Authentic Assessments

As a parent of four, I know that kids don’t always “get” it. Sometimes when I think they are listening they are not, or I think they are not paying attention and they remember specific details. It’s no different in the classroom. Teachers spend a great deal of time trying to help students learn and remember what is being taught, often with varying results.

How do we know they really get it? More importantly, how do we ensure that students will remember such content long-term and apply it in their lives? The answer lies, at least in part, in authentic assessments.

I’ve taken a great many tests in my lifetime. Most of them I performed very well on, especially ones that were detailed-oriented and involved memorization. I studied and crammed my brain with information, hoping to remember it all long enough to score well on the end-of-chapter/unit/year test. I usually did. But now that I have been out of school for years, most of what I learned I have long since forgotten.

Most students will not remember everything they learn in school for the rest of their lives. Does that mean we, as educators, give up and don’t try? Of course not. We try, we use different approaches, and we do our best.

Project Based Learning (PBL) involves students throughout the entire process, which can include having them help determine what is going to be assessed and how they will meet such criteria. The more students have a say in what they need to learn – and how they will demonstrate they have learned it – the more they will remember.

What Kids Can Do gives the following criteria for authentic assessments (which align very well with PBL essential elements):

Assessment is for students.

  • Has personal relevance for students (e.g., provides a tangible product they can use).
  • Students become more confident and articulate about what they know.
  • Students feel ownership over the process as well as the product of their work.

Assessment is faithful to the work students actually do.

  • Notebooks, works-in-progress, and routine presentations are basis of assessment.
  • Occasions for reflection and discussion are integrated into ongoing project work.
  • Students are assessed on what they know and do, not what they don’t.

Assessment is public.

  • Students’ goals are solicited and become part of those assessed.
  • Criteria for judgment remain visible and accessible to students from the beginning.
  • Performances are viewed and judged by a broad group of people.

Assessment promotes ongoing self-reflection and critical inquiry.

  • Teachers and students both speak of the qualities of good work, and how to attain it.
  • Standards used reflect those of adult practitioners in the field.
  • Categories and criteria of assessment remain open-ended, subject to challenge and revision.

If teachers would incorporate these four principles into the assessments they offer, even those not technically PBL, I believe students would perform better and retain more. Many teachers don’t actively involve students in designing the assessment, so this may take a little encouragement and practice. Teachers need to see the benefits of allowing more student input during assessment development and how it is a win/win.

For Project: Me, I have designed both formative and summative assessments that will help students “get it” and demonstrate that they “got it.” I will guide the students through a scaffolded brainstorming activity early on that will help them determine what it is they need to know and how they will demonstrate they have reached the standards. For formative assessments, they will self-evaluate their reflective journals and project work reports weekly, create a visual project organizer using a technology tool, and create a project prototype for evaluation. For summative assessments, students will complete a short essay test on what they have learned about themselves and uniqueness, self-evaluate their completed reflective journals, and self/peer-evaluate their presentation both for content knowledge and 21st Century skills. By using a variety of assessment tools, students will be encouraged to set goals and stay on task, track their progress and growth, and produce a culminating multimedia project. Such strategies will help students find relevancy in what they are doing, be assessed on what they are actually doing, communicate with an outside audience, and produce quality work. In the end, they will remember this project and will have truly learned something valuable about themselves.

Now, how can I implement such strategies at home…?

References:

Buck Institute for Education. (n.d.) What is PBL?. Retrieved from http://www.bie.org/about/what_is_pbl

What Kids Can Do. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.whatkidscando.org/
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