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Assessment Malpractice | Ecology of EducationEcology of Education

Assessment Malpractice

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Assessment is a hot topic in the teaching world, and I have noticed a real imbalance between the two different kinds of assessment. First, here are the two kinds: 

Summative Assessment: This kind of assessment is done to assess a student’s skills and knowledge after the learning has taken place. This is a judgement that traditionally takes place in the form of a grade or mark.

Formative Assessment: This kind of assessment is done while students are still learning. The teacher observes and interacts with students to (1) modify and adapt their instruction to better teach them and (2) provide information for students so that they may take that information and improve on their skills and knowledge.

Current trends in teacher professional development are tearing teachers in two different directions. Here’s what I mean: When it comes to actually teaching students, teachers are encouraged to differentiate their instruction. Basically differentiate means that a teacher understands that no two children learn the same way and so the teacher will create mulitple paths for a student to take as they learn.

I have little to no problem with this current trend. The more teachers differentiate their instruction, the more students are likely to learn. Formative assessment flourishes with differentiated instruction. That’s a good thing!

Here’s the problem: teachers are also under more pressure than ever to show results on high-stakes standardized tests – and these tests are more than likely multiple choice.

 Do you see the problem?

 Teachers are being asked to differentiate their instruction but then forced to show high test scores on undifferentiated assessments.

 Summative assessment can be done better, but we have to get away from our misguided obsession with standardization. We have to get away from our our perverted need for data that can be easily bar graphed or pie-charted. Children are more than data and learning is far too messy to try and average.

 If we:

  • use a multiple choice assessment to assess a student
  • have student tests out with a lower proficiency than they actually possess
  • use that assessment to report on their learning
  • know the gross limitations involved with multiple choice assessments (which we do)

-this is a kind of educational malpractice-

Here’s how this plays out in real life:

Little Johnny takes the test and scores poorly. The teacher sees Johnny’s test score and says “wow, that’s weird. I know Johnny gets this stuff better than that!” The teacher than proceeds to knowingly use an inaccurate assessment to report on Johnny’s learning.

It’s weird. The teacher knows better but has become a slave to the test and feels compelled to use a summative assessment that is masquerading as an accurate, objective depiction of Johnny’s learning. This is sad.

In my classroom, I use formative assessment 99.9% of the time. I provide students with both differentiated instruction and differentiated assessment. Rather than my students learning the way I teach, I teach the way my students learn. And equally important – rather than forcing my students to fit my assessment needs, my assessments fit my student’s needs.

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Author:Joe Bower

Joe is a middle school teacher in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada. Joe works to challenge 'traditional' schooling while exploring more progressive forms of education. He believes students should experience their success and failure not as reward and punishment but as information. He is also the author of For the Love of Learning @ www.joebower.org
  • http://twitter.com/cybraryman1/status/11028343051 Jerry Blumengarten

    RT @nblumengarten: Assessment Malpractice http://bit.ly/anw8rt (via @prestwickhouse) another reason to #STOPSB6

  • http://twitter.com/lernys/status/11030481867 Fernando Santamaría

    Assessment Malpractice http://bit.ly/a9Rvwc /cc @feedly

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  • http://twitter.com/joe_bower/status/11040801339 Joe Bower

    RT @JasonFlom Class action suit, anyone? "Assessment Malpractice" by @joe_bower | Ecology of Educatio http://bit.ly/cSDzR7 #edreform #edchat

  • http://www.angelastockman.com/blog Angela

    Wow. I can see why you might question the use of summative assessment and data so strongly, if these are your understandings of what they are and how they work. I agree. Definitely not the best of practices.

    I find the use of data important in my own work with learners. Especially the learners I work with outside of the system altogether. I don't know how I'd be able to serve them well without it. Maybe my understandings are different. I know my practice certainly is.

    Something else– while I personally feel we could probably do away with grades altogether if we were to begin sharing and capturing feedback and formative info. better (which I see as data, incidentally), some teachers work inside of systems that still require grades. Conversations about what is better to grade (and more importantly, what shouldn't be graded at all) can be clarifying. Making a clear distinction between quality formative and summative assessment practices and the information they provide can be helpful here and actually work to support the sort of learning experiences you advocate for.

    I differentiated instruction and assessment for many years in my own classroom, and as a result, my grade meant something different than what teachers at higher levels and parents interpreted it to mean (as they called upon more traditional perspectives). How can teachers who differentiate but who are still required to give grades do so in a way that is meaningful for students and other readers of that report? Or should that not matter at all? I know what worked for us……but I'm curious how others might address the disparity that can occur.

  • http://twitter.com/drmmtatom/status/11047499543 Monte Tatom

    Assessment Malpractice http://tinyurl.com/yecdt2k #fhuedu508

  • http://twitter.com/joe_bower/status/11047929991 Joe Bower

    RT @drmmtatom Assessment Malpractice http://tinyurl.com/yecdt2k #fhuedu508

  • http://twitter.com/joe_bower/status/11149126733 Joe Bower

    RT @Chuck_Bell_ Assessment Malpractice http://short.to/21wdt

  • http://twitter.com/blairteach/status/11152465967 Nancy Blair

    RT @Chuck_Bell_: Assessment Malpractice http://short.to/21wdt

  • http://twitter.com/azjd/status/11167912805 Jeff Delp

    Good article identifying an adverse implication of standardized testing. Assessment Malpractice http://short.to/21wdt /via @Chuck_Bell_

  • Pingback: How to Start Using Classroom Assessment Techniques in Your Classroom | Ecology of Education

  • http://twitter.com/jasonflom/status/63228330190712833 Jason Flom

    Assessment Malpractice | via @eco_of_ed http://bit.ly/d51ORN a voice of reason from @joebower #edchat

  • http://twitter.com/mrsebiology/status/63232991874392064 Terie Engelbrecht

    RT @JasonFlom: Assessment Malpractice | via @eco_of_ed http://bit.ly/d51ORN a voice of reason from @joebower #edchat

  • http://twitter.com/jasonflom/status/63593049426636800 Jason Flom

    Assessment Malpractice | Via @Eco_of_Ed http://bit.ly/cSDzR7 by @joe_bower (mis-credited to @joebower yesterday — lo siento mucho)