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Say the word “assessment” and many educators recoil. They look at it as another thing they must do--end of unit test, end of course exam, pop quiz, standardized test…the list goes on and on.

Part of that is due to the top down nature of assessment today. Data is needed to report if students are achieving as expected, and it is used to inform if teachers have done their job. That’s why most assessments are summative—a culmination of what students have or have not learned—and the vast majority of those are some kind of formalized test.

This approach to assessment tends to make teachers the focus—they write the tests, they give the tests, they mark the tests, they are the final judge of what students know or don’t know. They use these assessments to assign a grade.

Which is why we hear most students saying that the teacher “gave me that grade” and not “I earned that grade.”

How do we get past these notions of testing and begin to transform classroom assessment?

A New Approach

High School Tutor Giving Male Student One To One Tuition At Desk

© Shutterstock/Monkey Business Images

In order for students to own their learning, we need to flip the standard approach to assessment and instead make students the focus—they are the judge of their own knowledge and skills.

True student ownership begins when the teacher looks at assessment from the point of view of the student. That is assessment for learning, not assessment of learning.

The student’s ability to understand when they are learning and when they are struggling is authentic assessment that leads to student ownership. This understanding directly relates to the learning as determined in curriculum and to the strategies as determined in instruction.

In other words, once a student clearly knows what they are learning, how they will learn it, and how they will show they have learned it, they can then identify—every step of the way—how well they are learning and if they are struggling.

Students who are actively engaged in this process will:

  • Better understand the data generated by different types of assessments,
  • Know the value of consistent checking for their own understanding, and
  • Know when they need to ask for help.

Developing Student Ownership in Assessment

Learning Framework: Curriculum, Instruction, Assessment, Climate

© Elevated Achievement Group, Inc.

What does this mean? This means in the area of assessment, every student needs to know and be able to articulate:

  • What they are learning and how they will demonstrate they have learned it,
  • How they are learning,
  • How well they are learning,
  • When they are learning and how they know they are learning,
  • When they are struggling and how they know they are struggling,
  • How checking for understanding and feedback, both affirmative and corrective, supports them in their learning,
  • What supports they might need from the teacher when learning is not occurring,
  • What strategies they might use to continue learning,
  • Their individual areas of need,
  • What supports they require to address their individual areas of need, and
  • Why understanding these aspects of assessment helps them own their learning.

The Value of Student-Centered Assessment

In his book, The Hidden Lives of Learners, Graham Nuthall clarifies the value of student-centered assessment:

“But whatever you intend, in order to know if you have been effective, you must have some way of knowing what your students believed, knew, could do, or felt before you taught them and what your students believed, knew, could do, or felt after you taught them. Learning, of whatever kind, is about change, and unless you know what has changed in the minds, skills, and attitudes of your students, you cannot really know how effective you have been.”

However, teachers cannot know what has changed in the minds, skills, or attitudes of their students unless the students are an active part of the process—unless students own their role in determining how well they are learning. The value of student-centered assessment is found in the research around metacognition—a learner’s ability to examine and understand their own thinking and learning processes—and the regulation of their own cognition. Students who understand and regulate their own learning are developing ownership of their learning.

What Does Student Ownership Look Like and Sound Like?

Students who own their learning in the area of assessment can do more than just say what grade they got on this week’s spelling test. Once students have been told what they are learning and how they will know they have learned it, have discussed it, have shared it, and then begin to articulate it—this information will drive their taking control of their learning.

So, when asked, “How well are you learning?” what does an answer that demonstrates ownership sound like, at the highest level?

From a kindergartener during Social Studies:

“My picture shows me taking turns. I can read my picture and my friends’ pictures to know all of the rules. If I don’t know a rule, they will tell me. I know that when I can say all the rules, then I have learned the rules. I have a few more to learn.”

From a fifth grader during Math:

“Today we are learning to subtract decimals. Once we finish a problem we ask our partner, ‘How did you get that?’ and, ‘How do you know if you subtracted correctly?’ We will use addition to show how we have subtracted correctly. If it is wrong, we will work together to find out where we made a mistake and fix it. We don’t have to wait for the teacher to tell us.”

From a seventh grader during English Language Arts:

“We have a rubric that tells us the components of an effective argument, including an introduction with a claim that is supported with evidence. My partner read my first draft and gave me feedback. Now I am highlighting where I introduced my claim and supported it. My writing is much better when I know beforehand the components of a strong essay because I can check to see if I have included each piece or not.”

From a tenth grader during Science:

“We are learning about changes in the composition of the nucleus of the atom and the energy released during the processes of fission and fusion. It can get confusing at times, so we are developing models that demonstrate this. I have discovered if I can’t see something, then I have a hard time remembering it. My teacher says I am a visual learner. With each model, I refer back to my notes to make sure my information is accurate.”

The Strategic Learning Practices for Assessment

What specific things can we do to transform assessment in our classrooms? For students to be able to answer questions such as: “How will I know I have learned this?” “How will I know I am progressing in my learning” and “What can I do if I am struggling,” we as teachers need to offer specific, strategic support.

We have found that three specific practices can greatly help students take ownership in the area of assessment. We call these strategic learning practices. When we consistently implement these practices, we help students develop student ownership and elevate their achievement.

The most effective strategic learning practices in the area of assessment are the following:

Pupils In Class Using Digital Tablet With Teacher

© Shutterstock/Monkey Business Images

  1. Each and every student is supported by data that is used to monitor current understanding and provide feedback.
  2. Each and every student is supported by data that is used to monitor current understanding and adjust as needed.
  3. Each and every student is supported by data that is used to differentiate based on predetermined student needs.

As teachers, we may not be able to change formal or standardized testing, but we can change our day-to-day approach to assessment in our own classrooms. We have the power to make assessment a powerful tool for learning. By being strategic in our assessment choices, we can help students develop the skills they need to own their learning and elevate their academic achievement.

The Learning Brief

In this article you learned...
  • We as teachers can change our approach to assessment to one in which assessment becomes a tool for learning and our students become the best judge of their own knowledge and skills.
  • Learning is about change and we cannot assess what has changed in students’ minds, skills, or attitudes unless the students are an active part of the process.
  • Three strategic learning practices can greatly help students achieve ownership of assessment and thereby elevate their academic achievement.
Reading Time: 7 minutes

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