Assessment: Part 3
Beyond Standardized Tests
Last week, we mentioned the important usefulness, as well as the great problem of standardized tests - tests such as the Terra Nova Complete Battery and others. Standardized tests necessarily tend to break up knowledge and understandings into small "items" or simplistic patterns. Tests like these must stiffly assess the here and now and the recent coverage of material in one event. Education, however, is ultimately not about bits of pieces of knowledge shown in a moment, but about on-going habits of work and mind, critical and creative thinking, deep understandings, persistence, and flexibility. A score on a well-designed standardized test can tell us something about a student, but hardly everything; rarely do such tests report on the these important capacities that students most need in order to develop and learn.
Frequent and demanding assessment is essential, but it is a system of multiple and daily assessments that informs teaching and learning in ways that make a real difference. At Mustard Seed, we prefer to assess rigorously and often.
- In Second Grade, Ms. Paffenroth prepares students for a beautiful event that is also a performance assessment. Each year at the Notable American Wax Museum, students demonstrate complex knowledge of the lives and impact of real people in history and a deep understanding of alternate points of view. At the same time, they also demonstrate mastery of research skills, note-taking, report writing, oral communication, expression, and more.
- In Third Grade, Ms. Kuperus assesses fluency frequently and regularly in order to ensure that students are reading an appropriately leveled book at 100-120 words per minute over a sustained period of time without stopping while using appropriate pausing, phrasing, intonation, stress, and integration. This is essential if students are to be able to successfully comprehend.
- In Fourth Grade, Mrs. McCallihan studies students' readers' notebooks in order to ascertain how children are comprehending reading material and how they are understanding themselves as readers. At the same time, she assesses their writing skills to see if student writing demonstrates personal voice, sentence fluency, and proper conventions.
- In Fifth Grade, Ms. Spurgin pointedly questions students every day in math, asking each one to give and weigh evidence, determine the best strategy, and support an argument. Each question, when answered, assesses many levels of understanding or misconception.
There is much more, of course, happening each day. Recently, the Seventh and Eighth Grade students held a 30 minute debate, demonstrating their abilities to present a valid and reasoned argument. Through complex projects and tests, students' abilities are continually tested in other ways as well. In all grades children complete graphic organizers before or after they read, log pages read, record notes, write summaries, and give book talks. When students write, they assemble portfolios and writing notebooks to show their process. In math they create graphs, defend their reasoning, and post charts. In science they write or draw observations, interpret data, and record inquiries.
In all areas students compare and contrast, conjecture, explain and reason, argue and defend, visualize, gather and weigh evidence, note relationships, discern and replicate patterns, and think through other viewpoints. Each work is a learning activity, but is also an assessment in which students and teachers can assess together what is known and what needs to be learned next. This is the kind of assessment that makes a difference.
Kathleen K. Hanson
Director of Grades 1-8