The start of the school year is an exciting time. Everyone is refreshed, renewed and excited. It is important to take advantage of this enthusiasm and put plans in place that last the entire year. Then, when February hits, you won’t be trying to create an assessment plan when you are tired and exhausted.
Start out with your goals for the year. What do you want to accomplish and what do you want your students to accomplish? Make a list so you know what your purpose is and you can look back upon this at any time. Knowing your why can help keep you focused even in the most difficult of times. Once you have the year or a chunk of the year mapped out, you can get down to the fun part of figuring out how you will know that you were successful in teaching: assessments. Your students come to you with a wide range of abilities, skills and backgrounds. It is important for you to keep them in the foreground. Think out how many full writing assignments will your students complete, how many projects, speeches, etc. Then you need to think about depth of knowledge. Have you differentiated your assessments enough that students can show you what they know, but also beyond? Are there opportunities for students to show you that they learned more on their own, or made leaps and connections you had not thought of? Alternatively, that they made leaps and connections that you had not thought of. No matter what your goals are, there are three important things to factor in when designing assessments.
First, student engagement levels should be high or the outcomes will not be want you want. Within each unit, you need to focus on the assessment type you are using and make sure that, over the year, you utilize a variety of structures and assessments that will allow all students an opportunity to demonstrate their learning in a way that is engaging for them. This may mean that you have multiple assessment options for every summative assessment. Daniel Pink said it best, “control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement.” When students have choice in how they demonstrate their learning, they will show you far more than you ever expected. Allowing choice in assessment is a strategy that engages your students in their own learning, allowing them to develop a strong sense of purpose.
Second, no two students are the same. They each learn differently and show their learning in different ways. Make sure your assessments are also differentiated to ensure all students the opportunity to show what they know. Be prepared to have assessments that allow students to show you where they are in relation to the targets you set, but also let them show you if they have taken their learning farther. Or perhaps your students are not quite at the target yet, but have developed many skills throughout the unit and are still demonstrating that they have made progress. This may be as simple as using Bloom’s Taxonomy or Webb’s Depth of Knowledge levels to create targets that are differentiated for different learners. In addition, standards for the different grade levels can be helpful. Maybe one student is able to determine the theme of the text, but another is able to identify the theme but also has the ability to explain how it develops throughout the text and the connection the characters have to the theme. Shouldn’t they have the chance to show this? Absolutely! Assessments that prove evidence of learning are necessary to inform your daily instructional decisions.
Finally, equity for all. A solid assessment system, whether in the classroom or throughout the state, should support equity. Students need to have the chance to demonstrate their learning in a way that is equitable. If the assessment is biased in some way, is not culturally responsive/relevant, or requires them to access background knowledge or even supplies that they can’t access – including the internet, then the assessment system has them at a disadvantage before they even begin. Then your assessment is not equitable. Ensure student success by creating equitable assessments that allow each and every student to show you what they know.
Assessment is a solid foundation to student learning and it’s a cornerstone to understanding what a student knows and what instructional strategies need to be deployed for student success. If we start the year off with a good, strong, reliable baseline of data and a strong assessment plan in place, then we will be able to work alongside our students pushing them, teaching them and loving them all year long.