We’re all in this together: Reflections on assessment

by Tricia Ebner, M. Ed., NBCT

This past week I had the opportunity to attend the NCME Special Conference, ‘And the Twain Shall Meet,’ bringing together psychometricians and classroom educators. It was exciting and a bit intimidating to be sharing the same space with experts and researchers like Neil Kingston, Susan Brookhart, and Dale Whittington. From the opening panel discussion between Margaret Heritage and Neal Kingston to the final sessions Thursday afternoon, these three key ideas resonated throughout the conference.

1. We’re all in this together.

Sometimes it’s easy to fall into the “us vs. them” trap, especially in this era of high-stakes testing. It’s easy to view those responsible for crafting large-scale summative assessments as people focused on writing complex test questions, focused on getting the data needed without considering the children taking the tests. Classroom educators eagerly study released test items, looking for those little nuances that might help them–and their students–unlock the secrets to better performance. Yet the world of educational measurement is concerned with student learning and works hard to ensure the measurement tools provide good information for teachers, students, parents, policymakers, and the community at large. Those writing and analyzing assessments are truly interested in student learning and growth. Psychometricians know that large-scale, standardized assessments are only one piece of the “puzzle” of a student’s learning profile. Yet they also know that providing good feedback through assessment data is important in helping students, parents, and teachers assemble that learning profile. Classroom teachers, administrators, and test developers are all on the same team, working together.
2. There are standards for classroom assessment, and they make a lot of sense.

9.17.17 blog post graphicTo be honest, I didn’t realize these standards existed. It’s a bit embarrassing to admit this. After all, we have standards for our content areas, standards for professional educators, standards for professional development. We really should have standards for classroom assessments–and we do. They were designed to be relevant and aligned to data collection, management, and use, and to provide feedback to students. The central question driving the development of these standards is critical: What makes good, effective classroom assessment? It’s a terrific question that deserves thoughtful discussion and reflection. (If you’re curious, the standards are available via Amazon.)

3. In all of our work, students are at the heart.

Whether we are focusing on crafting better formative assessments so that we can more directly, intentionally address specific needs, or we’re part of a team working on a major standardized test, we are ultimately doing this work because we care about students and their learning. This theme came through repeatedly, starting with the opening discussion between Dr. Neal Kingston and Margaret Heritage. In their discussion, looking at assessment from perspectives as psychometrician and classroom practitioner, they repeatedly stressed the reality that what we do is important for students. As we discussed the many challenges of assessment in education, it was clear that all of us are truly focused on the students. Ultimately, assessment is meant to help us uncover what students know and can do, so that we can continue to guide and support their learning and development.

Certainly, test developers and educators can learn a great deal from each other. As educators, we challenge our students to continue learning and growing. Now let’s challenge ourselves to deepen our knowledge of assessments, reflecting on how we can make use of the data more effectively and efficiently. Not only we will we benefit from this work, but the most important people in education will benefit: the students.

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