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Assessments have a bad rap in schools. Tests stress students out; they can be high-stakes for schools and teachers. But the word assessment describes vastly different things. Yes, the nail-biting, end-of-year exam is an assessment. But so is the couple-questions quiz a teacher gives at the end of a lesson to get a sense of how many students understood it. These lower-stakes assessments happen all the time in the classroom and they’re vital for student performance. Assessments create feedback for teachers and students alike, and the high value of feedback – particularly timely feedback – is well-documented by learning scientists. It’s useful to know you’re doing something wrong right after you do it.
The Assessment for Learning Project is trying to improve assessment’s reputation and get it recognized as a positive part of the learning process. The initiative advocates assessment systems that empower students, lead to greater equity and deepen students’ skillsets by virtue of their design.
Grantees and project partners are exploring decades-old methods like portfolios and capstone projects as means of assessment. The methods, then, are not new. But Sarah Lench, ALP’s director, said a widespread desire to assess skills like critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity – the “4 Cs” – is new, and that’s driving interest in getting away from standardized tests to measure student progress.
“The practices themselves might not sound brand new and shiny, but the contexts and the drivers behind them are where we think the innovation is happening,” Lench said.