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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Hotter Than You Think: The Brave New World of Student Assessment

Edutopia's first Schools That Work installment about comprehensive assessment focuses on a New York City school that has changed the game of student assessment. Think: more rigorous, more relevant, more fun.

While that may not sound terribly sexy, don't be fooled. These techniques -- and what New York's Manhattan-based School of the Future has achieved with them -- have the potential to change the way we understand and learn from our successes and failures.

How?

Because when you break down the learning process to its fundamentals, there is one question every teacher or administrator must ask herself sooner or later: did the kids get it? Did they understand and retain the knowledge? Not just in some big, high stakes, summative way, but every day, every week, every month. Why embark down the bumpy road of educating young people if we are not keen to pause -? and pause often ?- to see if the learning process is working?

The teachers, administrators, and students of New York City's School of the Future make it their business to answer those questions at a granular level just about every day. Early and often, they deploy a strategy of "authentic" assessment (using everything from end-of-class exit notes, to large-scale presentations and exhibitions, to more traditional tests and exams) to measure progress. And they really lean into that authentic part.

School of the Future staff ensure that both the knowledge they are assessing and their techniques for measuring it are relevant to the student's lives, and reflective of the real-world challenges they they will face when their formal educations are behind them. And while authentic assessment requires some extra effort in prep time, the end result actually speeds up the learning process. As one teacher told us, "Now when I go home at the end of the day, I am much less tired than I used to be."

I have visited my share of impressive schools and this one ranks among the best. I hope the video below (and the other videos in our Schools That Work package) paint an inspiring picture. More importantly, I hope the tips, free resources, and community connections will prompt you to try similar innovations at your school. As our story suggests, your students will salute you.

-- David Markus, Editorial Director, Edutopia

Now check out our latest installment of Schools That Work: Comprehensive Assessment, A New York City Success Story.

Comments (14)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Lorri Wilke's picture
Lorri Wilke
Parent, Educator, and Educational Therapist

The phrase "authentic assessment" is new to me, and I like it! Certainly, both assessments and evaluations have a place in modern education. Assessment is ongoing as opposed to an individual evaluation or test at the end of a lesson or unit. Both assessments and evaluations are useful for educators in regards to student achievement, student progress, and discerning the effectiveness of materials and teaching. And for the most part, evaluations actually can help with assessments. But in the end, as you suggest, what we really want to know is "Did the kids get it?" Informal assessments are necessary in determining the answer to this question and therefore, modern educators should practice daily, informal, authentic assessments that are independent of formal evaluation (aka testing).

Wayne Demnar's picture
Wayne Demnar
Elementary Principal Nishimachi International School

Last year to encourage my staff to focus on the essence of 'Authentic Assessment', I sang "Let's Get Rigorous" to the tune of Olivia Newton John's 70s hit "Let's Get Physical" with the punchline being 'Let me see the evidence'! It was also a reminder of the value of formative assessment with regard to guiding our teaching. We come up with very complex and sophisticated summative assessment tasks, but that is at the end of the process - we need to continuously check our progress along the way!

Tim Smith's picture
Tim Smith
High School math teacher from Dover, Ohio

I was impressed by the way "authentic" assessment was being utilized in this school. As a veteran teacher who is now pursuing a master's degree, I have become more interested in this concept. So often, we rely on unit tests, end-of-course exams and mandated state assessments to reveal what our students know. As important as these may be, they leave you with one very realistic question: What do we do with the ones that do not pass? If the goal is for all students to master the concepts, then we need to incorporate a more continuous and informative method of assessment. I am researching how to use formative assessments in my classroom to evaluate my students, provide feedback, and adjustments to instruction. I am curious about how the one teacher uses the student progress logs. This seams like a good way to help students monitor how they are learning the material.
Rather than waiting for a grade at the end of a chapter test, keeping an on-going record of what topics and skills have been mastered will give students more timely information that they can understand. Overall, it seems like there are several aspects of good assessment that are occurring at this school.

