This is another spin-off from Making Meaning, a forum started by Julie Osteen.

Sylvia Martinez talks about assessment:

"Assessment is the way that someone judged what someone else does. Tests are only one way, and a fairly narrow way. A test slams a door closed on the subject matter, when what we want to do is open doors of opportunity. Authentic assessment is a two way street, where the assessment is happening in real time, in a way that informs the student so they can correct their mistakes or misconceptions, and continue their work. In a sense, it's just talking, asking questions, and guiding. The goal of authentic assessment is that everyone succeeds - and the assessment is part of that success. Think of that - all children succeed! Instead of a bell curve where half are expected to 'fall below norm'.

Sometimes people call it formative assessment, but that word seems to have been stolen by test prep companies who apply it (wrongly) to standardized tests done multiple times.

Computers could be a huge part of this, not because they make assessment more efficient, but because they expand the options of what a child can do to create knowledge. I really disagree with the current focus on 'information' because this also diminishes the role of 'doing'. The information you can now more easily find is nothing until you let the student DO something meaningful with it.

One of the 'oldsters' who I left out was Seymour Papert, who has a TON more to say on this subject. When you read his work from the 80's, it might well have been written yesterday...

'The role that the computer can play most strongly has little to do with information. It is to give children a greater sense of empowerment, of being able to do more than they could do before. But too often, I see the computer being used to lead the child step by step through the learning process. Ivan Illich said the most important thing you learn at school is that learning only happens by being taught. This is the opposite of empowerment. What you ought to be learning at school is that you don't need to be taught in order to learn. This is not to say that the teacher is not an important part of the learning process. That teacher is, of course, the most important person there. But recognizing the importance of the teacher is very different from reducing learning to the passive side of being taught. This is the fundamental cleavage between theories of education: empowerment of the individual versus instruction and being taught.'" (discussion segment from Sylvia)

Anone want to continue along with some reactions to that?

Tags: assessment, learning, meaning, pedagogy, purpose

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hi Connie, I teach in a university environment when there is a lot of discussion, none of it encouraging or inspiring about assessment, all couched in terms of grade inflation. there is an emerging consensus at my school that the problem with the way people grade is that they give too many A's. precisely in order to reduce the number of A's, we are moving to a grading system based on A-, B+, B, B- etc. (currently we have just A, B, C, D, F). Ugh: the students were overwhelmingly against the shift (it just adds to their level of stress), but the faculty were overwhelmingly for it (because of the embarrassment associated with giving "too many A's").

after struggling for a long time with the grading and assessment thing, I've come up with several strategies that I feel very comfortable with now, both of which are made possible by the fact that I teach online and am not required to give a midterm and final in my class (only the online courses at my school are exempt from the testing requirements that apply to other classes, thank goodness)

1) lots and lots and LOTS of low-stake assignments. because it is so easy to break class work up into lots of individual segments, my classes have about 10 assignments per week, which the students can complete at their own pace during the week. these assignments are all geared towards success - if a student can find the time in their busy schedule to do the assignment, they will succeed at it... and because they succeed, they are motivated to do the next assignment, and so on. (stressful, potentially failing) assignments/tests. (sample week in my Myth-Folklore class)

2) repeatable quizzes. I let students retake the reading quizzes - and I emphasize to them this is not so they can torture themselves into getting a perfect score, but rather so that they can feel confident about their understanding of the reading so that they can go on. if they get less than 80% they probably need to do the reading again - it's not punitive, it's just a sign they did the reading too quickly and should do it again. I push very hard at the idea of aiming for 80% on the reading quizzes before they go on to do the writing assignments based on the reading. for the perfectionist students, this can be very hard to get used to - they are tempted to take the quizzes over and over again to get a perfect score, but after a few weeks, they do finally start to realize that the writing assignments are so much more fun than the quizzes that it's FINE to just get an 80 or 90 or whatever on the quiz and go on to the writing. plus I love the way online quizzing lets you randomize the questions, so there's not a sense of repetitiveness even when repeating the quiz. in any case, it is THEIR choice to retake the quiz or not - I do not even look at their quiz grades. it is 100% between them and the computer, so the choice and responsibility is all theirs, with no shame attached if they do happen to do very poorly on a quiz for whatever reason - they don't have to feel embarrassed vis a vis me at all. I can tell them in all honesty it doesn't matter to me a bit - I don't even see it when it happens! :-)

