Monday, February 16, 2015

Assess More; Test Less

Think about driving from Paris through pastoral northern France to Arromanches in Normandy.

If someone asked you how the drive was, would you simply report your successful, on-time arrival? Probably not. You'd probably mention the lovely scenery or how the trip made you feel or some other salient detail from the trip.

While you're on the drive, would you only care about your car's speed? Probably not. You'd also care about various aspects of your car's health as well (e.g., fuel level, engine temp, and RPM). If you don't pay attention to various aspects of your car's health, it could leave you stranded by the side of the road.

For years, online curriculum developers have focused on objective-driven courses. We measure how much content students have mastered, and we keep them aimed at consuming more content so they can master more content. We've been focused on the destination.

We need to spend more time thinking about the journey, and to do that, we need to make better use of modern technology and data. We need to stop testing so much, and start assessing more. Much more. Actually, we need to assess all the time. Let's group the kinds of things we should assess into two general categories:

Type 1 States: Content Knowledge and Readiness
These assessment are tied to specific objectives with a goal of mastery. We do a decent job of assessing content knowledge, but I don't think that many people do a robust enough job of assessing readiness. With tools like knowledge spaces, we should be able to figure out exactly what skills and knowledge a student needs to have in order to be ready to learn any topic. Why not figure that out ahead of time?

Type 2 States: Metacognition, Motivation, and Perseverance
As a student goes through any lesson, we should find ways to measure how they are reacting to the lesson. These three aspects go up and down through the course of a lesson, unit, and course. You don't master them any more than you master the fuel in your car's tank, but they are critical to engaging with content and truly mastering any field. Games and problem-based learning can be powerful tools for helping students learn skills, but perhaps they can be even more helpful when developing and measuring students' motivation and perseverance.

We need to measure Type 1 States frequently via truly formative assessment.

We need to measure Type 2 States continuously through every activity of a lesson.

Once we can measure both types of states well, we'll be able to help students learn and teachers teach more effectively.

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