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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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How Can We Make Assessments Meaningful?

I think meaningful assessments can come in many shapes and sizes. It fact, to be thoroughly engaging and to draw the best work out of the students, assessments should come in different formats.

Thankfully, with the Common Core standards exemplifying the 4Cs: Creativity and Critical Thinking (through performance-based assessments), Collaboration, and Communication (in particular through the use of interdisciplinary writing), we are looking at a more fluid future in testing formats. As long as the format itself is aligned with real-world skills, a meaningful assessment does not need to be lock step with a particular structure anymore.

When I think about my own definition of a "meaningful assessment," I think the test must meet certain requirements. The assessment must have value other than "because it's on the test." It has value to the individual student who is taking it. It must intend to impact the world beyond the student "self," whether it is on the school site, the outlying community, the state, country, world, etc. And finally, the assessment should incorporate skills that students need for their future. That is, the test must assess skills other than the mere content. It must also test how eloquent the students communicate their content.

Criteria for a Meaningful Classroom Assessment

To address these requirements, I ask myself the following guided questions:

  1. Does the assessment involve project-based learning?
  2. Does it allow for student choice of topics?
  3. Is it inquiry based?
  4. Does it ask that students use some level of internet literacy to find their answers?
  5. Does it involve independent problem solving?
  6. Does it incorporate the 4Cs?
  7. Do the students need to communicate their knowledge via writing in some way?
  8. Does the final draft or project require other modalities in its presentation? (visual, oral, data, etc...)

Clearly not all assessments achieve every single characteristic listed above. But in our attempt to address some of these elements, we will have made our classroom assessments so much more meaningful.

Because it's vital that a student connect with the value of their assessments. After all, if a student trusts that the assessment is meaningful and will help them later on, it helps with both their achievement and with your own classroom management.

Transparency in Why It's Important

That requires taking the effort to inform the students why the assessment has value. Some teachers still balk at this job, as if students should just trust that what we do in school has value to what happens outside of school. However, kids are smart these days. They know that bubbling with a #2 pencil is antiquated. They know that much of the content we teach them can be found via Google if they were so inclined. But as savvy as students are, they don't know everything about communicating their content, and we owe it to them to make sure that not only are our tests aligned with skills they must know for their future, but to make sure that we've been transparent in our rationale.

So how can high-stakes assessments be meaningful to students? For one thing, high-stakes tests shouldn't be so high-stakes. It's inauthentic. They should and still can be a mere snapshot of ability. Additionally, those occasional assessments need to take a back seat to the real learning and achievement going on in every day assessments observed by the teacher.

The key here, however, is to assess everyday. Not in boring, multiple-choice daily quizzes, but in informal, engaging assessments that take more than just a snapshot of a student's knowledge at one moment in time.

But frankly, any assessment that sounds cool can still be made meaningless. It's how the students interact with the test that makes it meaningful. Remember the 4 Cs and ask this: does the assessment allow for:

Creativity Are they students creating or just regurgitating? Are they being given credit for presenting something other than what was described?

Collaboration Have they spent some time working with others to formulate their thoughts, brainstorm, or seek feedback from peers?

Critical Thinking Are the students doing more work than the teacher in seeking out information and problem solving?

Communication Does the assessment emphasize the need to communicate the content well? Is there writing involved as well as other modalities? If asked to teach the content to other students, what methods will the student use to communicate the information and help embed it more deeply?

Rubric on Meaningful Assessments

So as an activity for myself, I created a rubric to look at whenever I was wondering if an assessment was going to be a waste of time or was going to connect with the students. (Click the chart to download the PDF.)

Another way to ensure that an assessment is meaningful, of course, is to simply ask the students what they thought. Design a survey after each major unit or assessment. Or, better yet, if you want to encourage students to really focus on the requirements on a rubric, add a row that's only for them to fill out for you. That way, the rubric's feedback is more of a give-and-take, and you get feedback on the assessment's level of meaningfulness as soon as possible.

Download the example (left) of a quick rubric I designed for a general writing assessment. I included a row that the participants could fill out that actually gave me quick feedback on how meaningful or helpful they believed the assessment was towards their own learning. As an instructor and lesson designer, I want a quick turnaround between when I assign an assessment and if I need to adjust the assessment to meet the needs of future learners. By also giving them a space to fill out, they own the rubric even more, and will pay more attention to what I fill out knowing that I gave them an opportunity to also give me feedback. It's one way the students and I can learn reciprocally.

So how do you ensure that your classroom assessments are meaningful?

