The importance of assessment literacy cannot be understated. Assessment literate educators are informed, reflective, and proactive practitioners of learning for students. In our last blog, we shared The National Task Force on Assessment Education’s definition of assessment literacy. To recap:
Assessment is the process of gathering information about student learning to inform education-related decisions. Assessments can reflect a wide variety of learning targets using a range of methods serving many important users and uses at a variety of levels from the classroom to the boardroom. In this sense, assessment is an essential part of the teaching and learning process.
Our assessments work best in contexts of strong assessment literacy, and they fail us when assessment literacy is lacking. One becomes assessment literate by mastering basic principles of sound assessment practice, coming to believe strongly in their consistent, high-quality application in order to meet the diverse needs of all students, and acting assertively based on those values. The specific nature of those applications vary with one’s role in the educational process.
Now, we’ll break down this definition in greater detail in a series of posts, to include assessment purpose, learning targets, assessment quality, the communication of assessment results, and assessment and motivation.
An assessment literate person understands that it is not possible to conduct a sound assessment without a clear and specific purpose. The purpose is clarified through answers to three contextual questions:
- Who will use the results?
- What will they use them to accomplish?
- And, therefore, what information about student learning does the user need?
In all contexts, the assessment must be specifically designed, developed, and conducted to supply the information needed to serve the intended user(s). Only then can it work in the service of student learning.
Further, an assessment literate person understands that district assessment systems must take into account and balance the needs of users throughout the local context. These systems can, and must, serve a variety of levels of applications, including continuous day-to-day classroom users, common benchmark assessments for progress monitoring (every few months), and annual assessments. In addition, balanced local systems also rely on assessments to:
- Assist teachers in supporting student learning
- Help students promote their own growth (“assessment for learning”)
- Inform judgments of the sufficiency of learning given established expectations (“summative assessment of learning).
Assessment literate individuals believe the intended purpose for any assessment is a guiding light—it must serve its user(s) information needs. Assessment purpose must be clear from the very beginning because it anchors the entire assessment process, whether a teacher is designing a task to be performed or a state is deciding which standardized test to adopt. An assessment must be capable of fulfilling its intended purpose by providing relevant, required information.
Assessment literate teachers and school leaders believe that establishing the purpose of any assessment must take into account the importance of all assessment users, especially students whose assessment literacy is critically important as they learn to use assessment results to inform their own learning. Assessment literate individuals also believe that instructional decision makers, at every level, must take into account all relevant and available evidence of student learning and affect to inform their instructional decisions. In other words, all users are entitled to high-quality, understandable assessment results.
In our next blog post we’ll dive into learning targets and assessment quality, two more parts that help form the foundation for assessment literacy.