Reflections from Katie: April 2018

I wrote this article first in the Spring of 2014. At this time of year, I think it bears revisiting.

What role does assessment play at Cambridgeport?

In this era of high-stakes testing, and a lot of political swirl about new tests coming our way, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on what assessment means at Cambridgeport. The word assessment comes from the Latin root assidere, meaning to sit beside. This is certainly when we do the best assessing; we sit with a child and work to understand how they are thinking through a problem. We listen carefully as a child reads a passage, taking copious notes about the kinds of mistakes he or she is making. We watch and ask questions as a child solves a math problem. These moments of ‘sitting beside’ allow us to go deeper with children. They allow us to understand a child’s current thinking in order to make decisions about how and what to teach next. Teachers are always gathering information about what children are able to do, and what they are still working to make sense of. Assessment, in this definition, goes hand in hand with every learning experience.

There are moments in time when these assessment situations are more formal as well, and they may feel different for students. It may be that the room is quiet when they are used to a more interactive environment. Or perhaps we ask students to work independently rather than using their peers for help as needed. The purpose of these assessments is to help us go deeper in our understanding of what a child can do independently. The results from these more formal assessments help us determine areas in which some children may need more support, or others need an opportunity to extend their current knowledge. And while we may not be sitting beside a child, we are certainly sitting with the results in order to make sense of what a child can or cannot do independently.

Assessment is a critical component of teaching, but only if we use the information gathered to help us determine next steps. How we use the information determines how useful the assessment is. If we only use the information as a measure of our own self-worth, it’s not a productive way for students to spend their time. If, however, we really do use the information to help us be better teachers, to think in new ways about what our students can do, then it is time well spent.

One way we ensure that the information gathered is used well is we work together as a team. When we have these “work by yourself in a quiet setting” assessment periods, we come together in grade level groups with coaches and administrators in order to look at the results. We ask questions, we read up on current best practices, we offer suggestions to one another. This collaboration allows teachers to get better at what they do.

Assessment is a critical component of the work we educators do here at school. As we sit beside children and understand their thinking processes, we hone our own abilities to teach in ways that work for them. Assessment gives us an insight into the ways children learn and it challenges us to make thoughtful decisions about they ways we will support them. It helps us become more reflective educators and in turn it gives us the language to help students become more reflective learners.