Assessment:Why we just don’t want to talk about it!

The other day, one of my teaching colleagues asked me about my new job with Solution Tree. When I told him I was an Assessment Associate, he actually winced. He said, “Assessment as in school assessment? ┬áThat sounds like a horrible job. Is everyone always mad at you?” That got me thinking ( after I reassured him that I loved my job). Why do people flinch when you say the word assessment? What does it conjure up for people? Why does it evoke such negative emotion?

I can’t imagine school without assessment. That is just how natural and important it is. Assessment emerges from authentic purpose. It allows us to set meaningful goals and plans to accomplish those goals. It invites reflection about the degree to which we have achieved what we hoped we would achieve. It allows us to recalibrate, re-try, and re-imagine new ways to approach desired outcomes. It builds resilience and passion and confidence. Without assessment, we cannot grow. So, why all the sad faces?

There is something really personal about assessment. In schools, it involves a relationship between people, usually with one person making a judgment about the work of another. This act, in and of itself, is deeply personal. It holds strong implications, too. The value we place on a learner’s work can impact their self-esteem, their future options, their beliefs about their own potential. This, too, is personal. Teachers feel the burden of this personal act of assessment. The pressure to “get it right” is taxing and complicated and it becomes personal for teachers, too. When assessment practices are questioned or challenged, it can feel like our professionalism is being attacked. This fosters fear. It removes our confidence much like students feel when their work is questioned. I think this is why people wince. Talking about assessment means talking about beliefs, choices, feelings, and consequences. For many people, this doesn’t sound like much fun.

But this is why I love my job. I dive into assessment discussions despite the fear; in the midst of the winces; with passion and hope. I love it because I feel like I have a secret and I really want to share it. I believe assessment is a great thing. I know we can use assessment to build students up and, in the process, build ourselves up. I want others to see what I have seen in the faces of students who know what to expect on an assessment; who look forward to being asked to share; who see, sometimes for the first time, that they are wise enough to solve a problem on their own. This is the magic of assessment and the magic of kids all wrapped up together. So yes, I am an Assessment Associate and I want to talk about assessment. No fear. No anger. Just learning.

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