Tim Smith's picture
Tim Smith
High School math teacher from Dover, Ohio

I was impressed by the way "authentic" assessment was being utilized in this school. As a veteran teacher who is now pursuing a master's degree, I have become more interested in this concept. So often, we rely on unit tests, end-of-course exams and mandated state assessments to reveal what our students know. As important as these may be, they leave you with one very realistic question: What do we do with the ones that do not pass? If the goal is for all students to master the concepts, then we need to incorporate a more continuous and informative method of assessment. I am researching how to use formative assessments in my classroom to evaluate my students, provide feedback, and make adjustments to instruction.

I am curious about how the one teacher uses the student progress logs. This seams like a good way to help students monitor how they are learning the material.
Rather than waiting for a grade at the end of a chapter test, keeping an on-going record of what topics and skills have been mastered will give students more timely information that they can understand. Overall, it seems like there are several aspects of good assessment that are occurring at this school.

Ryan's picture

I am curious how one of my units could fit in with this philosophy. Measurement allows for a lot of hands on and creative activities. I typically use many formative assessments to track progress and use rubrics along with them. When it comes to my summative assessment, which I do like to use, what would be recommended to measure a hgih level of reasoning and comprehension? With the demand of standerdized tests I feel this is one unit that needs to demand the students to show complete understanding of the standards. I would enjoy hearing what others are doing or how measurement could appear differently in my classroom.

Romona's picture
Romona
Middle School Math Teacher

I have used exit passes as an informal assessment in my math classes. Sometimes I feel like I am giving too many tests. We go through about 10 chapters and every chapter seems to have a middle of the chapter quiz and an end of the chapter test. All being very traditional. I would like to cut back on the traditional tests and use more authentic assessments. What are some other ideas other than exit passes?

Lisa's picture

I teach 3rd grade and the school district I teach in just purchased a new reading series. The reading series includes summative assessments. The issue our district has been battling with is that some teacher's use these assessments and other don't...my questions are how do I know if the assessments are worthwhile? Also would it be worth the time to come up with common summative assessment throughout our district? I feel like my students are being assessed so much and in reading I feel I get enough information about them and their understanding through reading with them and daily work. Is there a benefit to a good assessment in reading or can I continue to get information from my students daily work?

ChrisM's picture
ChrisM
social studies teacher from MN

I teach in a middle school. I like the idea of the authenticating part. I feel like we are testing students all the time. It may be a state standard test, unit test, mid-unit test, pre-test, etc. Is there a way to access students without testing them all of the time? What happens to the student that continues to struggle? What types of interventions are lined up? I feel that the daily work we complete is sufficient for me to pinpoint which student needs more interventions and which students need to be challenged. Also, how would I go about presenting this innovation to the coworkers in my district?

Allison's picture

A few years ago one of my students commented that they never took tests in my classroom. I thought back over the course of the year and realized that she was right. I relied heavily on my daily observations in class and the work they turned in. It's not that I don't see the value of assessment. On the contrary, everything I do in the classroom is based on some form of assessment. In fact, I never correct papers without a notebook nearby in which I record the strengths and weaknesses of the students and mark what they still need to improve.

What concerns me in schools today is the emphasis that is placed on standardized tests. I'm not bothered so much by the state test as I am the myriad of assessments we give to track student progress during the year. Each quarter I lost at least four days of class time to an assessment that gave me no real information about my students. They would tell me that they didn't bother trying. They don't see the value in it. I saw absolutely no correlation between those assessments and the success rate on the state exam.

I enjoyed this blog. I need to incorporate more authentic assessments in my classroom.

Kelly Rice's picture
Kelly Rice
Second grade teacher from Gilbert, Arizona

I love this innovative idea of authentic assessment. I teach second grade and often struggle with the amount of tests I seem to be constantly givng to my students. Exit passes and student progress logs are excellent ways to assess what the students have learned, without the unnecessary stress of formal testing. I realize that formative tests provide useful data and are needed for evaluation. However, it seems like I am spending way too much classtime giving them. I agree with the idea of daily, informal, authentic assessment.

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