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Do Students Need a Bill of Assessment Rights?

Today's guest blog is written by Rick Stiggins. Rick is a world renowned assessment expert, and the retired founder of the Assessment Training Institute.

While it certainly is unusual to think of students in school in these terms, I believe they are vested with certain inalienable rights related to the assessment of their achievement and the use of their assessment results to influence their learning.  Those rights are articulated below.  Students and their families should be made aware of those rights and educators should understand their professional responsibility to understand and protect them.  Students themselves may have difficulty asserting their assessment rights at least until high school and, even then, their ability and power to do so will be limited.  For this reason, those rights are stated below as entitlements that school leaders and teachers, as well as parents and communities, must protect and honor.  School policies and practices that violate these rights should be abandoned.  In the service of maintaining a foundation of assessment literacy in American schools, students should be reminded of their rights on a regular basis.

1. Students are entitled to know the purpose for each assessment in which they participate; that is, they have a right to know specifically how the results will be used. 

Assessments and their results can be used to support learning or to certify it depending on the context.  Students are entitled to know which application applies to each assessment in which they participate.  If the purpose is to help them learn more, then they should be given the opportunity to understand how the assessment will support them; that is, what decisions they or their teacher will make based on the results that will promote their growth.  When this is the purpose, summary judgments about the sufficiency of learning are to be suspended; that is, grade book closed.  However, if the purpose is to certify mastery of achievement standards, then students are entitled to know what accountability decisions will be made based on results. Teachers are responsible for verifying student understanding of the purpose of all assessments.  

2. Students are entitled to know and understand the learning target(s) to be reflected in the exercises and scoring guides that make up any and all assessments.

This standard is met most appropriately when students are given the opportunity to understand the learning target(s) to be mastered and assessed in student-friendly terms from the very beginning of the instruction that will lead up to the assessment.   In other words, students are entitled to the opportunity to understand and master before being held accountable for learning.  This standard is not met when students are left to guess at what counts as they prepare for the assessment.  Teachers are responsible for verifying student understanding of learning targets.

3.  Students are entitled to understand the differences between good and poor performance on pending assessments and to learn to self-assess in terms of that performance continuum in tracking of their progress toward mastery.

Students learn most effectively when they see and understand the pathway to success unfolding before them as they travel their journey to academic success.  They can see this only if the achievement destination is made clear to them from the beginning of the learning and if their teachers help them understand the achievement increments that lead to ultimate success.  Teachers are responsible for assuring student understanding of these things.  Students remain confident of success and engaged in learning if they partner with their teacher in the use of formative assessments that reveal to them growth over time in their capabilities. 

4.  Students are entitled to dependable assessment of their achievement gathered using quality assessments.      

Assessment is the process of gathering information to inform instructional decisions.  Sound decisions, either to support or certify achievement, require dependable evidence.  Specifically, they are entitled to assessments that rely on a proper assessment method, sample their achievement appropriately, rely on high quality exercises and scoring schemes, and are free of bias.  Since students may be incapable of judging the quality of the assessments in which they participate, that quality must be assured by assessment literate teachers and school leaders.

5. Students are entitled to effective communication of their assessment results, whether those results are being delivered to them, their families, or others concerned with their academic well-being.

The assessment process works effectively only if the results of assessments are communicated to the intended user in a timely and understandable manner and in a manner reflective of the intended purpose for the assessment.  Students have the right to have all evidence of their achievement communicated to them or to others in a way that assures complete understanding meaning of those assessment results by the recipient.  When the purpose is to support learning, students are entitled to communication that describes their work in a manner that helps them do better the next time.  When the purpose is to communicate a summary judgment of the sufficiency of learning, the recipient is entitled to a detailed analysis of the evidence basis for the evaluation (grade assigned, for example).

I recently published a vision of excellence in assessment that synthesizes these emerging ideas in Revolutionize Assessment published by Corwin (Stiggins, 2014).  The promise of such a vision is immense for promoting greater achievement, narrowing achievement gaps, developing lifelong learner competencies for all and attaining universal high school graduation.  To get to there, I am contending, we need to develop the assessment literacy of stakeholders outside of school who set policy and drive classroom practices.  They include federal, state and local educational policy makers and the citizenry of our local communities, especially parents and grandparents. 

*Adapted from an Rick's article entitled, "Improving assessment literacy outside of the schoolhouse too" in the October 2014 issue of the Phi Delta Kappan (vo. 96, no 2, 67-72)

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