Don’t Wait for the Postmortem to See if You’re Sick

A drawing of a scene in a NY Morgue - men in suits and a woman looking at a body.

“Educators have long complained that end-of-year, “summative” assessments are not useful because the results are not available until fall when their students have moved on to the next grade.”

(Is this the end of end-of-year testing? Education Dive)

Okay… I’m not a high stakes (I mean “end-of-year”) testing fan either, but …

Summative assessments are like a postmortem. It gives you feedback after the fact. And although it can be disaggregated by student, the data isn’t really about each child. It’s about the system. Did the system educate this group, and these sub-groups, of students to the predetermined appropriate level dictated by some guy in a suit in an office building somewhere? If not, then the system needs to evaluate its methods and make adjustments. If it did, then other systems ask for the silver bullet solution to apply to their own system.

It was never set up to be anything different or better than that. It’s not about Martin. It’s about 356 Martins in grade 6, 70 of which are “low-socioeconomic” Martins, 95 of which are “two or more races” Martins, and 64 of which are “English Learner” Martins.

If you’re waiting for a postmortem to decide if you need to cut back on the greasy foods, you’re doing it wrong.

Get Your Check-Ups

If you want useful data to make instructional adjustments, you have to go to the doc for routine check-ups, aka formative assessments. You need blood work, your heart listened to, and maybe a good ol’ knock on the knees to check those reflexes!

Relying on state accountability test data to make modifications is too late – you’re already in the morgue.

In successful learning environments, whether they be a formal classroom or a behind-the-wheel driving lesson, learning is assessed multiple times a day, and adjustments made as needed by the teacher. Madeline Hunter included Checking for Understanding, Guided Practice, and Individual Practice as critical elements of good teaching because they inform the teacher as to appropriate next steps. Formative assessment is not about a multiple choice test given on Tuesdays, but rather an ongoing practice to determine if the instruction is having its intended outcome.

(Hey, doctors say they “practice” medicine… coincidence?)

State tests will never replace this teacher function. Nor should they try.

Now, if only we could reduce the testing window and give teachers more TIME to analyze and discuss their formative and summative assessment data with peers throughout the year.

Now THAT would make a difference!

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