Speak Now – Assessment as a Conversation

Speak Now – Assessment as a Conversation

The late educator Joe Bower wrote, “Assessment is not a spreadsheet, it’s a conversation.” Unfortunately, however, assessment often feels a lot less like a conversation than like a series of “objective” numbers and scores. As we heard in the presentation tonight, assessment technologies can sometimes exacerbate this issue, prioritizing types of assessment that have traditionally lent themselves to technology (e.g., multiple choice, scantron, etc.). As assessment technologies become increasingly prevalent in the classroom, how can we ensure that these tools are used to support “good” assessment practices that support high levels of student learning and thinking and that address the potential negative cultural and social effects that can accompany the use of these tools?

I’ll be honest – tangible formative assessment has, at times, taken a backseat in my teaching, at least in the way that DFA (digital formative assessment) is described in this article by Ahmet Çekiç and Arif Bakla. In the frenzy of daily classroom life, I’ll sometimes just rely on discussions or passing conversations/observations to determine how students are doing with their learning. It’s not uncommon for me to use Kahoot, Quizizz or the like to review concepts or prepare for summative tests, but in terms of using tech for formative assessment including personalized feedback, I can’t add much to the conversation. Cekic and Bakla address reasons why many other teachers might also experience the same thing, pointing to time constraints and curricular demands. I’d never really thought about the value of using technology for formative assessment, but it can provide realistic solutions to these assessment challenges.

There’s a time and place for the various types of formative assessment, and success with using DFA comes with finding the right “fit”. While instant feedback in the form of showing students if the answer to their multiple choice question was correct or incorrect can be valuable in some circumstances, assessment technology that can provide near-instant personalized feedback on lengthy written assignments is a game changer! This week’s group (Cailen, Chris and Sheila) introduced this type of AI technology to me using Eduaide.Ai and it looks, quite frankly, uh-mazing.

Canadian Wow GIF By DJ Khaled on Giphy

I was interested in learning more about and from Joe Bower after reading the quote in this week’s blog post – “Assessment is not a spreadsheet, it’s a conversation.” So that led me to this medium article. What an interesting and refreshing take on what assessment really is but what it has become in the educational setting. The article, written by Graham Brown-Martin, highlights a few “gems” from a talk given by Bower (which is included below the written piece). I was fascinated by much of what Brown-Martin included, but this especially stood out to me:

“I would argue that some of the most important things that we do in schools or in life, is extremely difficult to measure and maybe impossible to measure, but that’s okay. Everything that’s important can still be observed and described. That’s assessment.”

Bryan Cranston Mic Drop GIF on Giphy

Bower spoke of the immense need to trust teachers and trust their judgement of how their students’ learning is going, considering the time teachers spend conversing with and observing their students day after day! I can absolutely relate to this and have often felt like my explanation of how a student is doing tells a lot more than the numbers or letters attached to a given assignment or test. Hence, I suppose, why parents are usually far more concerned about comments versus the actual report card, even more-so now that elementary assessment is outcome-based and, in isolation, isn’t the best indication of learning.

So how do we keep assessment meaningful with the rise of assessment technologies that lend more to traditional methods? Well… I really don’t know. And I also don’t know, as time goes on and students move through the grades, how to avoid that traditional quantitative assessment data from becoming most valued. Higher level education clearly still values traditional assessment, and it’s only logical for that to trickle down into high school and even middle school. Several times I’ve had the conversation with colleagues wondering why we do outcomes based reporting in elementary and middle years only for high schools and beyond to use percentage-based assessment. Assessment has a different meaning at different levels of education, and this just makes it all very… confusing.

Nonetheless, In elementary and middle school, I think the key to avoiding the trap of assessment as just “numbers and scores” is to not let it end there. Instead of conceptualizing assessment as an end, regarding it as a starting point for future learning keeps the conversation going. This is, of course, easier said than done, when the demands of covering the curriculum and finishing things “on time” doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for using assessment as a springboard to higher learning achievements. Using assessment technology and data derived from it can be positive and powerful, but it should be understood as the start of a conversation, not the end of one.

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