Assessment: The Key to Uncovering Opportunities for Student and Teacher Growth
Education leaders frequently discuss using assessments to guide student learning, but it’s also important to recognize how assessments can guide educator efficacy and career growth.
According to a 2010 white paper on teacher assessment and evaluation from the National Education Association (NEA), the purpose of assessment is twofold: to improve teachers' practice and enhance student learning. Often, educators use formal and informal assessments in the classroom to determine how much students already know, what material to cover next, and which teaching strategies will be most effective.
In addition, self-reflective educators can use their assessment skills to improve their own work by determining the effectiveness of their teaching performance. As they look beyond the immediate needs of the classroom, they may also assess how they need to grow and change in their career path.
Whether assessing their students, their teaching strategies, or even themselves, educators must recognize assessments as essential in every aspect of professional life.
Assessments uncover what students already know
Unit tests, pop quizzes, and even informal comprehension checks may be used as benchmarks to measure student understanding, and educators can leverage this information in a variety of ways. For example, testing students’ prior knowledge is a good first step before introducing a new unit of study, while a formal or informal assessment conducted midway through a unit may show teachers whether students are grasping the concepts or if further review is needed.
Assessments inform thoughtful lesson planning
Student assessments are also useful in terms of helping educators decide how to move the curriculum forward. If mid-unit assessment results show that students are already mastering the material, educators may elect to move through the remainder of the unit more quickly. If assessment results show students have general proficiency in one area but are struggling in another, educators might decide to focus on reviewing the more difficult concepts.
Assessments help determine effective teaching strategies
Assessments allow educators to determine not only what material they should teach, but how they should teach it. If educators notice that students perform better on assessments when they’ve been taught using a hands-on approach, they will recognize this as a good strategy to repeat in the future. On the other hand, if students are performing poorly on a unit test or comprehension check, educators can look back at the strategy used to teach the material and try a different approach.
The NEA recommends employing multiple measures when using assessments to measure student progress. As noted in the white paper, “A single test score cannot accurately represent student learning. Students need to acquire a broad array of skills, knowledge, and critical thinking tools that a single multiple-choice standardized test cannot reflect.” Using multiple methods allows educators to create a clearer picture of student ability and determine how their own teaching methods impact their students.
Assessments allow teachers to reflect on their performance
Self-assessments allow educators to reflect on the strategies they use in the classroom and identify areas of strength and need within their own techniques. This self-reflection may be as informal as keeping a daily journal or writing notes on lesson efficacy in a teaching planner. Educators who seek to improve their teaching performance can also invite a co-worker or administrator to observe a lesson and ask for feedback.
Assessments guide professional growth
In addition to assessing their day-to-day performance in the classroom, educators can use their assessment skills to guide their careers. After identifying frequent difficulty with a particular skill, such as classroom management or personalized instruction, they may look for professional development opportunities in those areas. Educators may also reflect on their strengths to decide how to move forward in their careers. For example, educators who easily engage student interest in science might start an after-school science club or become a team leader within the sciences. They may even decide to switch tracks to administration if they have strong management and policy skills.
As when assessing students, the NEA recommends using multiple measures when assessing educators themselves. While educators should be encouraged to use their assessment skills to improve their practice, it’s critical to avoid using a single assessment or evaluation as the final word on an educator’s effectiveness.
The NEA also suggests that any measurement of teacher efficacy should be within the context of providing additional opportunities for educators to learn and grow: “Therefore, professional growth and assessment/evaluation should be seen as complementary and integrally related parts of the same process.” Educators should thoughtfully use assessments to guide their own continued development, just as they would when guiding student learning. In this way, assessments can become an essential component of improving education for students and educators alike.
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