I believe that effective measurement of student learning is about consistency and complexity. I am always measuring student learning in a variety of ways. I’m assessing during lessons as I listen in to a “turn and talk” or respond to a raised hand. The moment students go off to work on math, my co-teacher and I are scanning the room, checking for similar difficulties, and then grabbing those five or six students to work within a small group. Sometimes we use a checklist or other tracking template, noting their strengths and weaknesses. We use running records throughout the year to gauge student reading growth. We also give unit and district-wide benchmark tests in literacy and math. These tests ask students to write, answer multiple-choice questions, and explain their thinking in short-answer formats.
I actually like our district-wide benchmark math tests for 1st grade. I think they are an example of an effective measurement tool. These tests measure student learning in a very complex, deep way. There are no multiple-choice questions. Students must explain their thinking. And most importantly, these tests ask students to show what they have learned in a variety of ways. The complexity of the benchmark tests holds me accountable for making sure that I am teaching my students in a rigorous way.
While my school does support me in and encourage me to measure student learning in all the ways I have described, they ultimately measure student learning in a very narrow way: the state’s standardized test. Currently, our government values standardized testing as showing mastery and therefore so do our schools. I see the tension between what kids know and how they are asked to show it in my own 1st grade classroom. I believe that when my kids read authentic literature, and can summarize, infer, and draw conclusions about the text and its characters that they are showing growth. And I believe that measure of reading comprehension is more meaningful and complex than a series of questions about a decontextualized passage.
Do we need citizens who can answer questions about a passage or citizens who can think and talk critically about text and events? If we do value the latter—if that’s the kind of thinking that the 21st century begs—then we are prioritizing tests that don’t align to that vision. If we want schools to change the way they measure learning, we as a government and a society need to change what we value about what students know and how they show it.
Jessica Hahn has taught elementary grade children for six years in Phoenix and New York City.
The opinions expressed in Teaching Ahead: A Roundtable 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.