An urban middle school is on a new journey this year – project-based learning (last year it was standards-based grading). But this initiative is here to stay, the administrators promise. With little background and a whole lot of excitement, teachers engage in weekly team collaboration time. Through a grant, every teacher gets a laptop.
The students say science is their favorite class. Why? From observing the growth of organisms they discovered in soil to measuring the flight path of hand-made bottle rockets to online science simulations, their daily lessons are filled with fun. They have a quiz or test every Friday, which the science teacher effortlessly whips up on Thursday nights with her new exam software. “I’m sure they’re learning,” she reassures her principal for the third time this month. “They must be learning,” she secretly wonders, “since they’re always engaged, right?”
What’s wrong with this picture?
Well, let’s just focus on assessment for now. How do we know students are learning? What evidence do we have? How clearly aligned are classroom activities to standards and learning expectations? Where are the indicators of a purposeful progression of learning experiences that build conceptual understanding over time, rather than a collection of isolated activities?
By the way, that teacher was me. Yes, it was a long time ago, and I wish I could tell you this scenario doesn’t happen anymore in today’s classrooms. But it does. Every day. There’s nothing wrong with fun, but engagement without purpose could actually impede learning, not support it. Engaging classroom activities without clear evidence of learning is just, um, well… fun. Gulp.
The Learning Continuum
Today’s educational landscape is generating questions about the impact of assessment, without easy answers. To sort through the uncertainties, we need to view assessment in context and frame our work with this question: How does assessment fit into the bigger picture of teaching and learning?
Watch this video on the Learning Continuum, a research-based framework developed by Ronit Carter, Victory’s Director of Professional Learning and Leadership.
At Victory, we use the Learning Continuum to frame our approaches to raising outcomes for a wider range of students. When we plan assessments based on clear learning targets, we can then design classroom instruction to mirror those assessments. Assessment is not an afterthought; it is a source of evidence. The more effectively we design a task, the deeper our evidence will be. Why guess, when we can be certain students are learning?
We’d love to hear what you think. How do you make connections between assessment, curriculum, and instruction in your own work? What are some of the challenges you face?