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"A" as in Assessment.

This is one of the concepts that makes faculty tear their hairs out and run screaming from a meeting (if the meeting alone is not enough to cause you to run screaming from the room).   For many people. this is one of the buzz words that makes you want to roll your eyes and tune out.

But a good teacher should not be afraid or annoyed with the concept of assessment.  You do it all the time when you grade.  The way the term is generally used is more of a "meta" thing -- think of it as a way of establishing that you are accomplishing what you set out to do.

If you are not already screaming and running, follow me below the squiggly thingamabob, and share your thoughts below.

When someone says "let's talk about assessment" you may think the thing being talked about is the high-stakes national testing we hear so much about.  That can be part of it, but it isn't a good use of the process.  Assessment should not be designed for punishment, of either the students or teachers.  It can be a powerful tool for improvement of all of them.

So what types of assessment are there?  Why would you use them?

There are quantitative and qualitative means of assessment and they take many many forms.  The most common quantitative form of assessment is testing.  It can be easy to use -- your test scores allow you to pass or not pass.  It also can be punitative.  We have all had bad tests.  A teacher asks for information that was not discussed in the classroom, perhaps because it wasn't really important.  For example, what is more important -- what led to the change from legislative election of senators to direct election or the number of that particular constitutional amendment?  It is easier to do a multiple choice question where there are four answers to choose from but it is hard to have those four questions allow for analysis more than guessing.  An essay, on the other hand, can allow for more careful response, but the problem with that can be that it is much more complicated to grade/evaluate.  

An example of a qualitative assessment is a portfolio -- of writing, of artwork, of assignments.  These are then looked at to see such things as improvement and relative quality of critical thinking, writing ability, and research skills, or in the case of art, for example, in the ability to use elements of design, to communicate conceptual content, and perhaps to draw.  Generally an evaluation of such a body of work has been the culmination of a studio art or creative writing class.  But the idea of spreading that methodology to more traditional liberal arts classes as philosophy and history is newer.  At my university we use portfolios to assess the university's achievements -- students submit one with works from a wide variety of classes to fulfill a wide variety of categories such as critical thinking, historical analysis, and interdisciplinary thinking.  It is also a place for them to tell us what was their most satisfying experience during their whole time here.  Sometimes that is a class or an internship, but other experiences include making friends, getting married, and starting a business, things that have nothing directly to do with classes they took, but still tell us something about what has been a valued part of their time at college.  

In order to "do" assessment well, an organization needs to be willing to make the commitment to figure out what they are needing information on, how to ask the right questions to get that info, and collect and evaluate the data that will answer the questions.  And there has to be a commitment that if there are bad results, changes can be made to improve the outcomes.  If you don't get successes, and the goal is one that is important, then don't just change the questions.  The idea that success is nothing more than good marks on a standardized test drives me bonkers.  The goal should be learning, or skill development, not just grades.  And if the learning isn't occurring, then something is wrong.  It could be inputs (underprepared students, lack of available necessary funds) or methods (a bad teacher can be a problem, of course, but there are also unrealistic assumptions of what can be accomplished in the time allotted, poorly-designed lectures and assignments) or it could be the means of assessing.  You need to determine the outcomes desired, the questions to ask and methods of asking those questions (e.g.test, survey).  

And if the results are not the ones desired, assessment can help both identify the problem and help you test solutions.  Assessment is not the enemy, as long as it is used in a positive and developmental way.  It can help you make the learning experience for your students better at the level of a single class, to a major program, to a university experience.  It can also lead to disastrous punishment for reasons that have nothing to do with what a teacher is doing.  I would argue that this is a misuse of assessment, and is the problem, not the use of assessment itself.

Originally posted to annetteboardman on Sat Aug 18, 2012 at 11:18 AM PDT.

Also republished by Teachers Lounge.


For my own info to help with this series, what level of involvement in education best describes you?

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| 34 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  I teach, but (8+ / 0-)

    After 6 years of a one-year university contract, and because of state budget cuts, I am now adjuncting for the university (3 classes) AND a local community college (3 classes), for a grand total of $10k per semester and no health care. But our coach got a raise, and a bonus that would have paid the salaries of 5 FT instructors. I have a PhD and over 20 years experience, and great student and professional evaluations, so I am looking elsewhere for a new teaching job. I hope to go abroad. There is no professional future for me here.

    •  good luck (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      TomP, Ree Zen, grannycarol, dirkster42

      that is really rough.

