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Eliminating Assessment Fog

Eliminating Assessment Fog

2 March, 2016

Assessment fog holds similar dangers of error for accurately diagnosing student needs. Unlike road fog, which is obvious (you know you’re in it), assessment fog can be invisible. You have to be looking for it to notice. Once revealed, differentiation is easy and important to support learners.

Take into account these three guidelines for finding and eliminating assessment fog so as to meet the needs of all students.

  1. Identify and Communicate Clear Learning Targets

Scenario: Tammy, a classroom teacher, is frustrated. Her students are highly engaged in the activities, but produce work that appears to demonstrate superficial understanding. With high-stakes tests coming in the spring, she’s very concerned about the level of her students’ content knowledge.

The center of quality learning is having clear learning targets. This perhaps sounds obvious, yet there are an abundance of assessment tools that give students only a vague understanding of the outcomes. Academic criteria lists are created from unpacking the unit standards or curriculum outcomes for specific skills and concepts.

Consider the following:

Use the academic criteria list as a filter to align all assessment strategies such as observations and rubrics.

Coach students to recognize what is expected of them. Get student feedback about what they “think” are the expectations.

Unpack curriculum and standards into “I can” statements. This process helps to evaluate clarity of assessment tools to the academic outcome.

Use a Learning From Student Work protocol with colleagues to reflect and revise assessment tools. When used during team and staff meetings, it helps clear assessment fog about intentional academic outcomes and how students may interpret expectations.

  1. Separate Logistical Guidelines from Academic Learning Targets

Points should not be deducted because a student didn’t follow directions about where to place an answer or how to format a paper, or because of his or her level of contribution to classroom activities. These may be vital non-academic skills — work ethic, following directions, being responsible — and can be coached. But when these logistical requirements are factored into formative and summative assessments, they obscure the truth. Logistical requirements are necessary to shape the students’ task. Have them revise their work toward those logistics before you assess it.

  1. Provide Students with Different Options to Demonstrate Their Learning

Scenario: Sara volunteers answers to complex questions in Physics with 90 percent accuracy. Her lab reports are difficult to read, but her presentations about content and analysis are high quality. Sara’s final essay exam result was a D-, which is confusing to her and the teacher.

Assessment construction is as important as the assessment itself. One assessment format can have obstacles that are not related to the learning targets. Students like Sara may fail to present content understanding because of low writing skills. For others, it may be the reading level of the test itself. Such obstacles create skewed data pictures, and lead to misdiagnosis of needs and supports for students. Consider offering alternative options that students can choose for the assessment, or as a follow-up for an unsatisfactory result. Students need choices that are respectful to how they process information effectively. The options must be cleanly targeted to the skills that students will show.

No Fog, No Harm

When doctors take the Hippocratic Oath, they are promising, in essence, to “do no harm.” Having clean data is critical to fulfilling that oath. Teachers have a similar charge with teaching and assessing learners for growth. With the best of intentions, data is obscured by some current practices, creating misleading impressions of what students know and can do. The results lead to misdiagnoses for students’ true needs. It’s difficult to differentiate effectively for all learners if the data used does not concentrate wholly on academic learning target. Clean assessment data benefits everyone.