Opinion Blog

Peter DeWitt's

Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

This Assessment...Not That Assessment

By Jennifer Serravallo — April 04, 2014 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Today’s guest blog is written by Jennifer Serravallo, the author of numerous resources about assessment and instruction in reading including the best-selling Teaching Reading in Small Groups.

The spring weather we’ve all waited for is finally here, but, to our nation’s teachers, April brings dread: testing season. Engaging, important curriculum is pushed aside for weeks to hone students’ test-taking skills because, after all, student promotion and teachers’ jobs depend on the scores. It’s no wonder assessment has become a four-letter word.

There’s a difference, though, between capital-A assessment - standardized tests - and lowercase-a assessment, classroom-based formative assessments. It’s a shame people hear “assessment” and think “test,” because good assessment is at the heart of effective classroom instruction It helps teachers to create goals for students give effective feedback, and measure progress over time. We need to reclaim the word assessment so that it means the kind of classroom-embedded practices that support instruction and learning.

Instead of the kind of reading assessment where kids are compelled to read short passages on disconnected topics and answer multiple choice questions, here’s what I propose: Kids read real books. As they read, teachers ask them write about their thoughts and ideas, and comment on the main ideas, details, characters, plot, and vocabulary.

Teachers would then treat these responses as assessment, and would evaluate them to determine what they say about the skills students use--or don’t yet use--as they read. Then teachers help students set goals, and teach them strategies they can apply again and again. Teachers meet with kids in ongoing conferences to give them feedback about their work with those strategies as students read more and more books of their own choosing. The information teachers get, and the progress they monitor, is shared with teachers and administration. This is the kind of accountability that makes a difference to student learning.

The whole point of assessment is to drive instruction. With capital-A, standardized test assessment, the results arrive in summer, too late for teachers to use the information. And even if they could, the reliability of the information is questionable at best. Studies have shown that tests are more likely to measure a student’s family income level or amount of preparedness rather than the proficiencies they claim to. It’s no wonder there’s a groundswell of opposition to standardized assessment, with a robust opt-out movement and several states choosing to forego testing this year until the standardized test becomes more valid and reliable.

The most effective teachers I’ve met take a scientific stance to their practice, puzzling over students’ every moves. They regard what students write, say, and do as data. They look at students’ responses to real reading, and see that as data. Not the graph-it, chart-it kind of data that policy makers are so fond of, but the kind of information that informs a teacher’s next lesson, comment, or prompt.

Does it make sense to have students read a list of nonsense words (wom, jep, zaff) when during the school day primary-grade students are reading real words in the context of real stories? Not to me. Does it make sense to ask students in grades three and up to read aloud short passages to record their accuracy rate when what kids are asked to do each day is select entire novels to read independently? Not to me. Does it make sense to spend days and weeks and months focused on filling in bubbles on multiple choice tests when being college and career ready means a person has to think critically and respond articulately in extended pieces of writing? Not to me.

My proposal is about holding ourselves accountable to what decades of research has shown us makes the biggest difference in student engagement and achievement in reading: giving kids lots of time absorbed with books they can read with accuracy, fluency and comprehension. I want assessments to be a regular part of the school day, and for assessments to look just like what we want kids to practice. If we give kids time to read real, whole books independently and we support them with conferring and opportunities to write about and discuss their reading, then assessments should ask them to read real, whole books, too.

If there’s one thing teachers always struggle with, it’s how to “fit it all in.” In an already too-short school day, asking teachers and their students to spend time on test prep when they could be really reading, thinking critically, and conversing about texts with peers, is a waste. Let’s count students’ everyday, authentic work as “assessment” and spend our time teaching.

Connect with Jennifer on Twitter.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP