Assessment is so much more than writing/selecting, employing, and scoring a test. There is architecture to the entire system of each single assessment event or experience. Educators must work as assessment architects – sometimes individually and sometimes in teams – as they structure learning progressions, select/modify/create assessments, design accompanying tools and resources (e.g. rubrics, proficiency scales, protocols, templates, etc.), deliver assessments, score with accuracy and consistency, provide productive feedback, respond in instructionally sensitive ways, report results, and build a culture to promote continued and sustained learning over time. Each task in the aforementioned list is an entire system in and of itself, and a change in one system will likely have an impact in the other systems.
Today, assessment is still treated as an afterthought (designed the night before the test) in too many classrooms. It is akin to building a house and then deciding the living room wouldn’t be complete without adding a coffee table. Assessment can never be an afterthought. Instead, assessment must lead the work of curriculum selection and instructional planning. In the house metaphor, assessment, then, becomes the architectural blueprint around which the entire house is built. The standards serve as the specifications that inform the design, the assessment map (includes formative and summative assessments) becomes the blueprint to lead the design work, the curriculum then becomes the concrete and walls as they can make the standards a reality, and the instruction – last in the list – becomes the artistry that makes each house unique: the colors, the textures, the décor. This picture of where assessment belongs in the sequence (Standards – Assessment – Curriculum – Instruction) is not new ~ it’s been around since 1998 with Wiggins and McTighe’s book Understanding by Design. We have been slow to change practice.
Why does it matter? If we do not become assessment literate, functioning as architects who put the assessment process in it’s proper place with attention to detail, we run the risk of any – or all – of the following happening:
- Inaccurate assessments;
- Invalid results;
- Distrust of the system and the individuals who work in it;
- And worst of all, disengagement on behalf of our learners.
The costs are grave.
Assessment is teaching. To teach without engaging in profound and accurate assessment processes, day-by-day and moment-by-moment, is to engage in curriculum coverage. The measure of teaching, then, must be based in whether or not the learning happened. The only way to assure the learning happens is to design the architecture of assessments and assessment processes (from the preplanned and obtrusive assessments to the in-the-moment and unobtrusive assessment processes) that scaffold our way to success. We must begin with the end in mind.