Assessment for Learning: A Whole Child Approach to Teaching
Assessments of learning are a vital part of the learning process. Without tools like tests and quizzes to measure student progress, teachers’ ability to understand where students are instructionally during the course of a school year is severely diminished.
What if teachers had an assessment tool that allowed them to evaluate student progress while a student is learning, and to inform their teaching practices and family communication going forward? This is known as assessment for learning.
Effective classroom assessments show how a student is doing, but an “assessment for learning” approach helps identify ways for teachers and parents to point a student in the right direction to succeed.
According to Jeffrey Hauger, Director of Educator Engagement, incorporating assessment for learning tools provides a comprehensive and cohesive system that is well aligned to instruction and takes the whole child into consideration — not just their academic knowledge.
“It goes beyond the progress check,” Hauger explains. “It answers the question of ‘what now?’ after educators get assessment results. It incorporates universal screeners and the social-emotional learning components that impact achievement. Once you are asking 'what now?' you are looking at components of learning that help teachers get to where they want to be instructionally."
Looking beyond academics
How would a system combining both assessment of learning and assessment for learning work in your school or district?
Hauger gives the example of an elementary school classroom where a teacher needs to evaluate reading comprehension. A traditional progress check shows if students are performing at grade level, while assessment for learning tools like universal screeners dig a bit deeper to identify possible causes of a reading deficit.
"A universal screener is a little more in depth than an interim assessment that's measuring all the standards,” Hauger explains. “If the student scored low in reading, the screener would pick that up. That would be something the teacher would want to look at and perhaps provide the student with more opportunities to work on reading comprehension."
Hauger recommends adding assessments for learning to an overall evaluation to help teachers and school districts close equity gaps for at-risk students.
"We know the academic components of learning, but there are also the social-emotional aspects," Hauger continues. "It’s important to use assessments that explain what issues the student is facing that could be preventing them from reaching their academic potential. Assessments for learning really help show where more targeted supports for the student can help."
Seeing the full narrative
With time already at a premium, assessments for learning can be difficult for overscheduled teachers to consider, but effective assessment platforms will incorporate them into comprehensive toolkits that enable a whole-child approach. These toolkits allow teachers to build an overall growth model with individualized pictures of how students are progressing and why, as well as ways to improve.
"If you have a system that considers the different pieces, then the results give you a narrative and you don't have to fill in the puzzle to analyze it," Hauger says. "It will show you these are all related, so you can easily see the student's weaknesses and strengths."
For example, if during an online assessment the system recognizes a third-grade student isn’t at grade level, modern platforms can adapt questions to meet the student where they are in their learning and notify the teacher about precisely where the gaps are.
Another advantage of incorporating assessment for learning into a comprehensive system is that it results in better communication with parents and caregivers. "You can use technology to explain in layman’s terms what these reports are telling you about your student," Hauger adds.
"More importantly, these days you can send results in multiple languages which leads to more parent engagement. Effective platforms help districts get information out to parents so they have a better understanding of how their student is doing.”
Greater insights into “what now?”
Hauger believes that as more districts activate the assessment for learning tools in the online platforms they use, they will be amazed by the increased insights they have at those "what now?" moments.
"You'll see more and more of this comprehensive approach that uses different information to look at students — not only on the level of academic standards,” he explains. “They’re going to have confidence in personalized approaches that meet students where they are. Assessment for learning drives insights about the whole student, and it does it when it’s timely so teachers can use that insight to adjust and connect with their students."
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