What is assessment?

When it comes to K-12 education, it’s pretty much everything.

Photo Source: Barrett Ward on Unsplash.com

The closer you look at assessment philosophies and practices, the more you realize that assessment shapes instruction, learning, language, calendars, culture, and virtually every aspect of life in K-12 schools.

Assessment is everything.

For decades, schools and educators clung to old paradigms of assessment.

They treated grades as wages: students do the work, and teachers pay them for that work.

They treated assessment as a means of ranking and sorting: winners at the top, losers at the bottom.

They treated assessments as leverage to ensure compliance: follow the rules, and you’ll be rewarded. Color outside the lines or show up late to class, and we’ll use grades to punish you.

These old systems of assessment inspired courage and fear. They dealt honor and shame. But they often had little to do with the learning itself.

No more. Assessment in our K-12 schools is turning a corner. And the future is bright.

“Write, in one sentence, your definition of assessment.”

That was the request I put out to my professional learning network on Twitter this fall. I thought that if a few of my colleagues engaged with this question, some rich dialogue was sure to follow.

And engage they did. Thank you, PLN.

What a rich conversation. Every tweet you’re about to read gives me pause.

This thread is so rich that I had to memorialize it. Enjoy, and may this thread spark further thought on your own journey of assessment.

What IS assessment?

And implied: What is the purpose of assessment?

