Sometimes we have been so conditioned to really think about assessment as a bad thing, that we forget that there really is a purpose behind each of the assessments that we choose.
So assessment is really a measurement of growth, so taking a look at growth over time. Whereas evaluation is a judgment call of mastery. This is really important, especially when we’re talking about arts integration and STEAM, because so often, when teachers are thinking about that process about integrating with another content area, assessment is the spot that falls off the wagon because nobody feels comfortable assessing outside of their trained content area, which is completely normal, right? You have an expertise in a specific area and that is what your job is to evaluate. And so assessment feels so much like evaluation and you don’t wanna kind of overstep your bounds or try to assess something that you are not trained in. The difference however, is that assessment is a measurement of growth. Anyone can do an assessment, whether you’ve been trained in that field or not because you can see, with a variety of tools that we’re gonna share with you, how to measure the growth from beginning to end.
Evaluation however, is very different. Evaluation should be left to the trained provider, which is why we always say that it’s so incredibly important to have trained arts teachers on staff if you’re using arts integration and STEAM, because they are the ones who are going to be able to use the evaluation, to be able to judge whether or not students have mastered a particular concept or topic. So remember, if you’re integrating the arts into a lesson, your goal is to assess your students, not to evaluate them on both of the content areas.
All right, now with that in mind, let’s think about when we’re assessing, when we’re measuring for growth, are we doing so for learning or of learning? Now understanding that is really important, and helps you decide which assessments best fit your purpose for that lesson. That’s really key. So now, this is provided in your downloads for this lesson, so feel free to download that at any time. I love this reference though, because it keeps this front of mind, of what we’re aiming to do. So assessment for learning is formative and diagnostic assessments that check student understanding to decide what to do next. It’s usually detailed and specific with descriptive feedback in words and a relation to the criteria that you’ve set up. That is the assessment FOR learning. So it’s a part of that learning process. Assessment OF learning is a summative assessment. That’s when it checks what has been learned to date. It summarizes the information into marks or scores or grades. Two very different purposes.
Now in terms of who is being measured, assessment FOR learning measures individual students. So they could be measured against themselves or prior work or other students. There’s a lot of different ways that they could be measured and measured against, but it’s the individual students being measured. In assessment OF learning, the educational environment, the teachers, the curriculum, the educational system, the programs, the processes, is what is being measured. That’s really important and I want you to think about that. When you are using a summative assessment, especially one of those high stakes summative assessments and you’re measuring for the assessment of learning, what has been learned, the people who are being measured would be us as the teachers or the environment or the programs that we have in place because that has been affecting how the students are doing. That is kinda scary, and when we talk about student learning objectives, SLOs, SGGs, some places call it student growth goals, those teacher measures that everybody has been so stressed out about for the past several years, that is why. Because that is the assessment of learning. That’s the purpose of those particular assessments.
Now not all summative assessments fall into that category, of course. But remember, when you’re looking at an assessment, think about who is being measured here, and if it’s not the students, then it’s an assessment of learning not for learning. All right now, assessment for learning happens all the time. It is ongoing. It’s part of a cycle of instruction and feedback over time, and that feedback is immediate. We’re not waiting for weeks on end to get the end results. In assessment of learning, it is a very specific period of time, usually at the end of a curriculum unit or course or annually at the same time each year. That’s again, thinking of those high stakes tests. But if you are using a summative assessment for an assessment of learning, that would also qualify here.
Now, in assessment for learning, the purpose of that is to help students identify and internalize their own learning goals, understanding and to evaluate the quality of their work. So it’s also used to diagnose gaps in skills and to help decide on next steps. It really is formative of where you need to go next, and it provides that kind of barometer for students. I once heard a wonderful speaker say that if one of us were blindfolded and had to walk down the aisle, the rest of us would be charged with saying go straight, bear right, take two steps to the left, in order to keep them straight and keep them from wandering into the crowd. And that’s kind of what we’re doing here in terms of assessment for learning. We’re giving them those instructions. You need to go a little bit over here. You need to move in this direction. You need to try this instead. Those kinds of formative measurements.
Now in assessment of learning, the purpose of that is to provide an overall description of a student’s status, and evaluate the effectiveness of the educational environment. So the whole point of that is to be able to kind of provide one single snapshot of where a student is at this moment in time. Again, not bad. We do need that. But it should be a part, a very specific and small part, of the overall assessment picture of a student. And so some of us have found that we’ve been swinging that pendulum over to this assessment of learning. We need to swing it back for the for learning, especially for some of these where the purpose is indicated. So again, being really clear on your purpose will help you determine what kind of assessment that you’re gonna need to use.
