At the center of my assessment philosophy is the concept of providing students with as many opportunities as possible to practice and demonstrate their learning. I believe it is worth noting that I use the word “opportunity” as opposed to the word “chances,” which is a word that I now have come across many times during my practice. Using the word “chances” to me suggests a gamble, however, as a teacher, I am not gambling with student achievement.
I will work to provide opportunities for my students to ensure that success is achievable and guaranteed. What this looks like to me is providing students with diversity to provide evidence of learning through the concept of triangulation, using diagnostic and formative, low-stakes tasks in addition to summative, and making students a part of the assessment process. All three of these elements of assessment I have developed as a result of the study of theory as well as through practice. Author Anne Davies in her book Making Classroom Assessment Work makes notes on all of these, but especially on involving students in assessment. Davies states “when teachers involve students in setting criteria, they learn more about what the students know, and students come to understand what is important while they learn” (pg. 55-56). This is important if we expect quality evidence of learning. You have to provide a direction for students to go in before you can ask for them to demonstrate their learning. One of the key concepts in my assessment philosophy is the use of formative, low stakes tasks; a theory which comes from author Peter Elbow, which I believe are crucial to achieving student success. Students need time to practice what they are learning and through formative assessment, they are given that opportunity. In addition, formative assessment provides the teacher with a gauge to determine where students are with the learned concept. If teachers are only using high-stakes tasks, such as product evaluation, students will never be able to fully learn and are more likely to perceive themselves as “failures”. While it is unreasonable to expect perfection, practicing with low-stakes tasks means working towards learning and higher achievement when it becomes high-stakes. Finally, of the three stated concepts above, much of my assessment practice revolves around the concept of triangulation. The main goal of student assessment is to assess the student as a whole rather than focusing on one specific area or part. By assessing students based on all three elements—observation, conversation, and product—there is a more fully developed and accurate understanding of the student’s learning. The concept of triangulation is an excellent form of differentiation in an area of education that use to be seen as very cut and dry. In addition, the product element of triangulation can be altered to be inclusive to multiple intelligences through a variety in choice of product rather than a standardized product. When combined, these concepts work to make students success possible.
On a more technical side, where numeric evaluation of learning takes place, my philosophy rests on the foundation that a grade must be justifiable and not used as a reward or punishment for student achievement, or lack thereof. The most prominent part of my philosophy in regards to evaluation is that I do not believe in assigning a grade of zero to students. A zero, as it has been discussed both in theory and in practice, suggests that no learning has taken place. Zeros are often assigned as a sort of “punishment” for students, either to those who did not hand work in or to those who participated in academic dishonesty. For those who did not hand work in, I would not use a grade as a punishment because it does not encourage students. There is the idea of any grade being better than a zero and I fully agree. The student has (or hopefully has) learned from the teaching but has been unable to provide evidence of that learning and therefore has not met the standard, making it an incomplete. Failure is an integral part of learning so we should not be punishing our students for “failing.” I believe that assessment becomes a simple task when we focus on providing students with as many opportunities as possible to learn and grow towards success.