My last post touched on assessment and as this topic has been overwhelming my life lately, I thought I should share a bit more of my perspective on this.

Whenever I speak with other teachers about assessment, I’m reminded of an old joke: A drunk man is looking for his lost keys under a street light, and when someone asks if he lost them there he replies “No, but it’s easier to see under the light.”

Unfortunately, the things which are easiest to assess (or assess most objectively) are often the most useless things to be looking at. I work with a number of teachers and I’ve seen this exact thinking replay itself over and over again, even amongst teachers who have been in this profession for decades.

All too often, teachers get caught up in the assessment itself instead of the thing they are supposed to be assessing. The result of this can be found in so many standardized tests which really just test how well students can take tests. Being able to recite a list of facts from memory sounds impressive, but it is a poor benchmark for learning. All it demonstrates is a student’s ability in rote memorization, which is the lowest form of learning teachers utilize.

When I meet with other teachers to talk about our assessments, I find myself in the strange position of asking the other teachers about what the purpose of the test is. Aside from the quizzical looks, I tend to get a lot of defensive answers about why the assessment is a good assessment, not how it actually assesses the thing it is really meant to be assessing.

I feel a bit like a broken record: it is not about the assessment, it is about the understanding. Assessment is just a forum for providing evidence, a means to an end. It is not the end in itself.

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Jay teaches English in Asia and loves skepticism and teaching above all else.

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