Efficient Assessment, Part 3: The Decisions

In previous blog posts, I’ve laid out the questions I ask myself when designing an assessment and the ways in which I collect student mastery data.  This month, I answer the question “What do I do with these data?”

Few in the standardized-test-driven galaxy in which public education lives these days would argue that we don’t have enough information about our students.  Those who aren’t crazy about the data from state exams can always collect their own information directly from their students.  Personally, I prefer these data because they are more targeted at the knowledge and skills that I know my students need to have and that I have been teaching in my classroom.

But, getting the data isn’t the most important part, at least in my opinion.  The magic, of course, is in what we do with the information we have.

I am fortunate to be a member of a pilot program to train North Carolina teachers in Data Literacy.  My cohort is helping to develop the lessons that will be used to help classroom teachers all over the state better understand data and assessment.  This has got me thinking a lot about this difficult issue.  I mean, in a perfect world, I would have plenty of time (plus smaller classes and extra teaching help) to provide the remediation that my assessments indicate is needed.

In the real world of public education, however, we are constantly asked to “do more with less”.  We are responsible for the learning of every single student no matter how differently they are prepared, how differently they learn, or how hard they work.  How we use our assessment data is one of the few things we can control.

So, here is what I do with mine.  First, I group students using my data.  This usually translates to a Masters group (on or above grade-level) and a Developing group (below grade-level proficiency).  I provide self-paced enrichment for the Masters, sometimes involving preparing review materials for others, or tutoring members of the Developing group, and I personally provide extra instruction to the Developing group.  This can be Study Island review activities or hands-on experiences with topics where the entire class didn’t get one).  Above all, I seek to provide another way for these students to experience the concepts and another chance for them to understand it.

The second way that I use my assessment data is in planning further whole-class activities.  If the data show me that there is a misconception or gap in understanding that is widespread, I can focus on clearing up that confusion.  Often, this is best achieved by providing a demonstration or video that makes the point in a way that is surprising.  Students will frequently remember a visual experience that has changed their thinking.

The last way that I use the data from my assessment is in determining a student’s grade in my Science class.  Summative data are my least favorite, as I’m sure they are for many teachers, and I resist the urge to stamp a final grade on any assignment until deadlines beyond my control force my hand.  But, ultimately, it is important for students, teachers, and parents to know what level of mastery students have achieved.

For me, that is what assessment data leads to: differentiation, better lesson planning, and summative grades.  The beauty of good classroom assessment, however, is that there is so much more that a skilled teacher can do with this information.  The key is to collect it, share it, and use it.  Don’t give a test just because you’ve finished teaching something.  Assess early and often, and use the data with students to help them improve their understanding.

What do you do with your student assessment data?

photo credit: prayitno via photopin cc

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