Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Balanced assessment's "sunlit vision" (with a roundup)

The 2008 Assessment Manifesto offers a potent technical argument, and yet, as I argued in January, "There’s a sunlit vision of confident, excellent classroom work at the heart of this Manifesto project."

The technical case made by testing expert Rick Stiggins is that we need "balanced assessment" with different tools to support three different kinds of decisions:
  • Classroom learning decisions need evidence about individual students continuously.
  • Program planning at the school and district level requires data on which standards are being mastered, looking at groups of students, on a “periodic but frequent” basis.
  • Accountability testing must check, from outside, whether enough students are meeting the standards, annually.
It's a mistake, Stiggins argues, to think that one test can meet all three needs, and it's a bigger mistake to think we can raise student performance if we don't do all three well.

The "sunlit vision" part is about what can happen when the three elements are properly balanced: teachers can show each student clear expectations, help each student make steady progress toward those standards, and (in the process) break the cycle of growing despair that currently leads many students to stop trying when the goals seem both mysterious and out of reach. Stiggins cites research evidence of powerful results when classrooms work that way:
When assessment for learning practices like these play out as a matter of routine in classrooms, as mentioned previously, evidence gathered from dozens of studies conducted around the world consistently reveals a half to a full standard deviation gain in student achievement attributable to the careful management of the classroom assessment process, with the largest gains accruing for struggling learners.
My take is that balanced assessment is the testing element of the consistent high quality teaching nurtured in professional learning communities and in the world's top school systems.

For more on this valuable report, here are the links to my earlier posts:
And here are links to the two other bodies of thought I see as deeply related to the Stiggins approach:

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