Why Traditional Assessment Methods Don’t Work (and what to do instead)
June 14, 2022
Why Traditional Assessment Methods Don’t Work (and what to do instead)

How do we know if our children are digesting what we’re teaching? We give them assessments! And if you’ve ever stepped into a traditional classroom in the U.S., this could mean many things. Often it means large, summative assessments at the end of a unit or school year to determine what the students have retained.

Sadly, this type of assessment is ineffective, for more reasons than I can begin to explain. But I sure try in this episode!

There are many ways to assess student learning, aside from the traditional test. And traditional summative assessments only test a student’s ability to memorize information for the short term. What happens when they need to remember information long-term and apply it in different scenarios?

I’m sharing my thoughts and more. Listen in!

Be sure to join me at the Beyond Multiple Choice virtual seminar. Find out more and sign up for free!

Jump in the Conversation:

[1:26] – Beyond Multiple Choice Conference
[1:41] – Where to begin with assessment
[2:18] – The open-ended essential question
[3:11] – Inquiry-based learning isn’t enough
[3:39] – The questions teachers need to ask
[4:13] – Model U.S. structure and how bills become laws
[5:20] – Getting students to own their learning and apply them in real life
[5:58] – Engaging and relevancy is non-negotiable
[6:52] – Determine what you’ll assess and how
[8:01] – The big problems with summative assessments
[8:51] – Summative assessments aren’t the only way to assess learning
[10:26] – Quality rubrics are created in partnership with students
[11:00] – The existential question: What is important?
[12:26] – Who takes responsibility to empower students to reach goals
[12:50] – Maureen’s magic wand
[14:25] – Students can see when teachers are invested in learning

Links & Resources



Maureen O’Shaughnessy 0:03
Hello fellow parents and educators. Thank you for joining me at Education Evolution, where we are disrupting the status quo in today’s learning models. We talk about present day education, what’s broken, who’s fixing it, and how. I’m Dr. Maureen O’Shaughnessy, your host and founder of education evolution, micro school coalition, and co founder of at active, I consult and train with schools and leaders who are fiercely committed to changing the narrative, reimagining the education landscape, and creating learning that serves all children and prepares them to thrive. If you are new, welcome to the podcast, please subscribe on our website to get it delivered to your inbox weekly. If you’ve been around a while, have you left a review?

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 1:08
Hello, Education Evolution listeners. I don’t know about you. But finding focus can be a challenge for me, especially right now at the end of a truly unpredictable and exhausting school year. But this week, I am the keynote speaker at the beyond multiple choice conference. My topic is assessment. So I have had to be focused these last few weeks on this enormous topic. Where to begin? Well, one piece of the puzzle is using tools that allow us a clear endpoint, and then working backwards to build the roadmap. I was trained in this reverse engineering as a young principal. We’re going to make tie worked on Understanding by Design and created this foundational model. This philosophy is so powerful that it is a key component of how my teachers design their project based learning units in our micro school. The design work begins by creating an open ended essential question that we want the students to deep dive into and grapple with. I love some of the questions that they’ve used as examples.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 2:32
Some of them are ones that a kindergarten student could answer, and a college graduate could answer. So these are definitely not your right or wrong, true or false type of questions. And once you have this essential question, then determining how to assess if the students have gained foundational knowledge and skills around this question. Then finally, to build the activities that lead in the right direction. So very different from the typical covering of content, and testing over what they’ve memorized at the end. But it isn’t enough to just take kids to higher level thinking, using inquiry based problem solving learning. It’s definitely wonderful to have them engage fully, and own their learning and outcomes. But how can we step back and make sure we are assessing what is important?

