Assessment – how do I know I know?

At Caldwell, we work off the belief that there are seven laws in teaching that are inviolable.  No matter what age is being taught, or who is teaching them, or what is being taught, the same seven laws must always be observed.  These seven laws are:[1]

  1. The Law of the Teacher, which states that the Teacher must be one who knows the lesson or truth or art to be taught.
  2. The Law of the Learner, which is that the Learner is one who attends with interest to the lesson.
  3. The Law of Language, stating that the Language used as a medium between teacher and learner must be common to both.
  4. The Law of the Lesson requires that the Lesson to be mastered must be explicable in the terms of the truth already known by the learner; the unknown must be explained by the means of the known.
  5. The Law of Teaching shows that all teaching culminates in the arousing of and the use of the pupil’s mind to grasp the desired thought or to master the desired art.
  6. The Law of Learning states that Learning is thinking into one’s own understanding a new idea or truth or working into habit a new art or skill.
  7. The Law of Review brings the teacher to understand that the test and proof of teaching done – the finishing and fastening process – must be a reviewing, rethinking, reproducing, and applying of the material that has been taught, the knowledge and ideals and arts that have been communicated.

As you work through these laws, it becomes apparent that not all learning is the same as to how it is taught, what it produces upon being taught, and especially how we assess that it has in fact been taught by the teacher and learned by the student.  But we live in a results-oriented age.  That means that we want to know that a teacher, who in most cases is a complete stranger to us as parents, has accomplished what we have paid them to do by seeing results: an end product usually in the form of a grade.  And from whence come these grades?  From graded material, of course, would be the common thought.  But this is where we run into real problems.

If we want more than mere information transference in the classroom but rather want the skills and character of your child formed and filled out as well (and that is why you have your children enrolled in Caldwell, right?); then we have to have something that assesses that type of learning as well.  All learning must be assessed according to its own nature, which means that not everything can be put on a test, and in fact the best stuff can’t be given an objective grade at all because it depends upon the subjective opinion of a master concerning their student.  This is the limitation of a student’s grade point average.  It really does not tell us much about the actual student; it only measures his mastery of the content of a given set of courses.

This is a hard thing for those of us living in a modern scientific age to grapple with, but we have to be willing to display the “foolishness of God” if we are going to teach well.  All assessment is subjective, as it depends on the one doing the assessment (the teacher) and thus is a matter of trust and communication between the one assessing and the one using the assessment to make future educative decisions (the family).  It is the hardest act of teaching and the biggest challenge to a school such as Caldwell and our families working together in trust and with great communication.  May God give us grace to handle this challenge well to His glory and honor.

[1] As stated by John Milton Gregory in his classic 19th century work, The Seven Laws of Teaching.

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