This is part of a series of blog posts based on HMH’s recent report titled The Connected Learning Era: Mitigating the COVID-19 Learning Loss.
About six months ago, I (like many others) viewed my life as a challenge. Balancing career, family, and quality of life seemed to fully occupy my attention (and then some). Since then, we have seen even greater challenges added to our lives at levels we had never imagined. We are still learning to cope with this new reality, and the future holds a lot of uncertainty.
In this time of great challenge for education, the delivery of assessment has changed for many, but its underlying role in teaching and learning has not changed. Assessment is still needed to provide data that informs instructional practice, even as the current context introduces threats to test reliability and validity. Given the wide variety of remote learning settings, educators are as concerned as ever about where their students are academically. Are they keeping up? Are they falling behind? And if so, how far behind?
The Need for Assessment Has Not Changed
Assessment data is still needed to drive instructional decision-making and accelerate learning. The value of data is as important as ever considering we don't know how effective remote instruction is at its most recent scale.
Although the challenges of assessment have increased with the transition to remote learning, an informative and feasible assessment system should still be:
- Comprehensive, providing different measures for different purposes and multiple ways for students to demonstrate their knowledge, skills, and abilities;
- Coherent, connected to instruction with clear goals;
- Continuous, providing frequently updated information that enables timely feedback and differentiation and;
- Valid and Reliable for its intended purpose, reliable enough to ensure consistent results, and developmentally appropriate for students to demonstrate their knowledge, skills, and abilities.
Revisiting How We View Assessment
As Stanislas Dehaene points out in his recent book How We Learn (2020), assessment is the most important component of how we learn. To fully appreciate its importance, we must move beyond our traditional view of assessment as an occasional obligation each spring or at the end of a unit of instruction or semester—especially in a time of remote learning and teaching.
We are assessing and learning from feedback we receive every day of our lives both in and out of the classroom. When I approach the counter at my favorite Mexican restaurant and decide on the burrito with extra spicy salsa, my prior knowledge that I enjoy spicy food, my assessment of the current offerings, and the subsequent feedback provided by my burrito offer me a valuable lesson on what I should and should not order in the future. My lunch in the context of assessment may seem silly, but the point is assessment and learning from feedback takes many forms and is important in different contexts.
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