Future Focused Assessment Practices: Undoing Unintended Consequences of Standardized Assessment

Latoya Dixon tackles big issues on the Future of Assessment.by Latoya N. Dixon, Ph.D.

Latoya Dixon is a former middle school and elementary school principal. She holds a doctorate from the University of South Carolina and is the co-founder of the first EdCampSC. Her podcast, Leadership with Latoya, is available on iTunes. Follow her on Twitter @latoyadixon5.

In Sarah Gonser’s recent Hechinger Report article, Without Changes In Education, the Future of Work Will Leave More People Behind, she highlights the continued gap in socioeconomics between workers with only a high school diploma and those with post-secondary education or credentials. She notes, “This unfolding economic shift is challenging educators to shape curricula that will prepare students for positions requiring an elusive combination of soft skills — the ability to solve problems, communicate effectively and work with others — along with technical capacities.” The implications of what this means for today’s educators and those who intend to choose education, as a lifelong career cannot be ignored. If educators are going to prepare and equip students adequately for these future needed skills, many which are changing rapidly, then we must take action regarding the ways in which we assess students to determine their readiness or mastery of such skills. Among the multitude of things we can think about in our redesign of assessment practices, here are a few key elements I believe to be worthy of our immediate consideration:

  1. Educators must redesign the way assessment practices are viewed and utilized.

Assessments must move from an exercise utilized to provide a final judgment of a student’s skill set, to a tool that students are able to actually use to improve their abilities and mastery of content knowledge as well as their personal ability to collaborate with a team, problem-solve, and think critically.

Beyond receiving a score, assessment must be a meaningful, actionable, experience that leads students to utilize their personal autonomy to improve and sharpen their skills based on their personal goals and passions.

  1. Educators should center assessment practices in student autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Educators should begin to think of evaluating student performance on a continuum rather than the traditional average system. We must provide opportunities for students to move from the stages of emerging to mastery, without consequence. If a student is able to master a particular skill and demonstrate such, we must end the method of punishing students with an average that fails to represent their current and real-time mastery. When students are able to view assessment as a continuous practice used to improve their skills rather than a one-shot, high stakes, and highly consequential exercise, there is the potential for educators to capitalize on student agency as a key concept in improving the knowledge and abilities of students.

“We must end the method of punishing students with an average that fails to represent their current and real-time mastery.”

  1. Educators must advocate with policymakers to end the misuse and abuse of standardized testing.

It’s unfortunate but we’ve entered into an era where we’ve boiled student success and teacher effectiveness down to a single construct-whether or not students pass the high stakes tests. It’s urgent that we acknowledge that rarely, if at all, do standardized tests address student’s ability to self-assess, problem solve, think critically, or work collaboratively and effectively with a team of peers.

If these are the skills that students will need to have a place in our future global economy, we have a moral obligation to end the misuse and abuse of standardized testing. And that doesn’t mean an ending to accountability. Instead, it means we measure what matters-the necessary skills and characteristics as well as content knowledge that students need to compete in and contribute to a global economy.

In a recent conversation with a few friends who are educators, I listened to a conversation regarding one teacher’s attempt to improve the assessment stamina of students in hopes it would result in better scores for this year’s summative assessments, students would not tire as quickly, be able to focus longer, and hopefully perform better and demonstrate improved outcomes.

I immediately chuckled, and not because it was funny. I laughed because I thought: How did we get here? How did we get to a place where educators are focused on improving a child’s ability to sit for multiple assessments over time, instead of the skills of critical thinking, problem-solving, or working collaboratively in a team? This is an excellent example of the unintended consequences of the high stakes testing environment consuming K-12 public education. It’s time for a revisit of the purpose of our public education system and a real look at whether or not our current practices measure what matters and have the ability to create the future we want for our students.

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