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Putting Assessment Literacy Into ContextThe National Task Force on Assessment Education published a definition of assessment literacy, in part to put the topic of assessment literacy into context for a variety of education stakeholders. We talked with Task Force member Dr. Kathryn Dewsbury-White, President and CEO of the Michigan Assessment Consortium, about writing the definition.

What is the Task Force’s purpose?

The Task Force brings together pre-service and in-service educators, assessment experts, and thought leaders to foster national dialogue around the appropriate uses of assessment for education and to address critical gaps in teacher preparation to use assessment effectively. The goal of the Task Force is to be a collective voice and a transforming force that elevates the national dialogue on assessment education, develops innovative approaches, and advances existing best practices in assessment.

What was the process like for arriving at this definition?

A first agreement among Task Force members has been to create a working definition of assessment literacy. We thought committing to writing what we collectively believe would help ground and shape work we elect to do together over the next two years. Six Task Force members drafted narrative definitions. This subcommittee read, questioned, clarified, and critiqued the six narratives until six became one. That definition was presented to the 23 Task Force members for the group to mark up, and finally, a revised, working definition was agreed upon.

How is the definition being used?

The definition is being used as we identify research and examples of practice that align with our work. We are looking for the opportunities in ESSA to promote the development of assessment literacies among all stakeholders in education. We are identifying the expectations of mastery of assessment literacies for educators along a career path and the extent to which institutions preparing and supporting educators meet the needs of our profession.

Why do you think this definition resonates in the educator community?

The points embedded in this definition that were embraced, lauded, or struck especially positive chords among Task Force members included these:

  • Assessment practice is inextricably linked to teaching and learning – beliefs and values supporting this assertion are imperative to consistent, high-quality application in order to meet the needs of all students.
  • Students are entitled to equity of motivation; that is, all students must be given the opportunity to believe that academic success is within reach for them if they strive for it.
  • Understanding and using assessment methods and practices well, is linked to the student’s decisions to use assessment information to persist and learn.
  • For teacher and student alike, fear, vulnerability, and anxiety are the enemies of learning success, while a sense of self-efficacy, confidence, and accomplishment promote ongoing academic and professional success.
  • Teachers must have the skills to flexibly employ assessment methods and practices that positively impact student learning; and school leadership must provide ongoing learning opportunities for teachers to employ assessment practices that positively impact student learning.
  • The development and promotion of an assessment-literate school culture is a shared responsibility across roles (students, teachers, school leaders, college of education faculty, policy makers, parents and community).
  • Shared responsibility across roles results in the trust and systemic approach necessary to gather good evidence of student achievement and use it to promote academic well- being.

In what areas was it harder to achieve consensus?

Three issues given mention in the definition and thought to be central to understanding assessment literacy do not receive their own narrative discussions and definitions:

  • How developing assessments needs to be a culturally responsive undertaking;
  • Understanding formative assessment as a practice and a process entirely dedicated to the act of assessment for learning; and,
  • A framework depicting a balanced assessment system is not included. How limited and precious public resources are developed and applied sit underneath discussions related to systems, and systems that are characterized as in-balance or out-of-balance.

There is more work to do, and there are more conversations to have.

What’s Next?

This Task Force is a diverse blend of talented and committed practitioners from across the country with 4 meetings under their belts. I appreciate that we have embarked on putting a definition on paper and are using it this year. We agreed to use the definition, but also open it up and see what we think a year from now. That’s why it’s a “working” definition. Social activist Frances Kissling says social change happens when we approach others positively and with enthusiasm for difference. This has been a group of professionals guided by good will, a deep seeded belief in the capacity of educators, and a desire to strengthen education opportunities for all children. Check back with us in another year.

Kathryn Dewsbury-White is the president and CEO of the Michigan Assessment Consortium, the not-for-profit, nonpartisan education consortium dedicated to increasing quality, comprehensive and balanced assessment practices and systems in the state of Michigan. The MAC has published Assessment Literacy Standards: A National Imperative, numerous tools and resources for teachers and administrators and pursues collaborations with education organizations in Michigan and nationally.  Kathryn was also the Chair of the Definition Committee for the National Task Force on Assessment Education.