    •  I'm getting my PhD this year (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      dirkster42, annetteboardman, Ree Zen

      and I bunk with the adjuncts. I know this story very well.
      I'm already pounding the pavement looking for a tenure track job. It is very difficult.

      If you can, go abroad. Good luck!

      "Vulture/Voucher 2012"? ¡Venceremos!

      by Free Jazz at High Noon on Sat Aug 18, 2012 at 01:51:04 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I was recently hired to a two year commitment (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      at a local CC, but your story scares the hell out of me.

      Without telling what school you teach at, where do you live?

      Going abroad is my other option if they do not rehire me.

      "Do they call you Rush because you're in a rush to eat?" -"Stutterin' John" Melendez to Rush Limbaugh.

      by Nedsdag on Sat Aug 18, 2012 at 06:13:14 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'm in KY (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        annetteboardman, Nedsdag

        But universities everywhere are moving more and more to adjuncts. Why pay a living wage and provide health care or retirement when adjuncts are so eager and plentiful? For the cost of one instructor you can pay 2-3 adjuncts. Tenure is under attack, too. Even at my local U, more than 100 people apply for each available position. Some disciplines are worse than others. I teach English, the biggest department on most campuses. Every student on campus takes 2-3 semesters of English. And I can't get a FT position.

        How can I tell students that education is the path to a successful future, when my PhD won't get me a living wage, when they make more tending bar than I get as their teacher?

        I taught in the Seattle area for ten years (as an adjunct). When I moved there (with the person who is now my ex) I thought, there are plenty of universities and community colleges here; I won't have trouble finding a job. True, as long as I was an adjunct. But Seattle is able to draw scholars from major universities (Harvard, Yale, Oxford). My PhD from a State U counted for nothing. So I taught as an adjunct. I've taught at community colleges, state universities, and even a prestigious Jesuit college. I get great evals. But no job security.

        After my ex and I split, I couldn't afford to live in Seattle as an adjunct. And it's hard to find the time, the energy, or the funding to research and publish if you are an adjunct at 2-3 schools at a time, teaching a 5-5 load (or now, a 6-6 load). So a fresh, new PhD with a recent published papers and limited teaching experience is seen as more valuable than someone like me who has tons of experience, but fewer and older publications.

        So even though this is my home town (and my alma mater), and my aging parents would really like me to stick around, I just can't see any sort of professional future here. Local profs aren't retiring--they need the money. A year ago, one of my friends and mentors died in the middle of the school year. She taught on Wednesday, and died on Saturday. That's how she wanted it, but that's not what I want.

        So I'm looking for any sort of FT position, anywhere. I'll still apply, but I don't think a tenure-track position is in the cards for someone aged 50 like me. The best I can reasonably hope for is a permanent instructorship somewhere, or a good paying position abroad. Those are increasingly competitive as well, but I am able to travel on short notice, and I have international teaching experience already.

        If I could imagine doing anything else I would. But I can't. I love teaching U-level. I know I don't have the stamina or the  patience for public K-12 (the school boards or the parents). It's true: if there's anything else that might suit you, you should do it. I'm looking into setting up my own tutoring shop out of my home. But mostly I'm looking to teach abroad. Until America decides again that education is important, I can't earn a living here.

        •  I'm sorry I didn't return your post. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Ree Zen, annetteboardman

          Your post was a wake up call for anyone in academia.

          I recently started teaching in 2006 after being in the corporate and communication world for 17 years. Two years earlier I attended a job fair at a local community college and two years later they contacted me about teaching an 8 a.m. composition class two days a week. That same day I received my passing PRAXIS scores in social studies. The rest as they say is history.

          Then one school led to another, then off and on I taught at three schools driving nearly 100 miles a week. It wasn't until this year that I was offered the lecturer job at my current school. It's not permanent because I will be evaluated in two years so I am contemplating applying for my PhD. The question is how to go about it and what will my thesis/dissertation consist of?

          I'm only a year younger than you are, so there's still some hope. I like teaching at CC because of the smaller classes. But, as previously mentioned, there's no guarantee that this will continue.

          Check out this blog piece. It shows how much work we have to do:

          "Do they call you Rush because you're in a rush to eat?" -"Stutterin' John" Melendez to Rush Limbaugh.

          by Nedsdag on Sun Aug 19, 2012 at 10:32:20 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Think twice (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            annetteboardman, Nedsdag

            If you want the PhD for your own sake, and if you can get it without going into debt, then go for it. Mine was practically free. I got a small (but livable) stipend for teaching and a scholarship which covered the tuition. That was back in the late 1980s.

