University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Treadmills, Assessments and Teacher Preparation.

In The View from the OEP on October 12, 2016 at 12:24 pm

When working with students, parents, teachers, and policy makers, we find that assessments and treadmills have a lot in common.

Folks have a tendency to lose sight of the appropriate use of assessments, and use them in ways that don’t fit.  This can lead to unintended consequences like focusing too much on proficiency or imagining that one test score is all we need to understand a successful school. Taylor Swift portrays this perfectly here when she loses focus on the treadmill and face plants!

Some people forget to use assessments at all.  Like the expensive treadmill sitting in the corner of the room with clothes hanging on it, educators invest valuable time in assessing students, but then may neglect to use the information collected to inform their teaching and support student learning.

Assessments are also like treadmills in that if you use them appropriately, they can have a big impact. A balanced assessment system can be like a whole home gym for a district, where frequent formative assessments, interim benchmark assessments, and summative assessments all focus on and strengthen different areas. In order for schools to ensure the success of all students, every school needs teachers who can interpret assessment results and take action based on accurate data.

man_on_treadmill-253x300.jpgYou can think of these teachers like ‘personal trainers’ who know how to use the assessments effectively and appropriately, and can help students, teachers and school leaders set goals and meet them.  Unfortunately, few colleges of education or K-12 school districts provide adequate hands-on training on the use of assessments in teaching.  We simply aren’t preparing teachers to use assessments effectively for student learning.

As states and districts begin to construct new, coherent assessment systems under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) incorporating multiple measures of student learning, it is crucial that educators at all levels understand how to appropriately select, use, analyze, and communicate about the results of those assessments. In the teacher preparation regulations released today the US Department of Education, assessment of student learning is included as a required part of rigorous teacher candidate exit qualifications. In short, educators will need to be assessment literate.

What is Assessment Literacy?

The National Task Force on Assessment Education today released a foundational definition of Assessment Literacy. It can be used to guide development of systems that use assessments appropriately and equitably to support teaching and learning.

The definition states:

“Assessment is the process of gathering information about student learning to inform education- related decisions. One becomes Assessment Literate by mastering basic principles of sound assessment practice, coming to believe strongly in their consistent, high-quality application in order to meet the diverse needs of all students, and acting assertively based on those values.”

Further, the definition identifies traits of an assessment literate person. He or she:

  • Understands the purpose of the assessment and how the results will be used
  • Uses the learning targets to dictate the appropriate assessments
  • Recognizes that valid results only come from quality assessments
  • Communicates clearly about assessment results to parents, students, and others
  • Creates an assessment process that motivates students and supports learning

“Those who face the challenges of developing and implementing state, local or classroom assessment systems are far better prepared to succeed if they bring to the task a foundation of understanding of the basic principles of sound assessment practice; that is, if they are assessment literate,” said Rick Stiggins, advisor to the Task Force and retired founder and CEO of the Assessment Training Institute. “Our Task Force has defined this to mean that they always are clear about why and what they will assess, how to assess it well, how to share results effectively, and how to use assessment to support and promote student learning success.”

Is it Truthful?  Is it Useful?

Assessments of student learning are important for tracking success and ensuring equity among student groups.  Students, parents, teachers, and policy makers need to be assessment literate so they can advocate for  valid and reliable assessments that provide truthful and useful information.  Teachers need to be assessment literate so they can model quality assessment practices in their own classrooms, and modify their instruction based on student needs.  Parents and policymakers are open to new and innovative ways to measure and report educational success, and assessment literate educators can advocating for quality assessments and demonstrate that using assessments appropriately makes a difference for students. Students, parents , educators and policy makers need to learn more about quality assessment and assessment literacy development so we don’t find ourselves with just a more advanced version of the treadmill sitting in the corner covered in laundry.


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