My colleague, Melissa Spadin, of San Diego County Schools, and I recently presented a webinar to PTA parents in Wisconsin. We were talking with them about assessment literacy and about the important role that parents, and especially students, play in a strong assessment system. For far too long, education has been something done to and at students rather than with students. They have been on the receiving end of education without a lot of ability or empowerment to impact or drive their own education. But strong student empowerment underpins strong student engagement. The parents attending this PTA sponsored event asked, “how does assessment help my student learn more about what they can do in their own education?”
According to Maggie Staley, in her May blog post on assessmentliteracy.org, “The purpose and goal of formative assessment is for the teacher to know what the students know quickly, without much loss of instructional time. Although the purpose is to know, the other positive outcome is that the students are thoroughly engaged in their own learning.”
“At the heart of assessments, all assessments, is the students we serve, which is why assessment needs to be frequent, purposeful, thoughtful, and rich with feedback. How can students be expected to understand where they are and know where they’re headed if we don’t give them the tools to do so?,” said Cheryl Anne Amendola from Montclair Kimberly Academy, in New Jersey, in her July 2014 blog.
Both of these educators, working with middle school students on each coast, know that effective student assessment systems help students make sense of their learning. That an effective assessment system, used effectively, by assessment literate educators, can really motivate students to drive their own learning. It is one of the ultimate tools in helping students discover relevancy in their learning and in building a winning mindset at a time when they may feel like their learning is far detached from their real lives. According to Rick Stiggins, in his book, “A Perfect Assessment System” assessment can motivate the reluctant, revive the discouraged, and thereby increase, not simply measure, achievement.” In a day and age where assessment is sometimes seen as a discouraging event, if approached correctly and if feedback is given in a timely and caring way, assessment can build confidence and build stronger student outcomes.
Which brings me back to the PTA webinar my colleague Melissa and I were presenting at this past week. Our goal, for this webinar, is to raise the assessment literacy level for and with parents. Parents are important stakeholders in any education system. But even more important stakeholders are their students, and the parents know this. They know this and they want to know how to get their students “pumped up” both for school on a daily basis and for student assessments. Parents know that students need to feel confidence in their abilities and that, unfortunately, many times they are not. “Students judge their chances of future success based on their interpretation of their past success. As this unfolds in their minds over time, success or failure can take on a life of its own and can affect their sense of their own academic self-efficacy. If they give up on themselves, instructional decisions made by the adults around them no longer matter. Only if they remain confident can their teachers help them continue to learn and grow.” (Stiggins, Phi Delta Kappan, October 2014. Vol. 96, no 2, 67-72.)
As a long-time track coach, I know this about athletes and the same holds true for students. Chloe was a high jumper on my team several years ago. She was brand new to this discipline and had never done it before. I worked with her several months before I would let her even enter this event at small local track meets. I knew the importance of her being able to find success early in order to stay in the sport long term. At Chloe’s first meet, she struggled at the opening height, but made it through to the next round. The older girls were far more experienced and frankly, they intimidated Chloe as she stepped up to jump. But I stood by her side and spoke quietly to her about the need to stay focused and just set herself a baseline. Chloe knew she was setting a “new normal” for herself today, that everything that came after would show her growth in a track event she was growing to love.
This same need to set a baseline so the student knows where they are and where they want to go needs to be taking place in the classroom. Our students need to know where they want to go or what they want to be. Then, tracking back from there, they need to work with, partner with really, their teachers to set attainable, achievable goals to track their growth toward that end target. In watching their own growth, students become partners in their learning. They become empowered to drive their own learning. Right along with them, the parents see their students feeding on success and a growing sense of confidence. The parent and student then can work together toward the student’s success and achievement.
Oh, and Chloe’s success in high jump continues! In 2017 she qualified for the Junior Olympics and this year she’s jumping in front of college coaches who are recruiting her to come jump for them. She’s off and jumping and her success is her own. She was brave enough to step out, set a baseline, then use her growth to track her progress and success. She has a winning mindset now and I am excited to see where that mindset takes her. I would wish this success and winning mindset for all our students, academically or in a sport. It is what will carry them forward.