Sunday, March 3, 2013

Assessing Assessments

If you were to grade this blog post, by what criteria would you assess it?

Grammar? Content? Entertainment value? Humor (fail)? Theological insights (another fail)? Number of complex vs. run-on vs. fragment sentences (yet another fail)?

Then, once you settled upon the areas in which you would judge this piece of writing, how would you go about actually marking the paper? If I misspelled one word would I lose 10 points? If I use a fragment instead of a complete sentence, will I be deducted the same amount, more or less than a misspelling? How about if I go off onto multiple tangents, talking about my daughters, and maybe my wife, and perhaps even some obscure reference to a book, movie or song, will I move from a "B" down to a "D"?

Finally, what type of feedback would you give me? Would I get a letter at the top of the page with little to no rationale for how / why I achieved that mark? Would there be check marks at various sentences? If merited, would you offer any positive feedback?

Oops, I forgot to have you consider whether your judgement of this blog would be a formative or summative assessment? In other words, is this my final opportunity to get a good grade on this writing or would your comments be prescriptive, helping me to know how to make improvements?

And, how many total points would this be worth? 100? 250? If it's a project would it count for a greater percentage of my total grade than homework?

Finally finally, can I get extra credit?

As you can see, assessment involves, or at least it should, so much more than a subjective, unreliable, and invalid look at students' progress. Much thought, energy, and purpose needs to go into the assessments given to students. Similarly, assessments need to link back to the objectives that were used as the focus of the instruction / learning being assessed. Appropriate feedback must be given to be both descriptive and prescriptive.

To top it all off, students and families should be made aware of the requirements and the way in which assignments will be assessed prior to beginning it.

Think about how unfair your assessment of this blog will most likely be (maybe just and deserved, but still unfair) because I have no idea how you'll be assessing it. In this way, you could be judging me completely on my ability to write as if Mickey Mouse was writing this blog. You could be judging me on my ability to incorporate as many Tom Hanks movies as possible. Either way, or even if it is actually more relevant to writing a blog on Catholic education, if I don't know before actually doing the work how I'll be judged, I have very little chance of doing well.

Imagine if God assessed us without giving us the criteria by which He's judging us. Imagine if He hadn't sent His only Son, to teach us how we're going to be judged. The greatest Teacher was also the greatest assessor. The criteria is clear, His forgiveness is more than formative, He is fair, He is just, and He grades on a pass / fail scale.

As Catholic educators, let us follow His example and insure that our assessments of our students don't leave us any room to need to be assessed by the great Assessor. Let us assess our assessments and make changes, adjustments and refinements in the same way we expect our students to improve over time.

Let us begin; today, and every day as a Catholic educator, is testing day...for us, not our students.

*Please pray for students across the country who will participate in the Iowa Assessments this week: March 4 - 8.