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Reflections on Collaboration and Assessment

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The following piece is adapted from a longer reflection by Darren Cambridge on the theme of Collaboration and Capacity Building for Connected Educators Month.

Effective professional learning is characterized by continuous improvement, collective responsibility, peer-based accountability, acceptance of experimentation, and alignment. During the Good Teaching Summit, organized by the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF) a few weeks ago, René Islas from Learning Forward pointed to research-based standards for professional learning that align with this definition.

Similarly, the National Center for Literacy Education (of which NCTAF and Learning Forward are both stakeholder organizations) has synthesized research on effective collaboration and professional learning to define a capacity-building framework.

It is clear from this body of research that collaboration as teamwork depends on teams having access to both appropriate evidence of student learning and information about research on relevant and effective instructional practices. For example, the limitations of high-stakes testing data as evidence to inform collaboration was a key theme in the New Frontiers in Assessment Hot Seat discussion with Scott Filkins, high school teacher and author of Beyond Standardized Truth: Improving Teaching and Learning through Inquiry-Based Reading Assessment. Filkins and the other participants in the discussion pointed to formative assessment techniques, including systematic observation of students in action (“kidwatching”) and collective examination of student work, as essential to providing the fuller picture of student learning that collaboration requires.

It’s also interesting to note in Filkins’ introduction how the opportunity to learn with and alongside others shaped his understanding of assessment.

“It wasn’t just a few watershed realizations about what constitutes effective assessment that propelled my transformation to someone who can talk about assessment without feeling guilty or embarrassed. It was that I had enough experience as a teacher—as a Writing Project affiliate, as a student of effective practice in adolescent literacy instruction, as someone who works hard to be aware of his own literate practices—to have the pedagogical capacity to need the information from formative assessment to know what to do next.”