I spent this morning doing some work in my classroom, and while I am pleased at the progress I am making in getting organized and making everything feel like my room (although it will feel more like my own room once my wife and I put up posters and other things in the classroom on Wednesday), I must take a moment to rant on a subject that is often a source of frustration for teachers: assessment.

However, my gripe is not with the current institutional assessment practices – standardized testing and what-have-you – but with how some teachers handle assessment individually in regards to instruction.

See, I have this crazy idea that assessments are intended to, you know, assess the learning that students achieve during the course of instruction. Which means that assessments should reflect what is being taught. Good so far? I think most teachers would agree that this is a start.

So when I look at your assessments, you the unsuspecting teacher who doesn’t know that I will inherit your classroom once you leave, I should expect that you taught everything that you assessed, either the content (if fact-based responses are required) or the skills, right?

So if I notice that on every single assessment (and study guide) I happen to look at that covers a unit surveying an author’s work – say, for instance, Robert Frost – you have included the author’s birth and death years as a fill-in-the-blank question, then I can assume that you believed that information necessary for the full and proper comprehension of the works of that author, correct?

Wait, you mean that knowing the exact years that an author was born and died in aren’t all that relevant to the specific understanding of that author’s body of work (aside maybe from knowing the general historical era they produced their works in)?

This isn’t difficult, teachers: teach what needs to be learned, and assess what needs to be learned. I have been guilty of this in the past, too, but no more. If a significant portion of your test is filled with objective information that is meant merely to activate the rote knowledge part of students’ abilities (and thereby help out students’ grades), then I don’t know that the assessment will really be a successful one, since it will skew the results of the assessment by favoring students who have mastered memorization and by penalizing students who have not developed good memory skills or who freeze up and forget information even after the most well-rehearsed memorization because of test anxiety. When assessments are not accurate – or just, to use a more evocative word – then no student succeeds, even if they pass.

[end rant, exeunt]

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