The Future of Assessment

Katie White discusses the future of assessment.

by Katie White

Katie White is Coordinator of Learning for the North East School Division in Saskatchewan, Canada and an Assessment Associate for Solution Tree. Preview her book, Softening the Edges: Assessment Practice that Honor K-12 Teachers and Learners and follow her on Twitter @KatieWhite426.

The older I get, the more radical about assessment I seem to become. In my earlier years in education, I used to imagine new ways to compute grades and weight assignments—I prided myself on refining the mathematics of assessment.

Later, I began to think about assessment in terms of differentiating between formative and summative assessment and separating behavior from academic scores—I spent time refining my understanding of assessment in relation to grading.

“The future of assessment rests in the hands of those who can advocate for its proper and authentic use.”

These days, I am thinking about assessment as a way to serve teaching, learning, and the human beings who are engaged in this complex process. I have been thinking about what we want for our children and youth in both the short and long-term, and I have been exploring how our assessment practices and decisions move us either toward those ends or away from them.

The future of assessment rests in the hands of those who can advocate for its proper and authentic use—individual teachers, students, families, and educational leaders. Either we can continue to argue over which symbol to use, how to calculate the complex learning process, and how best to compare and sort students, or we can take a step back and ask ourselves what we want education to accomplish for our learners. If we truly value things like innovation and creativity, empathy, equality, collaboration, resilience, communication, and problem-solving, then we simply have to re-imagine assessment.

We have to stand up and face those practices that discourage the things we value. We have to cease assessment decisions that compare students; that instill fear or anxiety; that punish; that lead to a lack of transparency; that stream, sort, and label; and that embarrass or disempower. We must move toward assessment practices that nurture desirable skills and attributes in our youth—practices like formative assessment and guaranteed success, embedded daily assessment, self-assessment and goal setting, inquiry and co-constructed criteria setting, pre-assessment, and responsive teaching, and recursive learning and assessment. We continue to verify learning by utilizing summative assessment but how we get there and the kinds of assessment that support learning are flexible, responsive, supportive, and relationship enhancing.

The future of assessment rests on a belief in teachers and the students they serve. It rests on an understanding that schools are places of learning within relationship. It rests on a commitment to provide an engaging, challenging, flexible, and creative education for each student who comes through our doors. We have to re-story our schools and the assessment that lives within the learning process. If we do not, the consequences will change who we are as human beings and how we view ourselves in our changing and complex world.

Continue Reading Parts 2 & 3…