3) taking me out of the equation. this is my favorite thing about teaching online! my work (and it is a LOT of work) is to build a learning environment for my students - the website, the assignments, the ways they interact with each other. as they do the work for class and read and respond to each other's work, they realize their grade is something they earn from all their hard work. I just give them the chance to do it!

wow, I am too rambling for these replies - ha ha! it just cut off my last paragraph. ah well, I just get too excited about the ways that online teaching helps us do what we always wanted to do (us old John Dewey types) now that the technology is on our side!
Hi Laura,
This is great! You've given some really solid examples of authentic assessment that support the the points I was making.

1) your assignments focus on success for all, not ranking and sorting your students
2) the quiz assessment is there for the students' benefit, not yours
3) the motivation to contribute is provided by 20 interested collegues rather than one busy instructor

Ramble away ;-) I'm still in shock that Connie re-posted my giant ramble!

I've enjoyed reading the information you've shared about your classes. I, too, have gone to repeatable quizzes for my sixth graders. After I get the kids acclimated to them (they are online quizzes - I used Quiz Star for them), then I have found that students and parents alike relax a little bit. I had several tell me that they felt this was the first time their child really understood some of the grammar mainly because of the ability to take the quizzes more than once.
Your point 3 speaks to my soapbox which is helping students realize that education is something they "do" and not something "done to them." I am on a mission to help my students take ownership for their own learning. Incorporating these types of assessments is one piece. Providing opportunities for student voice is another piece.
Thanks for sharing!
You all are such a giant breeze of fresh air. This age in education has gotten so obsessed with details; I fear sometimes that we've lost sight of the purpose. The purpose is assisting learners in their quests to learn, which is joyful, dynamic, surprising. All of this concern with measuring details of growth (in this Age of Assessment) can get trite, wouldn't you say?

You all are doing authentic assessment, which is a whole different animal! Thank you for being willing to go for what counts.

Sometimes I think of a parent raising a child: no assessment is really necessary. (Or, you could just as easily say, assessment is constant, but in the background.) Imagine if the life-details that are taught through parenting were assessed, bit by bit. For instance, Toothbrushing 101: first you have to pick up the brush. (rubric, grade) Then you have to put toothpaste on it. (rubric, grade) Then you have to use certain strokes to accomplish the set goal. (Pages of standards and benchmarks.) Or pick any number of other parenting tasks: table manners, learning how to speak clearly, learning how to get your homework done--what if each of these had to be evaluated in any other than an informal means? Real life takes care of the assessment in many cases.

How would we ever get anywhere if all the tiny bits had to be evaluated...

Sometimes I think it's all rather silly. Just getting on with things might be more important than seeing what we did and how we got there, in which increment, and when... We might get a whole lot more done if a good deal of the assessment simply dropped away. What do you think--too extreme a view?
I think what is truly feasible is somewhere in the middle of the two opposing ideas. Let's take, for instance, a writing assignment. Traditionally, that writing assignment would contain prewriting, organization, a rough draft, and a second draft after revisions and edits. Then the teacher would assign a value to it (grade). Unfortunately, I have done this way too many times and then ended up with less than par products which were painful to get through. What if, the teacher gave them back, discussed issues seen in the writings and told the students to try again? What if, the teacher had an exemplar, not just rubric, that the students could gauge their own progress by before turning it in initially? What if there was an authentic audience for that writing? Someone to put "value" on the writing other than the teacher and for a real purpose?

Ok, wait, how do we give kids a grade then? Unfortunately, teachers have to answer to schools that require grades to be given. And the dilemma goes on . . .
I've had good luck with shifting the audience for some of the kids' writing. In most work, they're not writing for "me" but for the group. When they run or respond to a class forum on Moodle, the issue of (authentic) assessment is: Does it convey what you want it to, clearly?

Looking at each other's postings all together as a group in front of the SmartBoard brought writing skills way up, in a natural, meaningful way. We don't do this all the time, mostly we'll just look at the moodle work on our own and it becomes part of what we know about each other. But every now and then, a group meeting to go over "writing expectations" and "good enough" judgments have been very useful.

