A Question: Why Don’t We Brag About Assessments?
I made it a goal of mine this year to become better at assessments. I’m in the process of writing about it, but it’s turning into a big deal – as I discovered this year, there’s a lot wrapped up in the business of assessment. If I want to focus on assessment (how I measure what I teach), then those decisions have some collateral damage that impacts my curriculum (the order that I teach) and my lessons and activities/projects (the depth at which I teach). I’ve done a lot of things this year and am getting ready to write it all down, but I want to take a minute to throw out an idea to see if it’s reasonable or not.
Some Background: I found myself less involved with blogs than I did last year and I’ve been trying to figure out why. At first, I thought it was because I was in my second year of teaching and wasn’t as desperate for ideas – and this may be true, but I don’t think it’s the whole story. I think it’s related to my focus this year: assessment. In particular, how to create meaningful assessments that are aligned to my content and ask questions at the depth that I want them to. I realize now that I had trouble finding resources for this, so it took me a whole to create an assessment that I was really happy with. But recently, I finally made one (it’s at the bottom of this post) and I’m really happy with. And once I had this, I went back to the blogotwittersphere to look around, and started to notice something…
Thesis Statement: We, as teachers, have lots of lessons and activities we are proud of and blog about. We have lots of procedures and classroom organization that we are proud of and blog about. We have lots of projects we are proud of and blog about. But we don’t have assessments that we are proud of and blog about. And my question is: Why is that?
Reference: Sam Shah’s Favorite Test Question of All Time. This post has always stuck out in my memory, even though it’s from quite a while ago. I can relate to his excitement: “Aha! I’ve found this question which really digs at the conceptual foundation of this topic. It’s a question I can give meaningful feedback to!” (note: that quote isn’t from Sam, but rather how I would think if I had come up with that question). But the issue is: this is the only post like it that I’ve been able to find. Where one of us is bragging about an item on one of our tests – saying “Look at how good this is! And look at how my students responded!” (again: my words, not his).
I’m still trying to formulate my thoughts on this, but I’ve started to ask: Why don’t we brag about our tests? Our quizzes? Our assessments? Aren’t they just as important as our lessons and projects? Shouldn’t high-level mathematical tasks be tied to high-level questions on an assessment? Or when I read about interesting projects and tasks – are those being used instead of a typical pen-and-paper test? Have I just missed the posts where teachers talk about what goes on their assessments rather than how they assess?
I have some ideas about why this is and it’s based on some observations about cumulative tests I’ve seen and ones I’ve written myself. For the most part, they look like a checklist of things students should be able to do by the end of the unit. And I guess I’ve spent this whole year trying to make my assessments something more than that. Which has been an adventure on its own – and there’s more to come – but the purpose of this post is twofold:
Here’s Where You Come In: Maybe I’m wrong about my thesis above – that we don’t brag about assessments. Maybe these good questions are embedded in our projects or homework or exit tickets and so they don’t end up on our tests. And maybe this is why think-tanks like the Shell Centre exist – purely to think up these good questions – because, as I’ve discovered, it’s hard to write a deep question. So I’m asking – am I missing something? Are there more posts like Sam’s out there that I didn’t find? Does this idea – sharing good assessments – does that even make sense?
I’m still reflecting on the work I’ve done this year regarding assessment, but this is something I think I’d like some input on as I think about it.
Walking to Walk: Here’s my assessment that I’m proud of. I’m still formulating the why I’m proud of it for later posts, but when I finished creating it and looked at it, I ran to the other geometry teacher and annoyingly said “Look! Look how good this is!”. I’ve done this with lessons, worksheets, and projects – but this was the first time for an assessment.
Edit 3/15: The comments are getting really really good!! Thanks to everyone who’s contributed – I feel like I’m processing my thoughts a little better through reading and responding to what you post. I think I came up with another question based on the comments below:
If assessments follow from our curriculum and the depth of our lessons, and these are things we all think about and want to improve and make better, then why aren’t we carrying this idea of self-improvement into the realm of assessment as well?