Assessing Faithfully

A lot of talk lately with many friends about assessment.  It is a multi-faceted word, or art.  The following are a lot of hodge podge from those discussions.  Maybe I can unpack some of it in other blogs.

  1. Assessment includes but is not limited to the need to:
    1. determine what a student has learned about a science (discrete body of knowledge or subject)
    2. demonstrate where a student is in the process of learning a skill (art)
    3. show a teacher where they have not taught well
    4. help reveal areas of weakness for improvement
    5. require a student to demonstrate a specific set of criteria or measure for a specific standard of achievement
    6. provide evidence to parents of progress in education
    7. produce artifacts of learning for future reference
    8. help reveal possible learning proclivities or disabilities
    9. give the student feedback on their progress
    10. provide a means for teacher self-evaluation and supervisory evaluation
  2. With all those in mind, and there are a lot more, it becomes obvious that we have a faulty system in place if any of the following becomes the default idea that predominates our assessments:
    1. Assessments are and must be kept “objective”.
    2. The best measure of progress is an end assessment that provides a percentage “right” number, with a minimum percentage necessary to move on.  This may be true with the acquisition of knowledge, depending on the future use of that knowledge, but is woefully inadequate for the arts.  Having a student “pass” on with 70% of a given set of facts may work, but passing him on with only 70% of the necessary ability in a given art is setting him up for disaster.  If you only know 70% of your times tables you are either a) going to fail at algebra or b) become “calculator” dependent, which may be tantamount to “a)”.
    3. The size or amount of material covered in an assessment is huge.  The time given to complete is also a broad spectrum depending on the student.  Too much, or too little of either will greatly change the outcome of the assessment.
    4. To the extent that the assessment tool is divorced from the actual classroom, i.e. the use of canned tests, online assessments, etc., the less likely many of the above needs in #1 will be met.  Using some other teacher’s assessment on my student’s learning is not helping teach me anything about my teaching and ultimately probably will not measure the success of my teaching with my student.
  3. #2 emphasizes a glaring loss of distinction in most modern educational contexts.  The modern “skill” has replaced the older language of “art” and make it worse, the two are not used in the same way either.  The older “science” has given way to “subject” in our day as well, and these have become obtuse terms as well.
    1. Art refers to the actions of learning.  Anything I need to be able to do in order to handle word or number skillfully is included in “art.”
    2. Science refers to knowledge or content.  Those things I need to know or be able to remember, bring together in new ways in order to better understand what I am studying, properly is scientia or science.
    3. The confusion of art and science in assessment is really problematic.  When we make, for instance, English grammar a science, without acknowledging it as an art, we then start assessing it inadequately and potentially wrongly.  Knowing the term, “verb” is not the same as being able to identify and use one properly.
    4. Thus we must consider the categories of art and science carefully when thinking about assessment.
  4. Another like problem is the desired end “product” or report we wish to get from assessment.  If it is a “hard” number we want, or a percentage right, then we must gain data that is numeral.  But how do you objectively assign numerics to ideas, or to arts?  The only way is to move the humanities and arts toward some fuzzy analogy of science.
  5. Assessment also tends to analyze or break down a given learned “thing.”  But how does one assess the synthesis, the whole, the thing as it is, not in its parts?

Lots of things, and lots more running around, but this has gotten long.  I hope my friends will keep talking to me.  I enjoy the assessment of these ideas.

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