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 3:31
As I looked at this question, I suppose that’s where I fell down the existential rabbit hole. Questions like? What do teachers wish for their learners? And what do parents wish for their children and employers for their incoming employees? Who decides what is a value? And then who takes responsibility for empowering our youth to reach these goals and gain this knowledge base and skill set? Well, these questions really spun me. And then listening to a few of my middle school moms last week, I heard a funny anecdote, and the lightbulb went off. Our students had just wrapped up a very involved civics semester with a spin off of Model United Nations that our humanities teacher called Model United States. The states that students selected the issues they brought forward as bills. The coalition’s they made to support their bills or try to kill other people’s bills were all open choices within a carefully designed structure. The culminating Supreme Court case was a delight for me to witness. Scary How will a few of our students can rant like TV lawyers.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 4:51
So back to this middle school mom. She shared that she’d been grumbling at home about an upsetting national issue. And she made a comment ain’t about wishing Biden could change the law and get ahead of this problem. We all laughed when she shared that her middle school son piped up and said, But mom, it isn’t that simple. The President doesn’t have the power. And off he went explaining to her how bills become laws. This funny anecdote made me think, how do we get beyond students just using short term memory? To get a good grade on a test? How can we get students to own their learning, and then apply it to real world present day conversations? I love that this student was able to dive in with his newly minted knowledge and contribute to an adult conversation. And I’m truly grateful to my humanities teacher, who constantly pulls in current world events, and made the whole model United States learning process, very engaging and relevant.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 5:58
Engaging and relevant seem to be non negotiable. But how do we create opportunities where students engage in and own their learning, and who is to say what is relevant to each student’s life? Climbing back out of the rabbit hole of what different stakeholders want our graduates to be able to do, or the quality of life we wish for them, I shifted my brain back to assessment. If we use reverse engineering to design open ended deep questions, and then provide necessary resources for students to unpack different related possibilities, we’re on our way to relevant and meaningful experiences that we all need for learning to stick. And then the next part of this reverse engineering is to determine what we are going to assess and how we all know that summative assessment, those tests at the end of semester, sum up the learning, they don’t give us a chance to learn from the assessment because the classes ended, and life is moving on. The assessment is a snapshot of what a child had understood or memorized at that moment in time.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 7:17
I find it fascinating that the research done by High Tech High and others has shown that students who memorize for an Advanced Placement Test and score well in the spring, fail the test when they take it again the next fall. So much summative assessment is short term memorization. Some of that is important information, and I’ll transfer to other situations. But much of it is information we can Google on our smartphones and pull up in an instant. Is that really what we want our youth to focus on under the banner of learning? I don’t think so. This is especially true since most summative assessment comes down to multiple choice true and false Scantrons or short answer questions. This means that the questions have to be simple, which is usually lower level thinking. complex questions that could go multiple directions, and have many right answers would be impossible for our typical teacher to navigate and provide for her whole class. I know when I was a high school teacher, I had five classes of 30 students, even staggering when I gave the assessments for different classes.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 8:39
Summative assessments were not deep dives, or true demonstrations of the learning that I much would have preferred. But summative assessment does not have to be the only way we assess learning. We often don’t give credit to the formative assessment that we do. The primary way we assess is by checking in with kids as they are working. And ideally, they’re working on projects. Our world is expecting more of us to have project management skills. So if we build a project around a central question, we can do formative assessment along the way. The cool thing about formative assessment, it’s in the moment. It’s looking over that student’s shoulder and seeing where they are getting the map calculation mixed up. In real time, it is helping redirect learning. It’s reassessing with an open question, perhaps as a bell ringer at the start of the class. And then based on the responses of the students determining what will be explored in that class. If the responses show a deficit of information, time will be spent Filling in the gap. If students are already know the content, then there will be an opportunity for enrichment.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 10:05
Or perhaps this pre assessment leads the teacher to break students into various groups, depending on their level of understanding, or perhaps mixing those groups up and making them heterogeneous, so that teachers can work on students collaborating, and sharing their learning. And, of course, the rubric of qualities expected in that project is ideally created by or with the students. And the evaluation process includes students evaluating themselves on the rubric, the teacher doing the same, and then having a conversation to compare notes. Who, can you see why getting my head organized for this keynote presentation became a bit overwhelming. There is so much to assessment.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 10:58
Even if we use all of these tools, the existential question of who determines what is important needs to be unpacked? Do the makers of textbooks tell us what is important for students to learn? Which of the state standards do we focus on? There are zillions, and it would be impossible to cover them all. Where do my individual biases influence what I think students need to learn? Parents? Where do your individual biases impact what you want your child to value and be able to do? Employers? We often hear that our graduates are not workforce ready? What does that mean? And how are you willing to engage in the K 12 system? To help students have that needed preparation? Are you willing to have your employees come in and run real world activities? Or mentor youth? Are you willing to have high school juniors and seniors job shadow, or even internet your business? I know the P TECH model that we unpacked on episode 73 has employers actively involved in the learning in the classroom and also paid internships. There’s also more on the P TECH model in our EDD active summit presentations. And these links are in the show notes below. So who does decide what is the value? And then who takes responsibility for empowering our youth to reach these goals and gain this knowledge base and skill set? There is definitely a need for learning to engage business and community and for learners to get credit for learning that happens outside of the classroom walls.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 12:47
So if I were waving my magic wand, what would I wish so that all teachers used assessment in a relevant and intentional manner? Let me wrap Five Wishes into my answer. One, I would wish that teachers got very clear on the most important skills and knowledge they want their students to leave their class with, too. I wish the teachers would use a reverse engineering process with a guiding open ended essential question or problem. Three, I wish teachers were coaches, perhaps using the Flipped Learning Model, instead of the experts that they were guiding and supporting students on their learning journeys. For I wish that learners felt engaged by the content and the process and saw the real world relevance and why this particular learning is important in their lives. And five, I would wish for a time for us to come together as educators, parents and employers to determine what we want our graduates to look like. My personal favorite example of this process is the graduate profile we unpacked in Episode 39 from Edgecombe County in North Carolina. It’s impressive what they want their graduates to be able to do at age 25. Again, that is in the shownotes links.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 14:24
Students know if we have taken time to find topics that are interesting and relevant. They see our passion. My humanity students saw their civics teacher rant and cokes and praise and knew that he was fully invested in what they were learning. Let’s take time to get intentional about what we want our youth to learn and how we’re going to assess it before we build those lesson plans. If you can check out this week’s free beyond multiple choice presentation, and check back to live Learn about their fall conference. Link is in the show notes. As always, thank you for being a part of the education, evolution.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 15:19
If you are finding yourself thinking, I need to do this in my school, let’s talk about it. I consult and also have a book, TEDx talk an online course to support starting learner driven schools and programs. My goal is to help schools and individuals find new innovative solutions to reaching every student. Let’s create an action plan together, visit education evolution.org forward slash consult to book a call and let’s get started. Education evolution listeners, you are the ones to ensure we create classrooms where each student is seen, heard, valued and thriving. We need you. Let’s go out and reach every student today. I’d be so grateful if you’d head over to your podcast app to give a great rating and review if you found this episode valuable. Don’t wait. Please do it right now before you forget. I really appreciate it. Thank you listeners signing off. This is Maureen O’Shaughnessy, your partner in boldly reimagining education.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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