Pat Baldwin is an Geosciences teacher at Maine East High School. He is a District 207 leader in Assessment Literacy and has trained countless experienced and new teachers in best-practice. He loves rocks and hunting.
I’ve always just assessed my students the way I was assessed when I was in their shoes. It sounds archaic, but it’s absolutely the way I looked at assessments in the past. “Well, I was able to do it then, so they should be able to do it now.” was a common phrase I would utter to myself when filling out my answer key on the Scantron form. It took me several years to realize that I wasn’t really preparing them for anything besides maybe a driver’s license examination, trivia night the first Tuesday of the month, or freshman year college exams (we’ll tackle those later).
None of the things I was asked to do in high school were things that I would be doing later in life. As a teacher, I currently read scientific texts, interpret data, create action plans based on previous student performances, and develop long term plans to engage students in my science curriculum (not to mention work in a collaborative environment with other teachers and students). No assessment I was given was actually preparing me for the field I was going into. Nor do many of the typical assessments many of us (me included) give our students.
The last few years, my PLT and I have radically changed our assessments to try to mimic skills students may need in a wide variety of future jobs. I assess my students on how well they explain things; how well they can interpret data; how well they can plan an investigation; how well they can communicate an understanding of a topic; how well they can represent how something works in real life. We just happen to do it through geology and astronomy. Any job a student chooses to go into will use these skills. In fact, we don’t really know what jobs are going to exist when our students graduate, so we have to prepare them for the jobs that don’t exist yet.
We have definitely struggled, and we have definitely reworked some things that didn’t work as well the first time. But, our students have given feedback that they like the new challenges. They like creating their own assessments. They like having a test that isn’t just filling in bubbles. They like that the assessments are not just the same assessments I was given when I was in high school. They like that they get more feedback on how they are learning instead of what they have learned. And from my point of view, I feel like they have been given a better opportunity to prepare themselves for life beyond high school (even if their freshman year college classes are giving the same assessments their professors were given when they were in school).