Comments (53)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Lindsey Bagnaschi's picture

Our school is putting together our school improvement goals and it looks like our vision will contain the 4 C's to some extent. I was searching for valid ways to assess these difficult "soft skills" and after reading your post, I was relieved to see I might have been overcomplicating things. I plan to share your blog post with our faculty as we discuss how to assess our students on these important skills. Thanks for a great post!

M. A. Hauck, M.Ed's picture
M. A. Hauck, M.Ed
Life Skills Support Teacher

[quote] One simple but vivid example derived from a recent standardized test, "Define a bungalow". " This may be a simple question for a suburbanite, but how many bungalows, called bungalows, have our urban students been exposed to? .[/quote]

Faulty reasoning, because it presumes that the urban student can't learn what a "bungalow" is through reading books.

Yet another example of someone trying to impugn standardized testing.

[quote]I agree that PBL's are far too subjective, but then again so are all tests and all grading systems,[/quote]

The last part is utter nonsense, unless you view the world purely in terms of haves or have nots based on socio-economic status.

zep's picture
zep
Education Specialist

Its not a question of can they, but rather, why should urban kids or any kids for that matter have to read about bungalows? Does this really show they're inadequate readers? The point about the bungalow example is the subjectivity of testing which generally uses white middle class verbage, few remember that the courts threw out the use of ACT scores to deny D1 athletes eligibility b/c of the test's bias. This is not to throw darts @ ACT but simply to understand that the use of any language creates an incurable bias. Some may find the "Chitling Test" an intriguing example of this in reverse. If its nonsense then why have schools with no grading system or testing system, unless a student requests them, proven far more effective at educating our youth for nearly 100 years? I hope readers question this assertion and look into the Free School model longitudinally studied for itseffectiveness. See: Sudbury Valley Schools, Summerhill School, Second Foundation School. These schools have long ago respected kids as intelligent natural learners who do not need to be force fed bungalows or any other content/strategy/project/common core, they sometimes may need helpful, respectful facilitation in the mode of the students choosing, not sanctimonious adult decided "important" content.

M. A. Hauck, M.Ed's picture
M. A. Hauck, M.Ed
Life Skills Support Teacher

[quote]Its not a question of can they, but rather, why should urban kids or any kids for that matter have to read about bungalows? Does this really show they're inadequate readers? .[/quote]

Sure, why not? Why demand ANYTHING from them? Why not just give them a passing grade and move them on, like so many urban school teachers do anyway, because it's EASIER than trying to make them accountable? Who cares if they really learned anything that's going to get them anywhere in life, right?

Just let them write rap lyrics and study Tupac Shakur in language arts class, right? That's going to make them viable job candidates in the professional job market, right?

M. A. Hauck, M.Ed's picture
M. A. Hauck, M.Ed
Life Skills Support Teacher

[quote]Iwhite middle class verbage, .[/quote]

Let me remind you that this "verbage," as you say, is the standard in the professional business working world in America.

M. A. Hauck, M.Ed's picture
M. A. Hauck, M.Ed
Life Skills Support Teacher

[quote]I If its nonsense then why have schools with no grading system or testing system, unless a student requests them, proven far more effective at educating our youth for nearly 100 years? .[/quote]

Because so-called "progressives" running our educational systems failed at lifting underachievers up to higher achievement standards, so they have decided that it is easier to "dumb down" school curricula to the meet the lowest achievers and not create any divides. These so-called "progressives" think they can socially engineer and therefore eliminate the gaps between "haves" and "have-nots."

zep's picture
zep
Education Specialist

Finally a place of agreement, I have no more use for "progressive reform" than you; all adults who think they know whats best for students have it reversed. Facilitating a student reaching hem hopes & dreams, in lieu of an arbitrary adult standard is what Free Schools have practiced and been successful w/ for conservatively almost 100 years. Kids freed from adult constraints on what and how they learn have proven their ability to become "haves", however the student defines that. This is the issue w/ any kind of adult assessment of kids, it fails to meet the needs of students as students define their needs.

zep's picture
zep
Education Specialist

Now we're getting to the crux of the issue here. There's absolutely nothing wrong w/ Tupac's lyrics unless you're an adult who passes judgment upon youth and their modalities of communication, and they don't need nor are most interested in being "viable job candidates in the professional job market". They are busy creating their own jobs within their marketplace that is leaving the preceding power and greed driven world in its dust. This is reminiscent of the "proper English" debates & the fears regarding texting. Interesting that you relate to a "standard in the professional business working world in America" which has created a dominant 1% and a gap which increases daily. Perhaps these 'standards" are a metaphor for maintaining the status quo? For people of color, women, the LGBTQ community, and the working class we've had enough status quo and had enough of their standards. There is an increasing light being shed on the undemocratic nature of adult imposed standards; it shines from the bedrooms of homeschoolers, from the dining rooms of unschoolers, from the screens of cyber learners, and from the front steps of Free Schools. Welcome to the light! The "standard in the professional business working world in America" is about to take its rightful place in the enigmatic darkness of yesteryear. So long as districts and/or schools choose the dark they will continue to see exploding rosters of homeschoolers, unschoolers, cyberschoolers, and Free Schoolers; join us in the light and the students will gladly re-integrate.

