Authentic Assessment and Professional Development

I made the complete switch to authentic assessment two years ago.  Since then, I haven't given a traditional quiz or test for a grade.  My students demonstrate their knowledge and skills by creating authentic projects and presenting them to an authentic audience--other teachers, community members, professionals--when time and personel allow.  Designing the projects and assessments has taken a great deal of time and effort, but my students have definitely reaped rewards of engagement and enthusiasm, as well as opportunities to build their collaboration and communication skills.  This is a tall task for many teachers.  Its hard to know where to begin on a journey to authenticity.  An article I read may supply an answer.

Recently Edutopia published a great article by Bob Lenz of Envision Schools.  Titled How Authentic Assessment Heightens Accountability in our Schools, the article explains how Envision Schools have their students create a public showcase of their work in a museum-style exhibit throughout the school.  Lenz extols authentic assessment, as opposed to traditional assessment, because it publicizes student work and by extension, teacher support.  Teachers feel the pressure of facilitating student growth that will be on public display at least twice each year.  When everything is in plain view, students and teachers both work harder to demonstrate their competencies.  Does this practice help students memorize facts and facilitate higher scores on standardized tests.  Probably not, and I'm Ok with that.  Just as I would not pander to a dictator, I won't indulge an inferior assessment model at the expense of authentic learning.

Another fantastic idea in this article is the idea of "instructional rounds".  Teachers, administrators, schoolboard members, community members, and other stakeholders...
"gather at each school in the Envision network twice a year to help each school investigate a "problem of practice." The school opens all of its classroom doors for observation from the group assembled in the morning. In the afternoon, the group works with the school to move from observations to action -- concrete next steps. Envision Academy asked the question, "How are teachers moving students towards more independent learning?"
This strikes me as a great professional development model.  When we train doctors, we don't stick them in a classroom for six years and then rush them right into surgery.  Doctors are constantly observing and evaluating their peers to learn new practices and hone their skills.  Teachers could learn a great deal from taking guided rounds through the school.  For teachers who want to learn authentic practices, observation is invaluable.  I've sat through several project-bases learning training sessions, but nothing prepares you more than experience.  I would have loved to be a fly on a wall of a few classrooms that were using project-based learning before I actually took the plunge.  The teachers being observed will also work that much harder to ensure their project goes smoothly because they are being authentically assessed by their colleagues.  This could completely change the climate of a school if exercised on a regular basis.

Assessing teachers with a one-time class visit will create a dog-and-pony show.  Using test scores and other quantitative data will encourage teachers to teach to the test.   Regular instructional rounds will create a more authentic assessment of a teacher's classroom.  The added benefit of using this a as supportive teacher observation/professional development process makes this a win, win, win.  A process is often defined by the method of assessment, so too is education.  In the famous words of Will Richardson, "if we don't assess what we value, we will only value what we assess."

1 comment:

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