How can we accurately assess students when it’s impossible to see learning?

Assessment can seem a bit scary. Teachers often worry about getting it right, seeing it as adding to workload and causing stress for kids. But in reality, teaching is all about making assessments. David Didau, an independent education consultant writes in Teachwire.

Every day, every lesson, teachers check the children understand what they’ve just been taught, and make inferences about what has and hasn’t been learned. The only trouble is, we do all this so informally, the quality of our inferences isn’t always as good as it needs to be.

I once heard a well-known educationalist say that if teachers don’t understand the concepts of reliability and validity then they have no business being teachers. I knew what the words meant but had very little idea of how they related to assessment.

We know these things matter when it comes to high-stakes assessments, but what about the kind of assessment we do day in day out? One of the biggest problems is caused by the belief that we can see learning.

In actual fact, all we ever get to see is students’ performances. We see what they do: writing essays, answering questions, solving equations, taking part in sports, etc.

If this is true then it follows that we can’t see whether something has been retained until we wait, and can’t see whether something can be transferred to a new context until we go somewhere else. The bottom line is that we cannot see learning in the here and now. All we can see is performance.

If we ask students whether they can still do what we showed them how to do earlier in the lesson, what do we actually find out? If they can’t answer successfully then we might get some useful feedback about how we need to adjust our teaching, but if they can, this tells us nothing about what they’ll be able to do next lesson.

We draw erroneous conclusions about what our students know and can do all the time, but worse, so do they. Children are excellent at working out what answer the teachers want them to give.

The solution is to make our assessments less instant. If we wait until next lesson to ask students what they remember about the last one, we’ll generate more reliable, more valid inferences about what they’ve learned.

Read the full article How can we accurately assess students when it’s impossible to see learning?

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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