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Follow-Up: Why Measure Student Learning?


Bill Farmer
In my initial post I posed the question, why measure student learning? The answer to this question inevitably varies depending upon who you ask. Even more complicated than addressing the purpose behind measuring student learning is figuring out how student learning should even be measured.


Learning is an infinitely complex process, yet as a society we seem determined to relegate learning to a single letter grade or percentage score aimed at sorting and ranking students. There can be some useful information captured by a well-written high stakes exam. It provides a snapshot of isolated and specific aspects of a student's learning at a given point in time.

Unfortunately, the elevated emphasis placed on these types of assessments, several of which are poorly constructed, oversimplifies the intricacies involved in truly documenting and understanding a student's learning process. It is difficult to ignore the impact that this has on a student's perception about learning.

In the high school setting where I teach, students appear to be conditioned to focus on the quantified end result. At the beginning of the year, I find myself having to counteract this tendency of students to only pay attention to the total number of points earned on an assessment. I accomplish this by using a detailed rubric void of any point values to "grade" their first formal lab report. Initially, students are extremely uncomfortable with the fact that the rubric doesn't have a summative grade attached to it. Eventually I am able to direct their attention to the important information that the rubric does provide, which is how they can make their lab report better.

We cannot lose sight of the essential reasons why measuring student learning is so important. Not only does it supply the teacher with valuable, personalized data to inform instruction, but assessments also should be constructed in such a way as to provide students with the critical feedback necessary to guide their continued learning. With all of this in mind, educators should be taking the lead in the development of effective tools to assess and promote student learning.

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