Why We Need A Continuous Assessment Culture

Traditional Assessment Culture versus Continuous Assessment Culture

609When you see teachers ranting on social media that they hate assessment as much as the parents but their pay cheques depend on it and their school depends on the data for funding it’s obvious there is a problem with assessment. It must be quite disheartening when your kids are fully immersed and engaged in learning only to have to stop what you are doing to start preparing for upcoming assessments such as NAPLAN. I teach project management and know the anxieties that are created by the test at the end of the course and often wish we could talk more about live examples of implementing project management in an organisation rather than tips on how to get through the exam.

Most schools already have an assessment culture. For most though, this culture is one that is based on the principle of accountability and measuring school performance. These negative principles often have the opposite effect of their intent of improving student learning outcomes (see Dr Richard Elmore’s article on Assessment Culture). A continuous assessment culture, on the other hand, underpins a “true learning culture” and supports teachers using assessment not from a negative, accountability perspective, but to drive student engagement and learning.

There are many tools and technologies out there now that make continuous assessment easier trying to implement continuous assessment into a school which is not truly ready to weave assessment into every aspect of their day-to-day life is is like the person trying to stop smoking who has tried everything to quit, but still goes for the next “guaranteed” solution. What are the chances of this working? We need to have a deep understanding of what that culture looks like – a vision and a blueprint (or strategy) consisting of plans, processes, systems and procedures. The only way to tackle the development of such a culture is to start by identifying and then focussing on the benefits.

Benefits of a Continuous Assessment Culture
There are very few short term benefits of a continuous assessment culture because it takes a long time to embed such a culture into a school. Across the longer term the benefits are numerous.

      Student Benefits       Teacher Benefits
  • self-awareness – aware of what they know and don’t know
  • self-efficacy – start to understand how they learn and believe in their ability to apply this to more difficult situations
  • self-management – learning becomes more self-directed
  • self-confident – willing to ask for help and know the right questions to ask.  
  • underlying sense of feeling supported by colleagues, students, parents and the school in your assessment practices.  
  • having a greater awareness of the whole child through the constant feedback cycle
  • better information to enable adjustments to teaching strategies

Next blog will focus more specifically on key considerations when developing or maintaining a continuous assessment culture.

Continuous Assessment – why the bad rap?

When you say the word “assessment” or mention that you work in assessment and testing, you don’t get quite the same response as if you said you work for World Vision or UNICEF.  It is a bit like ‘fessing up to being an auditor at a party.  You are much more likely to receive a “Gosh, look at the time, I really need to be anywhere else but here” response or a dressing down about the negative effects of tests on education.

Depending on whether you are the student, teacher, principal or parent, the word assessment tends to bring with it feelings of stress, boredom, annoyance or discomfort.  Little wonder really when you consider that according to the Cambridge dictionary, “Assessment”  is all about making “judgements” and “forming opinions”…youch! It is a rare individual that enjoys deliberately judging  others or being on the receiving end of the judgements.  For time-poor teachers, just the thought of setting tests, marking them, gathering, collating and analysing the data can be overwhelming.  Even understanding the differences between formative, summative, high stakes, etc is a challenge in itself.  No wonder the concept of continuous assessment has such negative connotations. 

So why the need to assess?  2015-09-28 16_23_19-assessment Meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary

As a parent I don’t care too much about how my child is doing against the national average, but I do care about whether he is improving consistently in his ability to problem solve, make sense of things and grasp increasingly challenging concepts.  And, if he isn’t, then what can we do to help.   If we don’t continually assess students, how will we ever know if they are spinning their wheels at a road block?

From a business perspective, assessment is essentially measurement.  As business managers, we have been indoctrinated with Peter Drucker’s mantra “what you don’t measure doesn’t get done”.  This shouldn’t mean that we go the whole year and then pull out a bunch of KPIs and work out whether we achieved them, set some new ones and move on for another year.  The idea of the annual performance appraisal (summative assessment) is declining  as corporations catch up with the education sector who understand that continuous assessment is the key. Deloitte Australia dumped bi-annual performance reviews earlier this year in favour of a continuous assessment system which involves weekly or fortnightly “check ins”.  

There is obviously so much evidence to show that employees who are given consistent feedback about performance are more engaged with working towards the strategic objectives of the organisation. Similarly, students who receive continuous and specific feedback about how engaged they are in learning and how well they are tracking against the original learning goals leads to greater self-awareness.  Self-awareness is important because it is the starting point for both academic and social and emotional intelligence.

Continuous assessment is vital in providing a perspective on teaching strategies.  If everyone knows how vital formative assessment is to teaching, how can we develop a structured and simple process to allow for continuous rather than ad-hoc assessment?

In future blogs we will look at breaking down the continuous assessment process to show how it is being used in many schools as the bedrock to transform twitter
teaching and learning outcomes.