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Innovations in Assessment Chat

new and better assessment toolsA few weeks ago, NCTE held an online conversation about innovations in assessment. On the video, you can hear the questions and comments from moderator Darren Cambridge and his panel of education experts. What’s not evident in the video is an online chat room that ran concurrently, in which educators responded with some valuable thoughts.

Here are some highlights:

When asked to define “innovation” in assessment, participant Kathryn Mitchell Pierce replied, “I think innovation is when teachers have an opportunity to design experiences that help them get to know what their students are learning. . . . When an assessment experience helps us understand our students better, helps us understand our craft better, and helps our students grow DURING the assessment event, then I think we have innovation!”

Later, Cambridge asked teachers to describe innovations they had seen at the classroom level that deserved more attention. The question drew several noteworthy ideas.

Michael Rifenburg offered, “College-level writing teachers grading a student paper with the student present. And talking about how they came to the grade with the student sitting right there. I have never done it, but have thought about the pros and cons for quite a bit.”

Maria C posted, “I work at a school that has transitioned to a STEM school. As part of our model, we use problem-based learning in all of our classes. Students are posed a real-world problem, they research and propose a solution, and then propose their solutions to a panel of community members and experts. This allows us to integrate all of their literacy skills, as well as their collaborative and problem-solving skills. I think this demonstrates to our kids that the skills they are learning and practicing in school are not isolated, but rather must be practiced together to be meaningful.”

Cambridge himself chimed in, “One simple assessment practice that was perhaps innovative at the time I began using it in my own teaching was providing audio feedback to students. Students said they felt it was more personal—sometimes too personal!—and were more likely to respond to what I had said, whether or not they took my advice.”

Barbara 1 offered another activity: “Students pick out one sentence in the writing of another student and tell why that sentence works well. I’ve heard so many discussions branch out from the one sentence to a larger segment of the writing, but starting with one sentence provides a nonformidable beginning.”

Later, the conversation turned to the value of having students keep journals as an assessment tool, and participant Ali G offered this insight:

If the goal of assessment is to improve learning rather than “audit” learning, then the socioemotional aspects are essential. Journals are applicable for every subject area, and having students write/reflect on what they learned and point out their own connections and how it was relevant for them personally requires students to transfer knowledge, make connections, conceptualize important ideas, and reflect on their own learning, which is great for self-monitoring and metacognition.

The discussion around all these issues did not end when the chatroom closed. A week later, Rifenburg gave us this observation:

Darren’s second question has stuck with me since: can assessment be innovative if it only works for one classroom? In other words, does “innovation” necessarily involve malleability, the opportunity to transplant that assessment technique from one learning environment to the other?

I ventured an answer via Twitter and through the Blackboard Collaborate chat function. I answered “no” and suggested the opposite, that maybe innovation necessitates a grounding in the specific context.

I’m not in love with that answer, partially because I don’t know what “innovation” really means.
Almost 5 days later, I don’t have a better answer. But the important thing is that I am still thinking about it.