29 March 2009

No Thank You, I'm Full

I went to a conference this past week where there were lots of people like me who wanted to geek out about assessment, grading practices/evaluation, and data. I understand that most people might not find such an event to be their cup of tea; but for me, this was about as good as it gets. In my day-to-day work, I don't get to have these kinds of conversations---and they are the ones I'm most interested in having right now. So this little convention will buoy me up for a few months.

There are two items that I am still chewing on. See what you think...

Is there such a thing as "too much assessment"? I haven't completely decided. I really think it depends on how the results are going to be used. If we're just talking about a classroom teacher monitoring the learning of his/her students---then, I don't think you can overassess. As a teacher, you are constantly gathering information and responding to students. It's the way the classroom works. But step outside of that, and my answer changes. When we start talking about district assessments, diagnostic tests (e.g. DIBELS), and/or state tests---then, I do think it's possible to go overboard in a hurry. Because here, teachers/kids are often not the users of that information. It's not as meaningful and I think there's a good argument to be made about these sorts of assessments taking away from instructional time. However, would we pay as much attention to equity issues without these?

My second thing to chew on is about the focus of teacher collaboration time. In December, I heard a national expert in assessment state that he thinks the development of department/district assesssments is a waste of time because sample size will never be large enough to achieve any reliability or validity. Even at the state level, developing high quality items takes a lot of time and money...so why waste precious resources at the district level for such things? And then, there was the national expert last week who had a very different view---perhaps the more "popular" one these days. His idea is that the process of planning school and/or district assessments provides rich opportunities for conversations about curriculum and instruction. So, perhaps validity and reliability don't matter as much because ending up with the highest quality assessment isn't the point. I find my own thoughts somewhere in between these two views. I do agree that collaborative conversations are important, but perhaps it's not the assessment that needs to be the focus. Perhaps it's just looking at student work that matters. Even if teachers don't give the same items to students, couldn't conversations about what the work shows and what instructional practices were used be just as rich?

I'll continue to try to digest these two chunks of information. Right now, though, my brain is full.


Jenny said...

I read your posts and just keep nodding my head. Yup, yup, yup.

As to 'too much assessment', I think you've hit on it. Teachers are constantly assessing. If they aren't they're doing something wrong. But we've gone overboard on the standardized assessments. I figured out that last year my fifth graders spent 5% of their days taking standardized assessments. Ugh.

Tracey said...

"too much assessment," Ugghhh....we spend all our time assessing and no time teaching.

DIBELS is pointless.

teacher collaboration is a good idea...but not a good use of time if it is not planned and coordinated so the teachers know what they are collaborating about!

I love your blog...