April (2014)
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Valuing Work
October (2013)
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January (2013)
November (2012)
Learning Styles
October (2012)
We Are What We Assess
A good friend of mine has transformed his diet and lost over fifty pounds in the past year taking to heart the adage: you are what you eat. Despite our best efforts to be something else, our dietary intake provides fuel for our bodies. If we eat poorly, our bodies will run below capacity.

The same can be said in slightly different words for any organization: you are what you value. As an educational institution, we value many things, but for the sake of this blog focused on academic life at Proctor, we must look at what we value in the classroom. How are we assessing students? Are our assessment methods in line with what we believe we value as a learning community?

Dean of Faculty Karl Methven shared this article from Independent School Magazine earlier this week in reference to on-going conversations among faculty around continuous improvement of teaching practices. The article discusses the need to have meaningful assessments that challenge the learning brain.

While a role still exists for traditional assessment methods (in preparation for SATs, ACTs and other standardized tests), we know mastery focused assessments are far more effective in creating lasting learning that performance based assessments.

A tour around classrooms this week illustrates this. Above, students engage in an evidence-based seminar discussion in US History class. Below, robotics students fine tune their robots that competed in a robotics competition scrimmage against other schools over the weekend.

We understand that no two students are the same, and therefore, no single assessment method will be effective in measuring the lasting learning taking place in our classes. Some students will thrive in public speaking (like those competing in the Hay’s Speaking Contest next Thursday). Others cringe at speaking in front of others, but possess remarkable creativity expressed through visual assessments. Assessing one skill set and not the other does our students an injustice.

The aforementioned article quotes neuropsychology professor Tracy Tokuhama-Espinosa saying, “While students manage to keep enough dates, facts and formulas in their head to pass the test, this knowledge never made it to long-term declarative memory, it was never truly learned at all (only memorized in the short term).”

Assessment methods vary tremendously at Proctor, and this is a good thing, but how can we continue to grow as educators to ensure the lessons we are teaching are reaching students’ long-term memory? Can we continue to individualize the learning experience by expanding our understanding of what can serve as an assessment? Can we go as far as to allow students to decide how they want to best demonstrate their knowledge of a given unit?

Due to the supportive, collaborative environment in which we work, our teaching will continue to evolve in these ways. Proctor’s academic identity as a school is very clear, and as teachers, we must always keep in mind we are what we assess.
To see what any organization values, you must look at what they assess.
Taking a closer look at how we assess students tells us much about what we value.
We know that meaningful, varied assessment methods are critical to developing a learning brain.
Assessments like the Hays Speaking Prize (taking place next Thursday!) challenge students to think creatively and to truly own the content their are presenting.
Knowing that no two students learn the same way is foundational to our assessment methods at Proctor, and critical to our continued growth as educators.