"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.