            But beware of going into debt. Read the fine print. The debt can destroy you.

            Then, if you still want to, do it. But it probably won't help your job prospects. Do it because you love it, and you want it for yourself.

            Good luck.

            •  That is great advice (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Nedsdag, Ree Zen

              And it is realistic, while still being positive and clear.  A Ph.D. is a wonderful thing if you want it to be, but it is sadly not always a step to anything else.  But I was looking today at some of my notes from my classes in grad school and got very happy at what I have done in my life.  It was a great thing to do for me.  Not because I got a job (which was nice, indeed) but because I spent six years deeply immersed in a job (being a grad student) I adored and being in ancient Egypt, which was awfully wonderful.

            •  Great advice indeed. (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Ree Zen, annetteboardman

              I truly appreciate you getting back to me.

              If anything, I will think about freelance writing as a side income as well. I have numerous stories, but fiction and non-fiction, to tell. It's just the matter of getting the ball rolling. But I am not giving up on the PhD track yet. It's just one of numerous options.

              Again, thank you!

              "Do they call you Rush because you're in a rush to eat?" -"Stutterin' John" Melendez to Rush Limbaugh.

              by Nedsdag on Mon Aug 20, 2012 at 05:59:17 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

  •  Retired Special Ed (6+ / 0-)

    Husband is retired Business & Voc. Ed teacher.  We honestly do not miss the dog and pony shows during teacher evaluations.  Both of us were "master teachers" and worked hard for the students.  Our students keep in touch after all these years and that is such a plus for us in our senior years.  Love the students, hate the bullshit that educators have to endure for a pittance.

  •  Sending another one your way today. (4+ / 0-)

    My partner Effervescent and her daughter are up there moving into her dorm today.  

    Katie, my daugher. graduated law school in May and is in DC living with her boyfriend.  Katie will be doing some work for Legal Services and hopes to get a job with the gov't.  Her boyfriend is going to be working as an attorney for the IRS.    

    Hope you are well.  Thanks for all you do for the students you teach and advise both formally and informally.

    I'm from the Elizabeth Warren Wing of the Democratic Party!

    by TomP on Sat Aug 18, 2012 at 11:41:02 AM PDT

  •  I teach preschool (5+ / 0-)

    And assessments drive me crazy!

    The Kindergarten Readiness program has been 'updated' again- this time basic 'sight' words have been added.

    So now- what is now being expected from four year olds is what my own children experienced in first grade thirty years ago.

    And every year I marvel at those Kindergarten teachers who now have a class where some of the kids have mastered all the skills and some have arrived fresh from home, knowing maybe shapes, colors and how to count.

    All items in my classroom have always been labeled, and throughout the year an index card file located in the language arts center contains words the children ask for.

    But now I have to include 'sit down and work'time instead of allowing the kids to discover their world on their own.

    Question:  I wonder if all this 'read now quickly' philosophy is affecting comprehension.  Yes, they can read the words- but do they understand what is being read?

    Growing old is inevitable...Growing up is purely optional

    by grannycarol on Sat Aug 18, 2012 at 01:17:01 PM PDT

  •  Back in the 1990s, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    annetteboardman, Ojibwa
    The goal should be learning, or skill development, not just grades.
    when I was a TA, my profs explicitly told us that they were more interested in assessing progress than meeting benchmarks (though there were benchmarks we were expected to have our students meet).

    It's one of the reasons "grade-based" assessment drives me nuts.  Why is an "easy A" weighted more than a C, where the student struggled, made tremendous progress, but didn't quite get to master what was demanded in the arbitrary timeframe of a semester?  Doesn't the latter show more promise, really?  But those transcripts determine students' futures, and so easiness is key.

    If religion means a way of life, and life's necessities are food, clothing, and shelter, then we should not separate religion from economics. - Malcolm X

    by dirkster42 on Sat Aug 18, 2012 at 01:55:56 PM PDT

  •  We seem to be headed for ePortfolios. (0+ / 0-)

    I'm not sure how that's going to work for math majors.

    Syllabi are due by next Thursday...and here I'm feeling I'll the past two days. :-(

  •  You left off ___Retired teachers. We still have a (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    strong voice and since we don't have to kowtow to a specific school administration, we can speak out more strongly than those who's jobs may be threatened.  

  •  A question (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I was recently reading a forum where some students were complaining of the prevalence of group projects in high school and college these days. I am long out of school and did not experience this myself - for which I am extremely thankful - but I understand it is very common now.

