It’s not unusual for a family that is doing research on schools and school districts to request meetings or tours with building administrators. During these tours, a principal may mention that the school utilizes such educational philosophies as professional learning communities, differentiated instruction, response to intervention, or data-driven instruction. These terms sound impressive, but what do they really mean?
Accountability and data analysis
Accountability is as much a part of education as spring break and faculty meetings. It’s hard to imagine an educational environment that doesn’t have multiple layers of accountability intertwined into the school routine.
- Educators have had to learn how to work with student data, which has led to greater use of classroom assessments, data team meetings, and other methods of dissecting all the information that teachers gather throughout the year.
- Administrators have spent countless hours on professional development educating their staff on proper methods for analyzing data and using that information to influence regular lesson planning.
- Reports are gathered for parent/teacher conferences in an effort to keep parents in the educational loop.
The end result is a greater understanding of a child’s progress for teachers, principals, specialists, and parents. However, throughout this entire process of breaking down information and sharing it with others, the most important person is missing … the student.
The assessment cycle
Educators who have spent any time aligning curriculum and assessments to student learning understand that there is an assessment cycle involved with any new learning objective. It begins with developing goals, objectives, and outcomes.
Richard DuFour, one of the creators of the Professional Learning Community process, recognizes this first step of the cycle when he has teacher teams asking the question “What do we want our students to learn?”
Once the objectives have been identified, an assessment method needs to be determined and developed. This can be a time-consuming process initially. Creating an assessment that is thorough and can provide worthwhile information is crucial to student learning. Once a strong assessment has been created and administered, a teacher needs to review the results. The final step is to share this information with others. This final step is often ignored, skipped, or marginalized.
Learning environments that truly embrace concepts such as professional learning communities understand the value of the assessment cycle. Educators work very hard to create valuable assessment tools based on carefully planned objectives and waste no time reviewing the data that is reaped from all the work they’ve sown.
Why assessment results aren’t shared
So why overlook sharing the information? Perhaps the issue is pride, a desire not to boast if the results are promising or a fear of looking like a lesser teacher if the results are disastrous. It could be a lack of understand regarding why sharing is even of importance in the process. However, in classrooms where there is too much curriculum to cram into one school year, the issue could simply be a lack of time.
Teachers sense the urgency to move forward rather than waste time reflecting on what has taken place. Unfortunately, this mindset is not what’s best for students.
Fortunately, progressive administrators are creating opportunities for educational teams to meet and share data in a non-threatening environment. This allows for teachers to gain the perspective and advice of colleagues. This type of collaboration can be an invaluable tool to the learning culture of any classroom. However, even with this type of sharing taking place, the student is still left out of the loop.
Why student involvement matters
Student involvement is the central shift needed in our traditional view of assessment’s role in teaching and learning, according to educational researchers at the Pearson Assessment Training Institute. Regardless of the quality of teacher or the level of parent involvement, students will decide whether they are capable or willing to learn the material. Students who are uninformed about their own progress will never gain ownership over their own achievement.
Giving up power in exchange for learning
This may require a paradigm shift for educators who enjoy exhibiting larger amounts of control when it comes to assessment and feedback. Taking a step back and looking at learning through a student’s perspective is the first step toward change.
Educational author Thomas Guskey offers simple suggestions such as removing the mystery behind tests and quizzes. If the goal is for a student to be successful on an assessment and prove they know the material, why make the objectives a secret to them?
Classroom assessments that serve as a meaningful source of information don’t surprise students, Guskey states. By making everyone aware of what will be assessed, students learn that this cycle is intended to benefit them rather than entrap them.
A variety of options exists within the assessment cycle that can influence student motivation and learning. The old habit by teachers of grading a test and handing it back with no opportunity for feedback or intervention is extinct. This practice does not enhance learning, and it drives those students who are truly at risk further from the goal of achieving mastery.
When a teacher involves a student in conversations related to his or her own achievement, that teacher is setting the student up to become an independent learner who is intrinsically motivated. In a world where career and college readiness is such an important part of the learning process, there can be no greater tool given to a student than the sense of ownership for their own accomplishments. It all begins by completing the assessment cycle and making students part of the process.
Dr. Jason Perez is the head principal at Heritage Trails Elementary in Moore, Oklahoma, as well as a faculty member at Concordia University – Portland, where he teaches Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction courses, and an adjunct faculty member at the University of Central Oklahoma, where he teaches Master of Education Administration courses.Learn More: Click to view related resources.
- Richard DuFour, Rebecca Dufour, Robert Eaker, "Revisiting Professional Learning Communities at Work," Solution Tree Inc.
- Jan Chappuis, Rick J. Stiggins, Steve Chappuis, and Judith A. Arter, "Classroom Assessment for Student Learning: Doing it Right – Using it Well," Pearson Assessment Training Institute
- Thomas R. Guskey, "How Classroom Assessments Improve Learning," ASCD
- Joe Levy, "Reporting and Sharing Assessment Results"