“How do I make an A?” Conversations on Assessment

10/6/2016

In our first “Brown Bag” conversation between GrATE members on October 5th, we discussed assessment at large. I was thrilled to discuss the ways in which we evaluate, judge, and measure success and growth. Non-traditional, holistic and personalized assessment made a huge impact on me as an undergraduate but as an instructor it is difficult to oversee and enforce, espically in large classrooms.

We talked about a lot of the frustrations we have as educators. How do grades work if they’re not based on a test? How can I be equitable? What is a fair assessment? Points? What’s a point? Collectively we have more questions than answers but talking with fellow GTAs from various fields I learned about many options I hadn’t considered regarding assessment.

What I gleamed from the conversation was that how we assess students largely depends on why we assess students. Further, the ability to have a great deal of autonomy over assessment is a gift to graduate teaching assistants. It can be daunting, but in creating our own exams we are able to shift conversations from a tone of “banking education” (to use the concepts of Paulo Freire) to a culture of curiosity. This can radically shift a classroom.

Chris Green, a professor at Berea College, gave me advice regarding assessment that truly changed my approach in the classroom. He suggested that we can only assess what we have taught. I am lucky — this works for me largely as I teach lower level undergraduate courses where prior knowledge is not assumed, but I am aware that many upper level courses require foundational knowledge. What this could possibly shift for all instructors is the role of the instructor. What are we preparing students to do What skills are we practicing in order to assess? We do not practice memorization in my course, so rather than offer multiple choice exams I assess the ability to think critically in the classroom.

Each of the Academy members brought a different viewpoint on evaluating knowledge to the conversation. Factors which impact our methods of assessment across the board included number of students, what we are seeking to evaluate, and what particular skills we looking for. Another factor which highly influences assessment concerns the resources we use to evaluate student growth. Educational tools such as canvas allow for quick assessments of interpretation and retention. Blogs and scaffolded projects allow for a longer assessment of growth. I personally like to use a mix of these as well as a self assessment report where students reflect on their own learning process.

This learning outcome grid is very helpful in visualizing how and why certain assessment tools are used. http://tll.mit.edu/sites/default/files/guidelines/a-e-tools-methods-of-measuring-learning-outcomes-grid-2.pdf

I was also introduced to the idea of personalized assessment. Here is a bit more on that:
https://depts.washington.edu/grading/pdf/DevelopingaPersonalGradingPlan.pdf

Thank you to everyone who joined our conversation– I hope you can join us next time!

-jordan

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