And then, for strategies, in assessment for learning, we’re doing things like self-evaluation, analyzing work, developing and using rubrics, which aren’t a bad thing but definitely part of that process, reflective journaling or portfolios, sketchbooks, compositions, peer reviews, things that are tactile that again, kind of guide your direction over time. In assessment of learning, we’re looking at standardized strategies to make comparisons across students, classes, or schools. So it typically includes a pool of test questions, or common rubric for judging a project.
So again, this is not a bad category. Some of us have a bad taste in our mouth for this assessment of learning. It’s not bad when you’re using it for a very specific, distinctive purpose and you’re clear on that. So when you’re using a rubric that is standard across all of the different measurements, and you’re using it for a singular project, that’s an assessment of learning. And that’s okay. Just understand the different strategies and purposes. Okay, now the eight big ideas for assessment. These come from Damian Cooper, wonderful researcher, from his work on Talk About Assessment: Strategies and Tools to Improve Learning back from 2007. I love these eight big ideas because I think they capture where we’re trying to go with assessment. All right so, here we go.
Number one is that assessment serves different purposes at different times. And I think we just saw that with that chart on assessment for learning versus of learning. Different purposes, different times, you need to determine what you’re looking for and when. Assessment must be planned and purposeful. I always like to say that you need to assess, you need to work on your assessments right after you identify your standards that you’re gonna be working on in your lesson. You should know what you want your students to be aiming for before you write your lesson because that’s gonna help you design your lesson to help meet that goal.
Number three is that assessment must be balanced and flexible. And we’re gonna be talking about this in some of the other lessons, specifically how to make that mix work. But you need to remember that it can’t always be a rubric, or it can’t always be an exit ticket, or it can’t always be a multiple choice test. And it can’t even just be the same old three things over and over. You need to have flexibility and some balance in how you’re assessing your students over time. Effective assessment informs learning. Now this is really key, and it’s really important for what we’re doing with arts integration and STEAM in particular. When you’re looking at assessment, you’re gonna know that it’s an effective, worthwhile assessment, if it tells you about student learning over time, and it helps that learning to go to the next level. Even a summative assessment can act as an informational purpose for learning if done well. But an effective assessment informs learning, and that also includes informing the student of the learning.
Sometimes we treat assessments like our guide as the teacher and what we need to do next. Lots of times, that feedback is just as effective or more effective, if given directly to the student so that they understand their own learning process. All right, moving on to number five. Assessment must inform students through words and not just grades and numbers. So grades and numbers have their place, but assessment alone cannot just live in grades and numbers. You have to have words with it, you have to describe it, you have to understand. And think about this for yourself, if you’re getting assessment or feedback, you wanna know how did that qualify? You’re giving me a two-star rating or a four-star rating, tell me what qualified for that. What was the criteria that I met or I didn’t meet in order to receive that rating? We need to have those words in place.
Number six is that assessment is a collaborative process. And based on Damian’s research, he’s actually thinking about assessment as a collaborative process between students and teachers, that it is an evolving part of the learning process. And that is true, but I also find that assessment is a wonderful collaborative process between teachers, especially when you’re integrating across content areas. When you’re integrating an arts area with another content, like reading or math or social studies or science, it’s really important that those teachers talk to each other about what does that growth look like, what does that mean for us as teachers, and how do we take a next step from there.
Number seven is that performance standards are essential to effective assessment. This goes back to that feedback piece. You need to have a criteria set with performance standards. Here’s the benchmark, here’s where we want our students to be, in order to understand whether or not the assessment was effective. That’s really critical.
And then number eight is that grading and reporting student achievement is a caring, sensitive process. Now, this sounds like you know, fluff or maybe awww, that’s the elementary teacher coming out. No. It’s as important for a college student, a high school student, heck, even an adult to receive feedback in a way that is caring and sensitive about them as a person, about their work, and that we’re looking at this overall to try and help them get better.
By just handing out grades and then moving on, that’s not caring for the person themselves and understanding what they need in order to move on. So maybe they just need the grade and that that is all they’re gonna need to propel them to move forward. That’s fine if you understand that, and that is a part of the learning process for that individual student. You might not need to talk it to death, but you need to understand that and that that’s how they function. That is how you can care for them. But without that understanding, you’re not caring for them as a human being and you need to look at that. An assessment is more than just numbers. We are humans.