    Like the students in this particular forum, I have a strong preference for working alone, especially on intellectual endeavors. Yes, I worked in groups very often at my job and was able to do so perfectly well. But I did not go to college to learn how to work well with others or how to be a good employee, but to develop my intellect.

    And like the students in the forum in their school projects, I found in the workplace that it was a rare group in which the quantity and quality of the output wasn't disproportionately the product of a few strong members.

    My question is then, how do you assess individuals using portfolios of work that were done in groups - or, for younger students, portfolios of work in which the amount of help they got from their parents is not known? Or in doing these assessments are you looking at work that the student was known to have done by himself?

    Also, this bugged me, as I don't see what it has to do with student assessment:

    It is also a place for them to tell us what was their most satisfying experience during their whole time here.  Sometimes that is a class or an internship, but other experiences include making friends, getting married, and starting a business, things that have nothing directly to do with classes they took, but still tell us something about what has been a valued part of their time at college.  
    And this:
    These are then looked at to see such things as improvement...
    In grade school perhaps. In college, is improvement really a criterion for assessment?

    Since you asked, I am a retiree with no involvement in schools.

    We decided to move the center farther to the right by starting the whole debate from a far-right position to begin with. - Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay

    by denise b on Sat Aug 18, 2012 at 03:31:11 PM PDT

    •  The last two first (0+ / 0-)

      The most satisfying experience is asked about because we are assessing the total college experience, not just what happens in the classroom.  What works in study abroad programs, for example, or what makes an internship or a particular interaction with staff the most satisfying thing?  A college experience is much more than just what goes on in the classroom -- this is a way to identify those valuable elements, encourage and develop those opportunities.  

      Improvement is a criterion for us because, again, we are assessing the total college experience.  If a student has not improved in her ability to think critically, or he writes worse when he leaves than when he came in, we are not doing our job well.  We are not assessing the students in this portfolio project; we are assessing ourselves.

      As to group work -- I very seldom do group work, but the classes that do tend to be in business, science (with lab partners and lab groups), communications (video production, for example), etc.  These are places where the university experience models professional activities.  I ask students to review each others' written work, which allows students to see what a stronger writer does on an assignment and gives the weaker writer feedback from a stronger.  However each student receives an individual mark.  I did have groups the past year in a museums class, where they chose to work together in some groups (some did individual projects).  One group expressed concern with one of the members, but it was in a diary they submitted as a record of their progress, and it was clear who had done the work.  I could deal with that individually.  I can't answer how anyone else deals with such difficulties, but I hope that helps answer the question a little bit.

      As to portfolio submissions, the items they submit are one in 1000+ submissions each year in a given category, and they are not being assessed themselves but as part of an overall group.  For something like "give us an example of your writing" I have never seen a group submission other than one that said "this is what I did for the group."  But if they do for something like problem solving (a new category this year), it is taken to indicate that they participated in it enough that they feel it is the best example completed at our university and we accept it as the submission, whether or not it is group work (there is a category for the evaluator to indicate it was group work, so in any analysis if there are enough to skew the results they could be removed.

      I hope this helps with your questions.

    •  Group work: (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      annetteboardman, denise b

      I teach biology with an emphasis on field science and research teams are a major element of my classes, as in the real world.

      You always have the problem of disparate contributions both within and between teams.  I combat that with a number of methods:

      1. rotating roles.   Each student in a team is assigned a specific role and product and that assignment rotates as the team moves from project to project.  This helps me hone in on who is working and who is not (along with who needs help and who could benefit from additional challenges).

      2. Peer evaluation

         A.  Students act as editors of others' work as one of the team roles.  This gives the primary student feedback from a fellow student, helps educate the student editor on standards of quality, and insures that everyone's work is reviewed by a minimum of two people, student editor and myself.

          B. Whole classes evaluate student presentations. I collect those evaluations (they use the same rubric as I do) and weight them along with my own evaluation in assigning a presentation grade.  

      With all this, and more, it is fairly easy to identify the hard workers, the free riders, and students having difficulties.


      We are the principled ones, remember? We don't get to use the black hats' tricks even when it would benefit us. Political Compass: -6.88, -6.41

      by bmcphail on Sat Aug 18, 2012 at 05:38:51 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I teach at a state math and science (0+ / 0-)

        high school.  We teach high school students but our classes are college level.

        We are the principled ones, remember? We don't get to use the black hats' tricks even when it would benefit us. Political Compass: -6.88, -6.41

        by bmcphail on Sat Aug 18, 2012 at 05:42:18 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

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