In The Perfect Assessment System by Rick Stiggins, the author states that “we must embrace a new role for students…we must enlist students as full partners in the assessment process.” (2017)
For Tamara Walker, a classroom educator in Washington State and collaborator on this blog post, partnering with her students happens daily. For Avner, a student in Walker’s class, that partnership is what supports his dream of becoming a archaeologist.
Walker teaches reading and writing to 5th and 6th graders at Samantha Smith Elementary. Her students have just finished writing a memoir and are getting their feedback from her this week. As one of the keys to a sound assessment system, timely feedback is one of the pieces that demonstrably improves student outcomes. For Walker and her students, the partnership that takes place when she conferences with each student and provides useful feedback to them about their writing, is also what improves student outcomes. The feedback loop and 1:1 conferencing leads to stronger relationships between Walker and her students.
According to Emily Gallagher, in the online publication Applied Psychology OPUS, “Teachers who support students in the learning environment can positively impact their social and academic outcomes, which is important for the long-term trajectory of school and eventually employment.”
Walker knows this and knows that her students will work their hardest to meet the bar wherever she sets it for their learning. So those 1:1 conferences provide feedback as well as the opportunity to strengthen relationships with her students. For Avner, they provide an opportunity to get detailed feedback on how to improve his writing. He knows he’s going to have to be a solid writer if he’s going to achieve his dream of being an archeologist.
When Walker sits down with Avner, she asks him what it is that’s bothering him about the score he received and he admits that he thought he did better than that. But when Walker probes a little deeper and asks him if he’s proud of the work he turned in, Avner admits that he rushed and was disappointed in the work but because he was used to getting top scores, the 2, out of a scale from 1-4, was a surprise for him. Walker tells Avner that she too was disappointed in the work he turned in and they spend a moment talking about how that felt. She then begins to give him detailed feedback about his writing, including that it was more of a retelling than a memoir, a difference that can be subtle and difficult for many students to grasp. When their conference ends, Avner is prepared to go back and make changes in his writing to resubmit it for a better grade. He’s smiling, and he’s assured her he’s going to do his best.
For Arjun, another student in Walker’s class, the experience was entirely different but equally impactful. Arjun turned in a compelling memoir about chess. Walker readily admits that chess held little interest for her, until she read Arjun’s memoir and felt the importance of it to him. Through his writing, Walker learned the intricacies, the logic, the complexities of the game. She let Arjun know how his writing moved her and is causing her to go buy a chess set in order to learn the game. She also let him know that his word choice, his sentence structure, the ability to capture visual images in his writing led to his score, one of the highest in the class. Arjun dreams of becoming a biochemical engineer and knows that he’s going to have to be able to write and communicate his ideas once he’s out in the engineering world. He also knows that Ms. Walker is helping him move closer to that dream.
For these students and their teacher, education is not something that is done “to” the students but “with” the students. The result of that partnership, and the timely feedback present in a sound assessment system, results in stronger student outcomes and stronger teacher/student relationships.
For another example of great assessment systems and the importance of timely feedback to students, please read: From Stressed to Assessed: The Story of My Assessment Literacy “AH-HA” Moment by Catherine Plecenik.
About the Authors:
Judy Harris brings over 17 years of teaching experience to her role as Policy & Advocacy Director at NWEA. She is a National Board Certified Teacher, a Reading Specialist, and middle school Language Arts teacher. Judy was a member of the Joint Assessment Task Force for Oregon and co-authored “The New Path for Oregon: System of Assessment to Empower Meaningful Student Learning.” Judy has also served on both national and state level ESSA implementation teams, she was one of just 30 active classroom teachers selected by the NEA from across the nation to help educators with the implementation of ESSA. What excites her the most about the work she is doing is having the opportunity to move initiatives forward that will make a difference for kids as they get prepared to chase their own individual American dreams.
Tamara Walker is a classroom educator and Reading Specialist in the Lake Washington School District in Washington State. She is currently at Samantha Smith Elementary where she teaches 4/5 Quest – reading, writing, math, science, engineering, social studies, art, and technology. She has been teaching for over 20 years, holds her Administrator’s license, and serves on her district’s Equity Committee. When she’s not in the classroom, Tamara can be found in the barn with her horse, Jewel, or goofing around with Daisy and Duke, her two small dogs.