1. The intent of any assessment (a teacher’s or a nation’s) is not to reduce learning into a neat set of questions and answers. If you’ve heard someone refer to assessment that way, it may indicate ignorance rather than expertise.

    Assessments can measure, indicate, or diagnose; that’s all they can do. And they can’t do any of those three things with 100% certainty. The purpose of assessment is to measure, indicate, or diagnose as best we can, with a high degree of confidence, and then put the results to good use.

    How can this be anything but good for educators wanting to tell a story about education?

    Many want to tell the story of how minority groups have been disenfranchised in education, or how integration across race and class boundaries improves students’ lives. Assessments can absolutely help you tell that story.

    Many want to tell the story of how kids start very early on a low achievement trajectory and then stay there unless they receive systematic support and intervention. Data helps tell that story.

    Do you want to tell a story about how strong school leadership can help students achieve despite other factors? You can use testing data for that.

    Educators and administrators who brag about high test scores may have reason to brag and they may not. It’s all about context. If they work at a school where students walked in with high scores, didn’t need to show much growth, and walked back out with high scores, they have nothing to brag about. In the words of statistician Charles Wheelan, that’s like giving an award to a basketball team for producing tall students. If those educators worked in a school where students walked in with low scores and showed growth, that’s brag-worthy. Growth is they key, not high scores.

    Assessment data only helps tell the story; it isn’t the story itself. Data only helps us make decisions; it can’t make decisions for us. Standardized testing data is the start, not the end, of the conversation.

    To me, your questions reflect not how assessment or data is broken, but how educators’ conversations around data are broken. I think we’ve developed the assessments faster than we’ve developed our ability to use the results.

  2. Melissa Dean

    As mentioned in comments above, assessment is a crucial part of our learning journey for all stakeholders involved. What I struggle with is the fact that we then put a numerical value on assessment. When I give feedback to a student, I provide information on where they are and where the next part of the journey could take them. They want marks, though. They don’t want descriptive feedback. And they use those marks as a self-comparison tool–they rank themselves. I often wonder, what learning could look like if we took the evaluative component out of things.

  3. Ben

    “Let me tell what I wish I’d known,
    When I was young and dreamed of glory
    You have no control
    Who lives, who dies, who tells your story”

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