This brings us to yet another issue about assessment, discussed in some detail over on the Inclusion Revolution Group started by Lisa Parisi. Here's a question Lisa asked:

"Christine and I work together in a collaborative fifth grade classroom - regular and special ed children together. As we get further along in technology and use more online apps, we begin questioning how much to fix student work before posting. When an assignment is modified for a classified child, do we post the modified assignment alongside non-classified students' work? What if it clearly shows that this is a child with a disability? How about editing for blogs? If we make a decision not to do much editing when students post blogs, and a classified child submits a blog full of errors..or even worse..clearly not written on a fifth grade level, how much to we fix it? How have other people been dealing with this issue?" (from Lisa, on Inclusion Revolution Group, under "Modifying Online Work")

There's a dilemma, another variable in the equation of assessment, and an extremely important one to ask. To what degree do we hold the same standards for all, when kids are different, or even when the kids are supposed to be the "same"? (What about different developmental levels being taken into account? What about the various lapses and surges of energy that come in waves over a schoolyear? )

Anyhow, for class writing, I try to get the kids comfortable with doing draft after draft of their work, trying to plant in their brains the idea that "professional writers rewrite--that's what they do--over and over again." This way I shift the kids' perspectives from "Gosh I had to do that over because it wasn't good enough" to "I'm the kind of writer who keeps going, I have more ideas, I want to polish my ideas, this is my work."

I am lucky to be able to avoid the whole "grade" thing; I think letter grades would run some interference with this. Or, maybe letter grades could be "arrived at" when the student can show that she went through several stages of improvement, though any number of different means.

My hat is off to all of you who are struggling with figuring out how to give meaningful grades in systems that are strict or inflexible. What a challenge! I have enough time trying to figure out what meaningful assessment is even within a rather open and supportive environment.

You can scold me for this way-out idea, which can and should be challenged for a number of reasons, but I'll put it out there just because it's a wild idea: what if the goal for a student became something like this: "Approaches learning with spirit." Seems like a a good goal. How would we go about assessing that?

Wouldn't it be fun to all get together, sit by a fireside, have a good dinner, and "figure it all out?!" Thanks so much to everyone, for sharing the ideas and perspective. I think it really helps us all to see many angles on the assessment issue.
hi Connie and Julia, I am ALL (!!!) about writing revision and new audiences - and websites are such a natural way to make this happen. my students each create a website, do writing for it every week (brainstorm, draft intro, alternate writing and revision for 8 weeks, final revisions, etc.), and by the end of the semester they each have a website of which they are justifiably VERY proud. they get 15 minutes of my "coaching time" as I write them back detailed comments on their weekly assignment, and they get feedback from other students in the class too - it's altogether a fabulous experience. everybody revises, constantly, all the time, nothing punitive about it - and they see each other revising, too. we all revise... and everybody's writing gets better all semester long. that is very happy-making.

as a result, strong students absolutely soar and do amazing things, and students who normally have trouble in school (mostly because of inability to schedule their time and writing skills deficits) end up doing great work too!!! this is because they need structure, and they need help revising... plus everybody needs encouragement and attention, which they get lavish amounts of.

at the end of the semester, the students realize that, DOH, they should be implementing this same process in their other classes, even if the professor does not organize it for them: OF COURSE they do not have to put off their final paper until the night before it's due, and OF COURSE they can share their writing with their friends... but school does not encourage them, much less require them, to do that.

I've been teaching online for six years now, and I'm still blissed out about how much more successfully I can teach writing this way than I ever managed in the classroom... you can see their nifty projects via the links to my courses at

and about SPIRIT: it's absolutely true. if they are writing on a topic they do not care about, the spirit component is not there, and the whole things fails (even if it "succeeds" according to the grading rubric...) - the way I've gotten the spirit back into things is by largely abandoning analytical writing and having the students write creatively. my impression is that they are so DAMAGED by years of truly awful schooling that they are completely out of touch with the magical power of writing. when they do creative writing though (taking on the voices of narrators that they imagine for themselves), the spirit comes back and the magic begins again, like when they were kids.

and it's not just for mythology and folklore: a good friend of mine who teaches History of Science has also adopted this creative approach and has gotten fabulous results too! here is his website: Kerry Magruder's online History of Science class (it's WONDERFUL)

At NECC, I was on a panel about technology literacy assessment with two state DOE people. They were both in creating online multiple choice tests for technology literacy assessment. I talked about authentic assessment, and how it could happen in real schools. I have to say that I think the audience appreciated my message (maybe it's just wishful thinking!)

