Assessment Carnival: More Than Quizzes and Tests

Guest blogger Shawn Cornally shares ideas for improving assessments

January 31, 2011

Editor's Note: Today's guest blogger is Shawn Cornally, author of the Standards-Based Grading. Here, he presents a blog carnival on redefining assessment. It's a complex issue, and one that we tackle in the next Schools that Work series here on Edutopia.

As a kickoff to that series, Shawn has assembled some excellent resources here. We hope this post will inspire some great brainstorming and discussions below. What are some innovative assessments you've seen? Any experience?

Assessment is a topic like no other in education. Assessment has become synonymous with the monolith of "testing," which all teachers must in some way bow to; whether it be looming state exams or in-house productions, all teachers are asked to judge students' abilities. How we do this ranking can severely affect how students and teachers see and value school.

I began a quest to discover a way to make the seemingly adversarial task of assessment turn into a rich and powerful tool for learning. What's more is that I saw my exam-focused classroom missing entirely the much larger and messier task of preparing students to think.

I discovered some basic themes that altered everything I do in my classroom. My grades became sliding faders on the great mixing board that is a student's understanding. I stopped using averages and weights as weapons, and started changing grades as students improved. Second, I began clearly reporting things to parents and students, avoiding long explanations and curriculum documents; "Quiz 5" became "Student can solve logarithmic equations" and "Student can differentiate ln[g(x)]." Every time I graded something with logs, these grades received a look, and were modified depending on the student's output.

I asked myself the question: How can I use assessment to create learning, instead of just to judge it? It's been a long journey down the assessment rabbit hole, here are some folks I've met along the way:

Dan Meyer is the seminal Math Education blogger, and his writing on assessment has impacted thousands of educators around the world. He makes the points that: Learning is not on a time line, so grading shouldn't be either; grading should direct learning as it is really only feedback anyway; and you should be rewarded for putting in the effort to learn something you missed. Sounds perfect, doesn't it? Pretty close, actually.

Jason Buell has a blog, and he named it "Always Formative." He puts his money where is mouth is, and he's doing it all with middle schoolers. Jason believes that assessment's goal is not to judge but to guide. He wants students to know where they are, so that they can pack it up and go somewhere better.

Matt Townsley: Teacher-cum-administrator, Matt Townsley has blogged extensively on the role of practice and feedback in the grand scheme of assessment. His modus operandi boils down to: If you don't provide feedback beforehand, your assessment is nothing but a punishment.

Ms. Bethea is intensely introspective and questioning. Each of her posts about assessment, grading, and feedback highlight previous methods she's used and how they do and don't work. She offers solutions and arguments for today's most pressing assessment questions.

I have also logged my journey, and it is located at my blog Think Thank Thunk.

Feel free to continue the discussion of assessment below, or in Edutopia's assessment group. There are many issues to discuss. I look forward to connecting with others on these topics!

Shawn Cornally, author of the Standards-Based Grading. He's a science/math teacher at Solon High School in Solon, IA.

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