Quality Assessments Show Quality Learning

Although traditional exams have become an integral part of schooling, I challenge its sole validity for assessing student understanding.  Don’t get me wrong;  I believe external exams, such as the SATs and APs, are important components to the college and university process.  However, I don’t think student knowledge can be distilled to a mere percentage point or grade point average.  Let’s face it; students have guessed through multiple choice tests or have quickly forgotten what they crammed after a test.  Therefore, conventional tests cannot be the only measure to show what students truly know.

Instead we need to value high quality assessments which can display the depth of student learning.  Today’s educational field recognizes that student performances are a powerful assessment tool.  Real-world performances reveal the students’ depth in mastering academic expectations.  Nevertheless such high quality products are not easy to design because deep mastery of knowledge requires time and sufficient teacher feedback. Thus, teachers must prioritize the assessed learning outcome in order to ensure adequate time for students to demonstrate deep understanding.  To illustrate, let me share two examples of performance assessments at our school.

Students get feedback from Ms. Willey on their scientific articles.

This year Ms. Stacie Willey planned for her Grade 6 students to produce digital videos and journal articles to assess their understanding of patterns in the solar system.  For even adults, explaining the seasons or lunar phases can be difficult because these phenomena require abstract thinking.  For instance, in the documentary A Private Universe, the director depicted many Harvard graduates having inaccurate conceptions about the reasoning for the Earth’s seasons.  Nevertheless Ms. Willey confronted these complex science ideas by having her students create high quality products.  Her students published digital journals to demonstrate their scientific reasoning for lunar phases, seasons, and eclipses.  The students’ animated videos further represented abstract concepts such as scale and patterns visually.    Indeed Ms. Willey’s performance assessment does validate her students’ ability to utilize higher order thinking skills.

Our high school computer studies teacher, Mr. Benjamin Leung, provides another fine example of performance assessment.  In his introductory computers course, students have been programming a web-based game.  The game will include animations, sounds and complex puzzles for players to solve.  Such intricate game design demands mastery of fundamental coding skills, such as using variables, managing data, and tracking mouse movements.  In addition, students draw upon their historical or literary knowledge to create the background stories for their games.  As the year progresses, Mr. Leung will teach more complex coding skills for his students to incorporate into their projects.  In essence, the final product will demonstrate his students’ ability to design and program in a real-world situation.

No doubt AIS is making strides to better understand our students.  By employing these new means to determine learning, teachers are better informed about our students’ strengths and needs.  In turn, teaching instruction and feedback will be more relevant and tailored to individuals.  As 2016 approaches, AIS anticipates seeing more new ways to exhibit quality learning which is happening at our school.

From AIS Eagle-i

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