My main point was that we owe it to kids to at least think about authentic assessment for more than 5 seconds before we knee jerk into multiple choice tests. It's not impossible, there are many teachers who do it - think of english teachers who read essays and somehow manage to give out grades. We could somehow simply talk to kids and look at the work they do and give it a score. C'mon, it's not that hard.
Hi Skip,
Uh, what? Ok, I think I get where you are going with this. "...discussion of authenticity in "assessment" misses the point of the need to come of age in authentic ways that are unique to each person who is individualizing herself for herself,' is what you said. Are you talking about re-framing all of education? If so, ok, we're working on that.

I refuse to be much restrained in a top-down manner, and need to know that I'm taking good strides forward, all the time, in my teaching. Thus, lively debates like this, with colleagues! What steps would you suggest to address the "'authentic coming of age" issue, and mustn't it correspond with how we discuss "assessment"? What do you see emerging from the bottom-up that might provide a useful drive for practice and purpose?
hi Skip, I think a lot of this "learn from the learners how they learn" already happens when you move to having students read each other's work. in my classes, students learn to experiment with their writing styles by watching other students experiment, and it's really exciting for me as a teacher when they talk about that in their blogs. I don't require them to do this, but each week they have an extra credit "famous last words" post they can do, and I'm always very gratified when they use that as an opportunity to talk about how they got an idea or learned about a new writing style from another student in the class (here's the assignment, which has a variety of prompts).

in general, I don't see myself as assessing at all - I mostly just PROD... or, perhaps it would resonate more with the terminology of Facebook which rules supreme these days, I POKE :-)

luckily, by prodding enough, and getting the students to record their own progress and do online activities that can be quantified, I manage to satisfy the assessment requirements of my school...
thank you so much for your kind words! and yes, I am definitely of the "Grandma School" of philosophy... one of the formative moments of my education, in fact, was when a professor I admired so much, pounded on the table in the seminar room of an Old Church Slavic class and intoned, "MY ILLITERATE GRANDMOTHER KNEW MORE THAN THE LOT OF YOU"... and I realized that this was no doubt quite true! so, I am still trying to learn all the things now that all my decades (!) of formal schooling kept me from learning in the first place!

I guess the reason I am so passionate about technology is just that I have always wanted to be a good teacher, and I never managed to do that in the classroom (I taught high school, taught at a couple of universities)... the classroom just was not the right space, at least not for my kind of teaching.

I think I feel lucky to be living in this "transitional moment" between the old classroom model and some new, emergent form of learning online. after all, the problems with the classroom seem not so much inherent in the classroom, but the result of the years and years of dysfunctional education that students have experienced in the classroom before we meet (and the dysfunctional education I also experienced, not being a very happy student myself in the classroom either...), and thus the many ways they have learned to "stifle themselves" as a result (like poor Edith in All in the Family) as a result of all those years of non-learning.

online, though, I'm lucky: so far, most of my students have had at most one or two online courses before they get to my class - so they have not yet "learned how to NOT learn," as they have done in the classroom (mostly out of self-defense).

maybe ten or twenty years from now it will be just as difficult to teach online as it is to teach in the classroom because students will have been desensitized to the magic of learning all over again, stifling themselves at the keyboard, just as they do sitting in the prison chairs of the classroom (you know, those ones with the desks attached, where you can never really get comfortable...)

so online, right now, it's been a digital paradise for me - students read, write, share, learn... exactly what I always hoped would happen in my life as a teacher, but which did not really happen until I started teaching online. :-)
Hi Skip,
We must have been thinking along similar wavelengths. Today I pasted my comments on assessment into my FaceBook Notes page, inviting former students to view CR2.0 and comment, or to comment there on FaceBook. It'll be good to hear some of their views, if they decide to participate. But you're talking about grand masters, I think. Well, some of these young adults will be... I like your idea about asking good learners what makes for good learning.



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