Assessment Pt. 1: You’re doing it wrong

The human mind is in a constant state of assessment. While most of it is autonomic as an efficient process running under the surface, it is happening. Multiple redundant processes. In the spring of 2006 I was diagnosed with a rare condition that required the repair of a hole in the superior canal of my left ear. By repair, I mean the destruction of that vestibular canal. The surgery was successful and left me short a canal.

Through the diagnostic process I was reminded that my balance was not simply a matter of muscle and nerves. When my dehiscent canal went awry, my eyes jumped about in my head correcting and searching for equilibrium. Level. My faulty canal, in the presence of certain stimuli, caused my brain to think that I was falling. My eyes jumped and my muscles jerked in an effort to ‘catch’ me though there was no problem at all. A faulty check engine light.

Like I need a hole in the head

A bad sensor. Vertigo is an understatement. Post surgery, I was told that there were planes upon which I may not ever be able to move my head without losing my balance. I was told that I may have permanent balance problems but it was likely that my systems would accommodate this deficit. The surgery was on a Friday morning. Early. I was walking out of Johns Hopkins University Hospital on Sunday after lunch. With some assistance and a new set of staples. I am grateful for the work of Lloyd B. Minor and John Carey. I am grateful for my redundant systems. Side effects: 0, Timony: 1.

Constantly discriminating countless data. Assessing. Angle, pressure, distance, speed. Obstacles, terrain, light, wind. Regulating distractions, deciding on what gains attention, what is worth a second look or even a note. A picture. Email. Where is my phone? or other external memory device?

Assessment, judgment, decision making. An automatic, natural, and necessary component of our lives.

cut to: The Classroom. Our natural habitat

We teach. We listen. We observe. We discuss. We answer questions and pose questions. We demonstrate. This interaction happens all the time, right? Our students know the material. We are happy with that.

Until we administer an assessment and some perform poorly.
If I hear it again, I might scream:
“They know the material but they cannot pass the test”

One of these statements is incorrect. Educators must realize that their estimations of student skills are often as valid and reliable–maybe more. Definitely more meaningful. They have a place at the table alongside other assessment options and help to create a more realistic picture of student achievement and student needs. We need to move away from popular phrases like “tests well” and get to the bottom of things. Decide for yourself how you define knowledge, competence, and achievement. Make sure that your assessment strategies reflect that. As the field of educational research moves towards meaning beyond mere significance, the measure of a student should, too, move towards meaning.

Our approach should be data informed but our students should never data defined.

If a students knows the material, that student’s grade should reflect that they know the material. If that student cannot express it in the context of an exam, that is another issue that should probably be addressed. Addressed because it will cause commotion with less insightful educators and/or it may be a sign of a more persistent need.

Stay tuned for Part IV: What do you use to fix the tools?

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