• John D'Anieri

Could "Just Teach" Mean "Just Assess?" The Challenge – Part 1 of 2

The Challenge – Part 1 of 2

At JumpRope, we believe in collecting data on what students have learned, as opposed to what they have done. In reality we believe this will guide the successful implementation of Common Core standards. In a Marshall Memo summary of an article by Paul Zavitkovsky from Catalyst Chicago, Getting Assessment Right in the Common Core Era, he makes the point that we’ll have to dispense with some conventional wisdom in order to do so.

Zavitkovsky offers this challenge: “Now we have a choice. Do we double down again, or do we let go of some comfortable intuitions and start putting our money on a different horse?” One of the "intuitions" we need to question is that "the best way to improve assessment at scale is to do that job for teachers so that teachers have more time to 'just teach'.”

If "just teach" were the answer, then we'd not be reading articles like this. One could argue that’s what we, as a profession, did for years before the assessment mania of No Child Left Behind — and it wasn’t working. But what would it look like if we were to turn that sentence around: the best way to improve teaching at scale is to create more time for teachers to “just assess.” I’m not referring to the sledgehammer approach of NCLB, which often played out as "just grade," "just rate student work compared to other students," or “just rate the school compared to other schools.”

It does mean turning the focus from what the teacher says or does to what the student understands or knows. In order to do that, we need to be able to assess where a student is on a continuum of progress towards clearly defined goals, and then adapt instruction to help the student reach them.

JumpRope — employed as part of an overall approach to teaching and learning rather than as a glorified gradebook — can help teachers and schools do exactly that. In terms of the "intuitions" Zavitkovsky tries to debunk, standardized testing need not necessarily be the enemy, if used as one among many useful assessments of student progress.

Check back next week for "The Choice", John's conclusion to "Could 'Just Teach' Mean 'Just Assess'."

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