M. A. Hauck, M.Ed's picture
M. A. Hauck, M.Ed
Life Skills Support Teacher

[quote]and they don't need nor are most interested in being "viable job candidates in the professional job market". They are busy creating their own jobs within their marketplace that is leaving the preceding power and greed driven world in its dust. [/quote]

Based on my observations, their only alternative would be some low paying McJob in the service industries. Either way, they aren't going to prosper enough to be completely independent and free from asking for government handouts to subsidize their basic needs, as in health care, food, housing, etc.

You'll have to enlighten me as to what are these great jobs within their marketplace.

[quote]This is reminiscent of the "proper English" debates & the fears regarding texting. Interesting that you relate to a "standard in the professional business working world in America" which has created a dominant 1% and a gap which increases daily.[/quote]

This is why young people and their views have to sometimes be dismissed as immature piffle. The very system that permits the accumulation wealth and prosperity is impugned because a segment of the population haven't the brains to figure out how to make the system work for them. There is NOTHING written in society that anyone is obligated to provide you access to wealth and prosperity. As a result, legions of underachievers band together (instead of working) and attack those who have achieved. That's the most disgraceful act I can imagine. Envy and jealousy are wasteful emotions and get you nowhere.

[quote]There is an increasing light being shed on the undemocratic nature of adult imposed standards;[/quote]

The counterculture of the 60s had this same view and as we all know, they failed in their mission, because eventually they grew up and became their parents in the 80s by making money and snorting lots of coke instead of taking LSD and smoking pot.

[quote] it shines from the bedrooms of homeschoolers, from the dining rooms of unschoolers, from the screens of cyber learners, and from the front steps of Free Schools. Welcome to the light![/quote]It's a false light emanating from the most feeble of motives, that goofy and unsupportable idealism that always possesses so-called "progressive" thinkers who believe they can change the world by sheer force of their collective will. These methods you champion were tried in the 70s and failed. I am sure you are too young to recall the open space concept employed by many school districts in the 1970s, where traditional classrooms were realigned into "pods" with vague barriers and fluid curricula to blur the lines between grade levels. Well guess what, that experiment failed miserably and why? Because research has proven beyond all doubt that children best learn in highly structured environments.

What purpose does it serve our youth to raise them in unstructured environments like Unschooling and Free Schooling when inevitably they will enter a society and job market that is highly regimented and structured.

The systems you favor are only setting them up for failure because the systems you favor are not reflective of reality i.e. The Real World of forging a career, marriage, family living, owning a house, paying taxes, etc.

The Utopia you envision is not going to happen in any lifetime. Add that to the fact that a majority of home schoolers are not certified teachers. I would wager that this Unschooling movement attracts the same type of Untrained and Unlicensed personnel. If I am incorrect about that, please let me know.

My students and their parents can always depend on the fact that the education I provide is being delivered by a Highly Qualified (as defined by law) and Department of Education certified teacher. Can you say the same?

[quote]The "standard in the professional business working world in America" is about to take its rightful place in the enigmatic darkness of yesteryear. [/quote]

Good luck with THAT attitude. The counterculture of the 60s thought the same thing and of course, as I mentioned before, it failed like everything else they tried.
They, too, believed they had it all figured out. They, too, believed they were smarter that their elders. In the parlance of your generation... major fail.

Jan Gleiter's picture
Jan Gleiter
Writer and editor of educational material; assessment specialist

Although the kind of assessments you talk about are both useful and desirable, they simply aren't practical in all cases. Sometimes a teacher simply wants to know (needs to know) if his or her students understood a chapter or unit in a text or what said teacher has been talking about all week. Any teacher who relies on the tests that often come packaged as ancillary material with a set of textbooks knows, or ought to know, what a big mistake that can be. Therefore, teachers need to know how to construct valid pencil-and-paper (or computer-and-mouse) tests. I really don't think that every test can be, or even needs to be, the kind you talk about.

Taking well-constructed but more traditional tests can be both meaningful and useful. It can also help students develop "test wisdom," which will stand them in good stead as they deal with mandated statewide tests.

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