Tips for Establishing Collaborative Conversations on Assessment Data
Assessments give educators valuable tools for understanding each student’s learning process. However, educators also know that this data has usefulness beyond what they can deduce on their own. In order to truly support a student’s learning, it’s critical for educators to share their findings with everyone who impacts the student’s education: fellow teachers and colleagues, families, and the students themselves. Each of these individuals has their own unique perspective on the student’s learning. Opening the door to mutual, collaborative conversations about assessment results allows each member of the education team to benefit from the others’ expertise.
So, how can we foster these discussions? As with all great collaborations, this often begins with establishing mutual respect, listening to other perspectives, and connecting over a shared goal. Read on for our tips on building these collaborative connections with your fellow educators, families, and the students at the center of it all.
Collaborating with fellow educators
Successful teachers often work with each other—on lesson plans, classroom management strategies, and even special activities for their classes. Why not bring that cooperative approach to analyzing assessment results? Even subject-specific assessments may cover skills and identify student needs that are relevant in other classes.
Literacy educators, for example, may have assessment information on a student’s reading comprehension that will be valuable to science, history, and math teachers who use textbooks and other written material for instruction. Additionally, these same science, history, and math teachers can share their own observations of the student’s reading in their classes. Perhaps a science teacher has noticed that a student struggles to comprehend new vocabulary words on their own, but responds well to working in small groups where they can benefit from peer support. Or a math teacher might share his observation that the student struggles with comprehending word problems but improves when he takes the time to circle and define unfamiliar words before continuing. By openly discussing formal assessment data and informal observations, educators can add context to assessment results and collaborate to find strategies that work well for their students.
Of course, cooperation on this level requires a great commitment of time and effort. True teacher collaboration involves much more than can be accomplished in a single meeting or email. Citing the importance of teacher collaboration detailed in Carrie Leana’s research study, educator Lily Jones gives three tips for fostering these mutually beneficial collegial relationships:
Build long-term relationships among fellow educators
Find time to collaborate
Share responsibility by adopting complementary roles
With regard to collaborating over assessment data, these three strategies all point to the need for ongoing, open communication among teaching colleagues. Educators who frequently make the effort to connect, discuss the current needs of their students, and share tasks that help them understand their students’ growth are best positioned to support each other—and, in turn, to support their students.
Interacting with families
Although educators may have a clear picture of a student’s academic strengths and needs, the family is often first to see the whole picture of a student’s learning. After all, they’ve helped their child grow up, and some of the difficulties educators notice in the classroom might be very familiar traits to family members.
For example, assessment data may tell educators that a student is below grade level in written expression skills. By discussing their findings with the family, educators might discover that this particular student has a history of struggling to express herself with words—but she has always been talented at expressing herself through music and art. By giving families the chance to share their knowledge of the student, educators can gain valuable perspective on a student’s strengths and potential learning strategies. Collaboration with families gives context to what an educator is able to assess within the classroom.
This level of cooperative discussion will likely require more interaction than a twice-yearly parent/teacher conference. Educators should have ongoing discussions with parents about a range of topics, such as:
What tests are being used and why
The student’s learning progress
Academic strengths and weaknesses, as noted by the educator and by the family
The assessment process and its impact on learning
These ongoing discussions might need to take different forms in order for educators to communicate all of their information and still give families time to share their input. Educators could describe the purpose and process of their assessments in class newsletters or form letters, for example. Online portals are also options for giving families current data on the student’s progress and assessment results. Arranging monthly parent nights, community events, and phone calls home are all ways that educators can encourage families to share their perspectives. Whatever form these conversations take, ongoing collaboration between educators and families is an essential way to gain perspective on both sides.
Working with students
At the center of the assessment process is the student—the person who arguably stands to gain the most from discussing assessment data. Rather than having students passively take tests and receive a report on their progress, how much more beneficial would it be for students to learn about their strengths and weaknesses and track their own growth? Even after graduation, students will still have a great deal of education ahead of them. In order to succeed in their careers, relationships, and even their hobbies, they will need to be able to analyze what they know, what they need to know, and ways to improve. By involving students in the assessment process while they are still in school, we are giving them learning tools that will last their whole lives.
An edCircuit article by Laura Greenstein noted that students are not often given the chance to explain their reasoning—and yet the true purpose of assessment is to gain insight into a student’s thinking process. We can change that by bringing students in to discussions of their assessments and involving them in planning how the data can be used for their own improvement. For students who may not previously have been heavily involved in the assessment process, we can begin the discussion by helping them develop assessment literacy. According to the article, assessment-literate students should be able to:
Understand learning goals
Identify and act on next steps for their learning
Monitor their own progress
Use constructive feedback
Understand and correct their own missteps.
By increasing their assessment literacy, students will be empowered to understand the purpose of the data and develop self-knowledge of their learning. Long after specific assessment results become outdated or a student graduates from school entirely, they will still need to know how to recognize strengths and weaknesses and improve their performance. Developing this level of self-assessment now will serve the student well for years to come.
From the students at the core of the assessments to their family members and teachers, every single person has a unique perspective to share on assessment data. Holding truly collaborative conversations with each of these individuals can feel like a daunting task, but the investment is well worth the reward. Assessment data alone is not enough to give a complete picture of student learning—but when paired with the context and perspective of each member of the education team, it can lead to a deep and nuanced understanding of every student’s abilities.
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