Position Paper - Assessment as Integral to Learning and Instruction

Russell Yates

June, 1999

Assessment of students must always be an integral part of instruction and learning. In the past, assessment was considered something that was objective and somewhat separate from instruction. It was done as a test to find out if students had learned the material presented to them by the teacher. This teacher-centered approach does not work with the emerging learning environments of the 21st century. Education's focus is now on the student and not on the teacher. The realization that children are complex individuals with their own personal growth rates and interests, rather than objectified humans that can be inculcated with information based on a set progression of knowledge, has necessarily placed the individual and their personal progress at the center of the experience of curricula. To be consistent with this new understanding of how children should be thought of, assessment is becoming an informer of instruction and learning. It is also inviting students to be a part of their own assessment. As such it is ongoing, varied, and flexible in order to help the educational dialogue between teacher and student be productive and focused on progress.

"As we were taught, so we teach" is all too real in American classrooms. I see this everyday in the school I work in. Although most teachers embrace, or at least accept, educational reform as beneficial for students, basic teaching strategies tend to remain unchanged. The strategies teachers use becomes the filter through which the students experience the "reformed" or new curriculum. True educational change is reliant on the ability of individual teachers to incorporate the changes into their everyday teaching lives; to transition from their old way of structuring their lessons and managing their classrooms, to new ways that are more compatible with reformed curricula. Thus the change process can be slow and the benefits to students of reform not fully realized for some time. In my school, assessment as integral to learning and instruction is still debated and little practiced (although I have seen overall change in this area come about slowly). The transition can be a bit bumpy, but I believe it is necessary for student progress as a whole to improve.

Martha Hopkins, in her article Getting Real: implementing assessment alternatives in mathematics, reflects on her own journey of transformation from a "fount of knowledge" and tester, to a facilitator of learning with assessment as integral to her classes. She learns how to use assessment in her math lessons to help students grow in their understanding, to help guide student progress, and to help inform her of the effectiveness of her teaching. No only did she discover discrepancies between her educational philosophy and her implementation of assessment, she also learned how difficult it is to match the ideal with the real. I see in her journey, a road for all teachers and a lesson for school administrators who are sometimes frustrated with the slow rate of change they see in their teaching staffs.

Hopkins, Martha H., (1997) Getting Real: Implementing Assessment Alternative in Mathematics. Preventing School Failure, v. 41, 77-84. (ERIC BEDI97009751) Retrieved June 30, 1999 from the World Wide Web:
http://medusa.prod.oclc.org


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