What Are the Best Ways to Measure Student Learning?

What Are the Best Ways to Measure Student Learning?

Today's school-reform initiatives often center on using measures of student learning to gauge school and teacher effectiveness. This focus on accountability has in some ways taken away from the more basic purpose of assessment: to figure out what students know and need to learn.

Many schools deal with this gap by instituting benchmark or interim tests, which often mimic the final standardized tests, or tracking specific skills through progress monitoring. Teachers also design their own formative assessments, including anything from informal class questioning to written tests to performance-based tasks.

How do you assess what your students know and are able to do? What tools or methods do you find most helpful in measuring student learning? Are you in favor of school-wide benchmark testing? How can schools and districts support teachers' efforts to reliably gauge student learning? How must assessments evolve in order to measure the knowledge and skills needed for 21st-century success?

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 ...

Follow-Up: It's Time to Take Back Assessment

Jessica Hahn Reading all of the posts, and particularly Rebecca's about standardized testing, made me reflect on my own post. I realize that when I thought of an effective measurement tool, I thought of a completely open-ended math test. When I had a critique of a test, it was of a multiple-choice, standardized reading test. I believe that reading testing is extremely problematic. For example, kindergarten through 2nd grade students in my school have historically read on or above grade level, as measured by the Fountas and Pinnell benchmark assessment. This assessment relies on running records and miscue analysis. And ...

Follow-Up: Risk and the Power of Reflection

Sarah Henchey In my first post, I described the process that my 6th grade English Language Arts PLC used to establish a strong foundation of knowledge and skills this year. Namely, we began our planning with a focus on how to best assess and achieve student learning. Commenter Megan Allen asked, "How did your PLC decide on these particular steps? What advice do you have for other PLCs to 'get their legs' and get started on this journey?" The evolution of my PLC has been a process. This is only our second year working together, but each year has strengthened ...

Follow-Up: At the End, What Do Students Know and What's the Best Way to Measure It?

Marsha Ratzel In my first post, I wrote about how assessments inform my instruction as I teach a unit. The companion to "as I teach" are the assessments that tell me how well my students learned what I set out to teach them. Summative assessments at the end of the unit are important too, providing me with a reliable picture of how well students have mastered the unit's objectives. Frankly, I think that multiple-choice questions are insufficient as end-of-unit measurement tools. I do use multiple-choice tests to make sure students know the basic facts, but these are only a precursor ...

Follow-Up: Looking for Data in All the Wrong Places

Dan Brown Last Friday, my students didn't come to school. Instead, all staff members gathered in grade-level teams to measure their achievement in the second our of three-per-year "Data Days." During the preceding week the kids took two 105-minute interim assessment tests (English and math practice SAT or released state exams) with Scantron and open-response sections. Then the adults spent all day breaking down the data, talking standards, identifying students of concerns, and writing action plans. This has become common practice in American schools. The structure is great; the opportunity to talk with a horizontal cohort of educators about students ...

Follow-Up: A Call for Reading-Test Reform

Rebecca Schmidt I agree with many of the comments saying that our students are over-tested. Yes, 16 days of testing each year is far too many, and too many resources are devoted to testing at the expense of more important ones in elementary school. However, I have to disagree with the position that we discard assessment altogether. I view my students' reading and math abilities as their human rights—and my job is to empower them to be productive changemakers in their communities by accessing these rights. Without assessment, I would not know if my teaching strategies were effective. I want...

Follow-Up: Who Has Time to Assess?

Ryan Kinser After reading the posts of my fellow bloggers and engaging in an idea-rich Twitter chat with colleagues over the past week, I've discovered some common concerns among teachers regarding assessment and student learning. Some pressing questions surfaced, one of which I still struggle with: How do we find the time to provide detailed, accurate, and useful assessment feedback to students? I suspect thousands of teachers feel like Bill Ferriter, who in his recent blog entry, "Is Real Formative Assessment Even Possible?" describes the utter exhaustion that comes from constantly assessing hundreds of students and then improving his teaching ...

What Do Standardized Reading Tests Really Measure?

Rebecca Schmidt Each April, all 3rd through 5th graders in my school take the DC-CAS—a standardized, summative assessment of grade-level skills in reading and math. It is a grueling eight-day test paralyzing the entire PK-5 community—limiting movement, resource classes, even recess. DC Public Schools uses the results (and administrative evaluations) to determine if our students are learning and if we are effectively teaching. Assessing student learning and progress each year is important: All students should have the same opportunities to learn and succeed and we educators need to know if our teaching is helping our students develop ...

Visible Learning: John Hattie and Student-Directed Projects

Dan Brown The cover of John Hattie's Visible Learning boasts the blurb "Reveals teaching's Holy Grail." Everybody in education needs to get it. If Hattie's subtitle, A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement, gives you pause, I can assure you it isn't as scary as it sounds. In fact, Hattie's exhaustive research into what quality teaching and learning looks like is the best road map I've ever seen for how to get the most out of students. I hope my two-year-old daughter's future teachers have read it; if not I just might be foisting copies on them at ...

Why Measure Student Learning?

Bill Farmer Each day, as students enter my biology classroom, someone will inevitably ask the question, "What are we doing today?" My response always attempts to shift their frame of thought from the instructional exercises that they will be engaging in on that particular day to the objectives that I hope they will be learning by the end of the class period. While tracking student learning has long been an integral component of our professional practice as teachers, it has recently received heightened national attention within the educational policy arena. For politicians and policy makers, learning has been rebranded as ...

Let's Teach to Better Tests

Ryan Kinser I don't want to teach to the test. Great educators say this all the time. I used to agree. As an idealistic young English teacher, I thought, "Amen! Let's give students real-world skills, help them become better people who can find their passions and contribute to democracy." When I looked over my state-test results after my first year, none of these ideals revealed themselves in the scores, nor did any useful data to improve my teaching. Now I'm a little older, a smidge more veteran, and my values haven't changed. But I have a confession: Now I think ...

Aligning Visions of Student Learning With the Tools To Measure It

Jessica Hahn I believe that effective measurement of student learning is about consistency and complexity. I am always measuring student learning in a variety of ways. I'm assessing during lessons as I listen in to a "turn and talk" or respond to a raised hand. The moment students go off to work on math, my co-teacher and I are scanning the room, checking for similar difficulties, and then grabbing those five or six students to work within a small group. Sometimes we use a checklist or other tracking template, noting their strengths and weaknesses. We use running records throughout the ...

What's the Next Step? Using Assessment as a Classroom Guide

Marsha Ratzel Student learning is the result of a dynamic interaction between assessment and instruction. Effective teachers use assessment to inform the design and use of classroom lessons. This interaction reminds me of assembling a huge jigsaw puzzle: I know what the final picture looks like but there are many, many pieces that have to fit together. I have to know each piece—its unique characteristics and how it might fit with the others. Similarly, each student has a complex set of individual needs—emotional and intellectual—that I must understand to build the trust that will make learning...

Assessment: The Neglected Priority

Sarah Henchey I remember listening to my undergraduate professors as they emphasized the importance of assessment in the learning cycle. There was mention of formative and summative assessments, checks for understanding, rubrics versus checklists, and more. Although I paid attention and took away what I could, it didn't click until I was faced with more authentic circumstances. Somehow, in my first year as an English language arts teacher, I lost sight of the role assessment plays and thought my "grading" could wait until the weekend. This led to many moments of frustration as I could not accurately gauge my students' ...

The opinions expressed in Teaching Ahead: A Roundtable are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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  • Jessica Shyu

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