Assessment comes from the Latin word assidere, meaning “to sit beside.” But in most U.S. schools, assessment rarely feels like companionable support—more likely, it takes the form of high-pressure tests that play an outsize role in determining students’ grades for a course or their ability to get into the college of their choice.
During this period of distance learning, teachers are being challenged to find other ways of tracking how much their students understand. The limitations they’re facing now could open the door to more meaningful ways of assessing students’ progress even when in-person classes resume, says Maria Araceli Ruiz-Primo, an associate professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education (GSE).
On this episode of School’s In, Ruiz-Primo joined GSE Dean Dan Schwartz and Senior Lecturer Denise Pope to talk about how school closures have affected teachers’ ability to evaluate students’ learning and what periodic assessment can look like, beyond exams and quizzes.
Ruiz-Primo, who directs the Laboratory of Educational Assessment, Research and Innovation (LEARN) at Stanford, advocates for a formative approach to assessment. This means gathering information from various sources throughout the course to find out what kind of support students need—and then taking that feedback into account when making decisions about instruction going forward.
Tests are just one possible instrument for assessing’ progress. Another, she suggests, is putting students in the role of asking questions, instead of the other way around. “The students’ questions can be a source of information of whether they’re learning or not.”
A formative approach is about learning, not grades, says Ruiz-Primo—and as more schools adopt pass/fail policies during the pandemic, teachers have the opportunity to get creative with assessment. “This is an excellent time to refocus on what really matters.”
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