasons. They make the teacher (or our parents) happy. Or earn a high grade (via an assessment/assignment). We wanted directions spelled out and wanted to know exactly what it took to earn an A or high favor with the teacher. This made us “good students.” We knew what the teacher wanted and when it was due. We rarely bought in to the assignment, as it was a means to an end. Why would we take ownership over something that had no personal value to us.  Why would we give more than expected? Be creative? Be rebellious?

The Way It Can Be…

Until now. We now know the impact now of self-directed learning.  Which in turn impacts assessment. Let’s ponder two possibilities…

Create Conditions for Students to Self Assess

If we are self-directed learners, we thrive and crave on feedback. Let’s say we’ve bought into authentic, learner centered instruction.  The data we collect from an assessment can help to inform next steps for students in the learning process but it doesn’t exclusively guide student learning.

A key condition that our students need as they become self directed is autonomy. The teacher as coach or facilitator is more than wordsmithing, but an imperative for the assessment culture to change on any campus. Increasingly teachers serve as coaches to help students take personal ownership. Student autonomy is about providing space and time for connections with ideas and concepts. Self assessments push students as they have to analyze and answer questions exercising their ability to be problem solvers. Additionally, when we foster conditions in our classrooms and school buildings for students to think critically about their own learning we communicate something powerful about the role of reflection. Today’s teacher coach gives permission for reflection to occur and isn’t quick  to “move on” in order to cover the next unit, slow down and savor the learning.

Use Data as a Strategy Tool

There are multiple strategies we can employ such as the power in using student data journals. A data journal can guide students to literally capture the big picture of their goals, outcomes, and feel personal success. The data collected in a journal can drive students to ask reflective questions about their progress. Data can be a powerful tool to help students in the journey of learning, but the constant stream of benchmarks and other “assessments” misses the rich landscape of possibilities. Assessments that are only teacher generated make for an anemic student and not reflective of the whole student.

The Way It Will Be?

Are we still asking students to use an iPhone 6 Plus Monday through Thursday and then asking them to use a Nokia Flip phone on Friday. It’s time to reassess our assessments.  It’s time to provide meaningful feedback in a way that motivates students to strive for awesome. Not to please the teacher, but to push themselves to achieve their learning goals and beyond. We must go beyond.

As the landscape of learning is changing we are certain of one thing…we are done with traditional, regular maintenance quiz/test checks, which not only lack inspiration, but does little to spur students to spiral deeper learning connections. Assessments themselves should ignite learning not extinguish it.

This post is the result of a broader conversation from our Instructional Leadership Series “Rules of Engagement” at #LeadUpChat. Thank you to all the educators who see education differently. 

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Seeker

This is part 1 of three parts in a Curious Collective Series:

Some of my fondest memories involve taking teams of high school students out of the country on summer trips to do acts of compassion, several weeks at a time to 3rd world countries. On one such summer night, a group of my older high school boys decided they wanted to take the younger freshman guys “snipe” hunting. You could just see the excitement in the younger guys, the thought of getting to do something so cool sounding with the older teens and a sense of adventure.

Now, I hope that I am not giving it away when I say that there is no such thing as a “snipe.” Yes, a bit of fun at the expense of some naive boys I will admit. The older teenage boys had asked my permission, I allowed it as it was all in good fun, plus I didn’t want to miss out on the awesome hilarity that would ensue. For like an hour, I stood and watched as this group of brave hearted boys went snipe hunting with flash lights on an unsuspecting beach. The older guys manufactured quite a show, and had those newbies believing they had seen a snipe, only a mere few feet from being within their reach.

Finally, I had to put an end to the shenanigans and reveal to these seekers of sport that there was in fact no snipe to catch. Man, at first they were not happy to put it mildly,  and of course felt they had wasted their time. In the eyes of a 15 year old maybe…but…

It wasn’t a waste…they were doing important work, they were seeking. photo-1441035245556-b476ee501efa

Agreed, they came up empty handed but everyone including our newest explorers had a good laugh and made a forever memory. What those guys experienced is what we to be more as as educational leadersThe Curious Collective. 

When young teachers enter the profession not afraid to go snipe hunting, they often don’t know what they don’t know. They will chase after wild ideas because they are passionate, believing that in the end it will be what is best for kids, a sense of optimism and idealism that mentors often say, “don’t worry – give it a couple of years and you will feel differently.” This should not be so. As teachers become building leaders, or even district office personnel, the sense of wonder and seeking can to often be replaced by compliance, mandates, and a sense of disillusionment. There is another way.

Instead, we need to be a curious collective, not afraid to:

  1. Give permission – to self and others to seek even if the answers don’t seemingly materialize right away. You have individuals and teams of people surrounding you just waiting for you to say, “yes.” Be known as a gracious permission giver and create conditions where “seeking” is not a lost art.
  2. Go explore – As an/the edleader for your campus or team lead the way to seek out adventure and discover new opportunities to create pathways of learning, innovation, and discovery. Seek out individual and team PD, PLC, PLN opportunities that will elevate the journey for both your staff and students. Be curious with your people.
  3. Ask questions – along the way ask the questions that no one currently is willing to ask. Model risk taking and a growth mindset in your meetings with staff, coffee with parents, and sit downs with students.
  4. Celebrate – be intentional about celebrating the process, the journey that your students, teachers, or other edleaders have been on. When we celebrate we are validating the process. 99% of the time authentically celebrating someone doesn’t take any money just some time and relational energy.

photo-1438480478735-3234e63615bbI want to challenge you to be apart of the Curious Collective as we change the conversation and tone of education. Seek and you will find.

-Jeff  | twitter @heffrey