Teaching is the hardest job on the planet. It requires deep content knowledge, an understanding of how kids learn, a skill in connecting to students as human beings, and patience for the often inane demands of the profession. No matter how good a teacher-preparation program is (or how bad for that matter), beginning teachers always have a learning curve as they face the realities of the day-to-day demands. Through my own work in professional development, focused on supporting the use of data to help kids learn, it is clear to me that there is a growing need to introduce assessment literacy in preservice programs.
Assessment literacy is simply the knowledge and skill educators need in order to make well-informed decisions about when, how, and why to use the complex and bewildering assessment choices available today.
Why am I passionate about assessment literacy? Because the use of assessment has become a significant part of student’s lives—and as a result, a significant part of teachers’ lives as well. Over the past several years, I have reached the conclusion that there are two key areas of emphasis with assessment literacy that all incoming educators need to learn and all veteran teachers need to remember.
First, educators should know the purposes of different types of assessments and the value each provides to the teaching and learning process. All assessments are not created equal, and all assessments are not the “high stakes” tests that cause more and more concern among educators. When used correctly, assessment data can empower, and not encumber, teachers. Understanding terms such as formative, summative, interim, and benchmark can help teachers to hold their ground in the growing debate on the use of assessment.
Second, teachers, particularly those just entering the profession, should focus their attention on ensuring that the results of classroom assessments benefit the students who are asked to take them. Assessment results should provide information about student progress and related data that teachers can use to improve the effectiveness of their instruction. By insisting that student assessment results are linked to curriculum and professional development offerings, both teachers and students will gain from the use of data to drive learning. The growing interest in the United States in formative assessment—long practiced in countries such as Australia—is the most powerful example around of how assessment can increase student learning.
Assessment is here to stay. NCLB kicked off a revolution in assessment that is now reinforced by the advent of the consortia and fueled by the growing interest in teacher effectiveness. By understanding different assessments and knowing how to apply assessment data to the instructional process, incoming teachers will enter the classroom equipped with key knowledge for leading a 21st century classroom. Assessments can be one of the most significant tools available to a successful educator. But such a reality demands teacher preparation programs that teach assessment literacy.
Anne Udall is the vice president of professional development at the Northwest Evaluation Association, in Portland, Ore., which develops assessments and data on student performance. She has worked as a teacher, administrator, community facilitator, and author. Follow the Northwest Evaluation Association on Twitter at @nwea.
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