Academic journal article Science Educator

Changing Mindsets about Classroom Assessment

Academic journal article Science Educator

Changing Mindsets about Classroom Assessment

Article excerpt

A group of middle school science teachers and a university researcher recount some of their experiences as they individually and collectively worked toward improving their everyday assessment practices to better support student learning.

Everyday classroom assessment has the unleashed potential to help students improve their performance and deepen their learning. With much public and political attention focusing on summative assessments of what students know and are able to do at benchmark years through state testing programs, relatively little attention has been given to the formative assessment that takes place in the day-to-day interactions between teacher and students and among students. In their review of hundreds of empirical studies of classroom-based assessment, Black and Wiliam ( 1998) concluded that formative assessment practices are an important and significant contributor to improving student achievement and learning. But how can teachers begin to grapple with their own everyday assessment practices and bring greater attention to using assessment to support learning? This paper describes how a group of middle school science teachers working with a team of researchers from Stanford University in the Classroom Assessment Project to Improve Teaching and Learning (CAPITAL) began to rethink the purposes of assessment and how to use assessment information in their classrooms. The teacher co-authors recount some of their experiences as they individually and collectively worked through a process of change toward improving their everyday assessment practices to better support student learning. Additional findings from CAPITAL have been summarized elsewhere (Atkin et al., 2005; Coffey et al., 2005; Sato et al., 2005). The following experience described by Tracey summarizes a shift in her thinking in the purposes of assessment in her practice.

A Changed View of the Purposes of Classroom Assessment: Tracey's Experience

I just returned from the California Science Teacher's Association (CSTA) Convention. After reflecting on my experience at the convention, I realized I viewed the event through my changed assessment eyes. The summative aspects of assessment have always been clear to me-grading students' work, giving tests at the end of a unit, assigning culminating projects-as a way to know if my students "got it" after all the teaching and instruction were done. I have come to see assessment in my teaching practices as serving a new kind of purpose. The formative side of assessment keeps me focused not only on what students learned after I have taught them, but also on how I can support students' learning while I am teaching them.

While on the train to the convention, two teachers recognized my conference materials and paper grading and joined me for a chat. We exchanged pleasantries as we all graded papers. I was grading an end of unit test. This was the first "traditionally" graded feedback my students would get this school year and it was already the end of October. This assignment was preceded by several topic-specific "questions of the day" that I had stamped when completed and students had corrected; quizzes that had been self-assessed by the students using class examples that showed varied degrees of understanding of the concepts; and a project that had been self, peer, and teacher assessed using a checklist of criteria, then revised and reworked until the criteria for the project had been met by the students. The tests I was scoring showed that the majority of students had met the criteria and they demonstrated understanding of the science standards on which we had focused.

My fellow train riders were not so pleased with their students' efforts. One mumbled about his students' lack of effort, the other about a colleague who allowed open book tests, and both lamented the lack of parent support for their students' success. Both of them were grading the student work without giving comments to the students. …

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