Session 2: The Purpose of Assessment

Which of these three snacks is tastiest?

This is the provocation I will use to ignite the next part of our inquiry (thanks Victoria for the idea) – why do we assess?

Obviously the answer to the question above is completely subjective, so each group in the workshop will be asked to develop an assessment tool for determining which snack is tastiest.  They can refer to our assessment policy for descriptions of the types of tools they could use.  Their assessment tools and findings will be shared with the whole group and we will use this as a platform to pull out ideas about why we assess.

To continue the conversation of guiding questions..

Are participants constructing their own understanding? Each of the teachers participating in the workshop will come with their own ideas and experiences of assessment. As we work through the content and the ideas, the goal is for their ideas to grow, deepen or shift as they engage with the new material, have discussions with colleagues and create artefacts that represent their understanding. 

For this session, I struggled quite a bit trying to decide on how to engage the teachers meaningfully in an exploration of the purposes of assessment. They will be constructing their understanding by engaging in conversation with their peers about their own assessment practices, they will look at different examples of assessments, create their own assessment tools, categorise reasons for assessment, watch this video, and reflect on their learning.

Teachers will be given 5-10 minutes at the end of the session to write a reflection. Here are some prompts they may choose to respond to, but they are also welcome to just write about whatever is most urgent in their minds.

What purpose(s) do you primarily address in your assessment practices?

How does this impact on your learners?

How does it impact on you as their teacher?

P.S. The real answer to the question of what is the tastiest snack can be found here.

7 Thoughts

  1. Sadly I feel your snack idea will not work simply because there is only one conceivable answer and that is Oreo cookies. There is no debate everyone will agree, enjoy a bag and move on to another topic.

    I am curious if there is a particular type of assessment or an assement practice you are trying to guide the participants towards? I know my district has some very specific ideas about assessment and we have done several inservices to support teaching this ideal. Did you intend to lead them in a particular direction or were your efforts simply to impart the importance of assessment and the need to continually perform it or build a consistent philosophy or routine around it?

  2. Hi Victoria,
    I am sorry to tell you that it is actually peanut M&Ms that will triumph. Chocolate and peanut – its candy, chocolate and healthy stuff all mixed together!!! I am guiding them towards formative feedback this year. The next few sessions will be solely focused on feedback, but I felt the need to lay the groundwork and review our assessment policy together to build a shared vision.

  3. I concur with Heidi about peanut M&Ms, sorry Victoria. Although if you had entered peanut butter cups as an option, I’m sure they would win. Heidi, I read your previous blog regarding beliefs about assessment. First of all, great work. I felt that I had to continue reading through to this blog post in order to get a more in depth sense of where you’re headed with this, that’s why I am responding here. Like Victoria, I had similar questions about what it was that you were hoping to ultimately achieve. I understand that it is to develop a shared vision especially in light of some of your very first blog posts where you mentioned that there was a lack of unity and sometimes even participation. Adult learners are a tough bunch aren’t they? When I was the middle school coordinator at my previous school I headed division meetings and at the request of the principal did presentations to help colleagues understand, use and see the value in certain assessment strategies. I would say about 1% of the audience ever adopted or took to heart any meaningful reform to their practice as a result of my efforts. Fortunately but unfortunately the principal was a very, lets’s say “assertive” figure who made things happen one way or another. It was quite discouraging for me over the course of five years so I left and went to another school. All this to say, I didn’t consider the process like you have here and that was my fault. What you’re onto here is the right way to go about it. If the goal is to ensure understanding, reform and more compliance (for the benefit of students of course), then taking the time to develop a shared vision like you have planned seems to me the likeliest way of going about it. Being transparent and connecting to personal perceptions and opinions is no different than what we do in classrooms with students. This should lead to more buy-in than just presenting a the latest research and what you are doing in your classroom then expecting others to automatically agree and start creating new assessment tools and changing others the next day. Thanks for sharing this process!

  4. Hi Heidi,

    I have to back Victoria up with the Oreos. And regarding the YouTube video, I can’t imagine the insane bracket that would land those snacks in the final four (although I’ll accept that M&Ms might deserve to be there).

    It’s fantastic that you’re getting educators to explore their beliefs on the purpose of assessment. I’ve come across teachers who seem to want to use assessment itself as a type of reward or punishment, and they seem almost gleeful when a student they dislike earns a low mark. It’s frustrating to see, and I think they assess just because it’s “part of the job,” without really considering its purposes or impacts.

    Aside from the result of (hopefully) having the teachers you speak to reach a shared consensus and an enlightened outlook on the purpose of assessment, your questions will certainly also spark some self-reflection that would force them to be honest with themselves if they’re not assessing for the right reasons. “How does it impact your learners” is one question I like in particular – if assessment isn’t benefiting students and helping them to grow, then what good is it?

    Great post – thanks for sharing!

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