Monday, September 22, 2014

Assessment: key ideas from today's professional development

Our first Park West School Division professional development day focused on assessment.  Our guest speaker was Tom Schimmer, an independent education author, speaker, and consultant from British Columbia. 

Key ideas from his session included: 

A good coach is always assessing his or her players
Likewise, a good teacher is always assessing his or her students.  This doesn’t mean a good coach/teacher is always giving tests or assignments, but rather he or she is always considering: What skills and knowledge does this student/player have?  What skills and knowledge do they need to develop?  How can we help him or her improve?

Different does not always mean worse
One of the most dangerous ideas is “this is the way we’ve always done it”.  We need to change, adapt and improve.  There’s always something new in education and in society. 

Accuracy and confidence matter the most
Students need to feel confident that they can succeed. 

Schimmer shared two quotes from the book “Confidence” by Rosabeth Moss Kanter:

“Expectations about the likelihood of eventual success determine the amount of effort people are willing to put in.  Those who are convinced they can be successful in carrying out the actions required for a successful outcome – who have the self-efficacy- are likely to try harder and persist longer when they face obstacles.” 

“It’s not mistakes that cause winners to lose, it’s panic” 

Educators need to consider: Do our classroom practices increase anxiety or do they increase confidence? 

Think about a good coach – would they want to generate anxiety in their players before a game?  No.  They’d rather have relaxed, confident players and that’s what teachers should aim for too. 

Teachers should gather accurate information about their students considering:
Why are we assessing students? 
What are we assessing? 
How are we effectively going to assess students (based on our why and what)?

Don’t distort – grades should reflect learning, not behavior 
Teachers should strive to include ONLY information about learning in their scores/grades/marks.  For example, if you lower a student’s grade because they hand work in late, you are indicating that they know less about the subject area.  Does a student know less about math because they did the assignment two days later?  Or is the lateness a separate issue unrelated to their skills and knowledge?

Balance is important
The best approach to assessment includes different types of assessments:
-         both formative (practice/rehearsal) and summative (final performances)
-         different forms of assessment (a variety of assignments, tasks, tests)
-         separating academic knowledge and skills from traits we hope to instill in students (timeliness, neatness, organization, positive attitude)

Consider frequency and recency
Students learn at different rates and different times.  Think about when babies learn to walk – we accept that they may walk at 9 months or 10 months or 11 months of age.  However, we are often discouraged and frustrated if a student learns a concept earlier or later than we “expect”.  Why is it a problem if a student masters fractions in May instead of October?  Why do grades often reflect a student’s lack of knowledge in October when they have gone on to master the area more recently?  We need to give students credit for what they know at PRESENT.  Don’t average out old performances with new performances.  For example, we wouldn’t average the results of an old driver’s test with a new driver’s test.  We also wouldn’t want to average proficiency in one area with poor performance in another area.  For example, we don’t want a pilot that got 100% on take-offs and 30% on landings to average a “passing grade”. 

It is also important to consider how often someone has demonstrated knowledge or skills.  Has a student shown proficiency on only one occassion or have they demonstrated it multiple times?  (Again, we wouldn't want the pilot with only 1 successful landing.)  Giving students the chance to demonstrate their knowledge frequently is important!

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