  1. “A tool to evaluate and improve learning.” — Audrey McGregor @AudreyMcGregor1
  2. “Assessment is doing whatever I need to do with you in order to get inside of your head to understand what you need to know, understand, and do to take your next step on your learning journey.” — BeckyFisher73 @BeckyFisher73
  3. “Assessment = checking in.” — Conklin Educational Perspectives @ConkEdPerspect
  4. “Show me what you got!” — Nick Covington @CovingtonEDU
  5. “Identifying where students are in skill and understanding, and offering suggestions for their next steps of learning and refinement.” — Craig Voskamp @CraigVoskamp
  6. “A dialogue to learn about your learning.” — Chris Smith @cssmithteach
  7. “Assessment is any informed process engaged by teachers and/or learners that illuminates where a learner is at in the learning process, how they got there, the learner’s and teacher’s next steps, and how to get learners to their goals.” — Shannon Schinkel @DramaQueenBRC
  8. “Assessment is the ongoing process of gathering, analyzing, and interpreting evidence (State Government of Victoria, Australia © 2019).” — Dr. David Gentile @drdgentile
  9. “Assessment is any means by which we gauge our own or someone else’s current understanding of a selected subject.” — J. Nicholas Philmon @DrNikPhilmon
  10. “A snapshot in time measurement of student understanding and ability to demonstrate mastery of taught curriculum.” — ProwlMom34 @DRoss625
  11. “Checking in with the learner to see if what they’re understanding about a subject is what you’re trying to teach.” — Eileen McDaniel @EileenM02086562
  12. “Three types of assessments are critical to good teaching and should be helpful to both the teacher and the learner — diagnostic, formative, and summative.” — Elliott Seif @elliottseif
  13. “When learning to ride a bike, three questions show three critical assessments: Can the learner get on the bike? (diagnostic); What feedback will help the rider as she learns? (formative); Can the rider ride on his own? (summative). From Teaching for Lifelong Learning, chapter 3.” — Elliott Seif @elliottseif 
  14. “One way I figure out what to do next.” — Erin Earnshaw @erin_earnshaw
  15. “Helping students find their next steps.” — James Abela @eslweb
  16. “Assessment is the act and process of seeing or noticing the relationship between the learning target and the actual learning. It allows a knowing with which to make sound decisions about what happens next.” — Andrew Maxey @ezigbo_
  17. “Assessment is reflection’s GPS.” — Heidi Graci @formermingo
  18. “Where do I start my teaching from?” — Francis Joseph @Francis_Joseph
  19. “There are practice days and there are game days.” — Glenn Morgan @glennirvinem
  20. “Assessment: (noun) A tool or process that provides data on progress (or lack thereof) towards a goal.” — Monica Agudelo @good_elo
  21. “Assessment captures a snapshot of what a student could demonstrate in that moment. A collection of assessments taken over time provides a more accurate picture of how a child is growing in their learning.” — Kimberly Church @HolaMrsChurch
  22. “Assessment is the provision of explicit feedback on any artifact of learning with the goal of furthering that learning.” — Jeff Hopkins @hopkinsjeff
  23. “A way to see if they know what I need them to know.” — Toby Price @jedipadmaster
  24. “Measurement of student growth to provide feedback and generate more growth.” — Jen Smielewski @JenSmielewski
  25. “The collection of evidence of student achievement on desired learning outcomes.” — Josh Kunnath @JoshKunnath
  26. “Determination of current state in relation to future state and the responses we take to move toward goals. Assessment informs response.” — Katie White @KatieWhite426
  27. “Assessment discerns ‘the known’ and the ‘what next’ for individuals.” — Charlotte P @lifeoflottie
  28. “To assess: to seek information (via conversations, observations or students’ work) in order to learn more about our students (e.g., attitude, understanding, thinking processes, knowledge, habits of mind) for the purposes of improving student learning. While related to evaluation (the process of assigning a value/grade/percentage), assessment and evaluation are very different processes with different goals and outcomes.” — Mark Chubb @MarkChubb3 [two tweets]
  29. “A moment of reflection and celebration on a learning journey where (with another learner) you look back to appreciate how far you came, think about where you now stand, and plan for your next steps in your learning travels.” — Mark Sonnemann @MarkSonnemann
  30. “A method to determine current knowledge/skills to assist in the determination of the next steps for growth.” — Mike Szczepanik @MikeSzczepanik
  31. “One moment in time for a student and teacher, not the end all of anything.” — Mindy Swanson @mindykswanson
  32. “Assessment is showing what you know, receiving feedback on that (from someone else like a peer or teacher, or from deep independent reflection), applying the feedback, and showing what you know again — so it is a continual process.” — Brenda Ball @misssball
  33. “Assessment is one measure of the effectiveness of instruction.” — Michael Bissell @mrbissell
  34. “To sit beside. It’s a visible image of learning. Collaboration, relationships, growing, mutual feedback, responses, respect, and HOPE!” — Jim Smith @MrDataGuy
  35. “Show me what you know.” — Adrian Neibauer @MrNeibauer
  36. “How you know they know.” — Rebekah Shaw @MrsShaw_TCC
  37. “The tool to see individual progress and point out the next steps.” — Nathalie Magel @nathalie_magel
  38. “Informal or informal way to check learner progression. Specific feedback for growth must be given by the teacher.” — Misty Kirby @OneLove_mk
  39. “How both teachers and learners know learning is happening and why and how it’s happening.” — Pam Moran @pammoran
  40. “Informing strengths and next steps in learning.” — Ms. Pope @PopeSD36
  41. “To collect the necessary information to understand a learner’s instructional needs.” — Practice Readers Books @PracticeReaders
  42. “What the heck did my students learn and how do I know they learned it?” — Daniel Katz @Prof_Katz
  43. “Assessments are educational health checks, so we know what to prescribe to each individual.” — Lozetta Hayden @Quencessh
  44. “From the Latin assidere: to assess means to sit beside the learner; So what does it mean and what does it look like to sit beside a learner?” — Randy Swift @RandySwift9
  45. “A set of tools used by teachers to gauge, clarify, and report the preparedness, progression, skill development, and needs of their students.” — Shandeemay @shandeemay1
  46. “A snapshot into the understanding of a student and the quality of the teaching.” — Chris Summers @summers_llm
  47. “The evaluation of what a person knows and can do at point of administration.” — Jeffery E. Frieden @SurthrivEDU
  48. “Learners show what they know.” — Julia Joy @TheHealstorian
  49. “Feedback in multiple ways to glean understanding on how to improve.” — MmePapa @tlwestridge
  50. “Assessment is a chance to showcase your application of knowledge to practical situations.” — Traci Johnson @tsuejohnson
  51. “Assessment: the process of generating information for educators and learners in order to understand achievements with regard to the (previously agreed upon) learning objectives.” — Vahid Masrour @vahidm

For further reflection and discussion

Which definition of assessment resonated with you the most?

Which thought provoked your thinking?

Which line inspired your practice?

As long as we’re talking about assessment, we’re engaging in conversations about the shape of our schools and the nature of learning itself.

And that gives me hope for the future.

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