We need to rethink assessments for remote learning

Here are three ways to reconsider the role of assessments as online and hybrid learning continue in the middle of the COVID pandemic

Assessment is the linchpin to driving essential skill and competency development. Traditionally, assessments have often been used as an indicator of what students know, understand, and can do, after the learning has been completed.

More recently, educators have implemented formative assessments, allowing students to receive ongoing feedback about their learning during the learning process.

Often, students are given their own agency and reflect on their learning, set their own goals and next steps, and work in partnership with their teacher to identify gaps and opportunities for deeper understanding.

In a world where learning has gone online, many educators are rapidly upskilling in their use of technology and rethinking their approaches to teaching and learning. Now more than ever in this new paradigm, educators need to also rethink their approach to assessment.

As states and districts cancel standardized testing for the year, this moment is a huge opportunity for educators to move away from content-driven rote memorization testing towards a more holistic, authentic approach to assessment. With students learning online remotely, there must also be a fundamental shift in the understanding of the purpose of assessment. In a world where pen and paper, or even digital tests, cannot be administered with any “fidelity” due to lack of supervision, what is the goal of assessment? This is an opportunity to use assessment as a tool to help students see themselves on a continuum of learning and to spark deeper learning.

Here are a few tips for rethinking assessment:

Using the internet is not cheating.

If students can Google the answers to “cheat” on an assessment, you have not designed an effective assessment. Our goal as educators should be to inspire students to use the information that they have–both content they have memorized, and sources available online–to develop higher-order thinking skills. Asking questions that require students to apply their understanding of content and concepts in order to solve a problem, react to new situations, critically analyze information, or prove an argument is a more effective way to judge if they have a deep understanding.

This doesn’t mean students shouldn’t need to memorize content or understand concepts without leaning on other sources. Rather, it requires students to have enough knowledge and understanding of a concept to know where to find information, how to apply that information in the correct context, and how to determine if information is relevant.

Furthermore, shifting our perspective on what constitutes “cheating” on an assessment more realistically mirrors the types of challenges and tasks they will face in the real world. When was the last time your boss asked you to complete a task and instructed you that you were not able to use the internet or talk to any other people about that task?

Without the ability to monitor students in person as they complete assessments, we challenge you to re-think the types of questions you are asking your students. Can they Google the answer or copy and paste content? If so, consider what types of tasks you could give them that require more critical and creative thinking to complete.

“Test” is not a dirty word.

In fact, research shows that taking a test is the best way to “recognize some gaps in their knowledge… and retrieve [information] and organize the knowledge that they have in a way that makes sense to them.”

Many educators often give students tests as formative assessment when they need to learn large amounts of new content. However, first we can engage kids consciously in the process by having them read the above-quoted article and unpack the “why” behind why we are taking tests–ensuring they understand its role not as a judgment of what they can or can’t achieve but rather as a tool for continuance of learning.

How might we leverage technology such as the self-grading quiz feature in Google Forms to create and administer tests to students that are not designed to give them a final grade, but rather spark continued learning and help them understand gaps in their knowledge?

Conversations, conversations, conversations.

With the option of pen-and-paper assessments no longer available for online students, this is the perfect time to embrace conversation-based assessments. While one-on-one conversation assessments can be difficult to schedule during a typical school day, with many schools running on shortened school hours, there is now an opportunity for teachers and students to connect one-on-one for conversation-based assessments. Think of it like an interview, where students will explain to you their understanding of concepts. You can ask further questions and develop a deeper understanding of what students know and don’t know.

Some of you may be thinking that this sounds like a massive time requirement. However, there is an upside! Consider how long it takes to review written work submitted by students, to write comments, complete rubrics, and return those assignments to students. And consider how many of your students actually read those detailed comments and apply the feedback. Now, consider giving that feedback to students in real time during a 5-10 minute video conference. You can complete the rubric as the conversation progresses and give students immediate feedback after the conversation. 5-10 minutes per student in real time, vs at least that much in written documentation is much more impactful. You can even record the conversation as an archive to document student progress.

If scheduling these synchronous sessions proves to be a challenge (although Appointment Slots in Google Calendar can help), you could also conduct conversations asynchronously using a video tool like Flipgrid. Students record their answers to questions, and you can respond with video feedback.

Make it authentic.

Help students see the connection between their learning and the world around them by designing assessments that are authentic and mimic tasks and skills that build core competencies. One way to achieve this is through rich performance tasks that involve real audiences and real-world challenges. The pandemic provides ample opportunities to connect with learning in just about every subject–why not use it to challenge students to respond to the crisis? Here are just a few examples:

Social Studies: Coronavirus and The Social Contract
Science: Anatomy of a virus
Math: Data Visualization and Interpretation
History: Historical Response to Crisis and Disease
English: Media Literacy in Times of Crisis (Fake News)
Physical and Health Education: Public Health

In addition, the new ubiquity of video conferencing and digital communication also opens up new possibilities for authentic audiences for students. For example, music students could create videos of performances and share them to the many performance Facebook groups that have popped up in response to the pandemic; visual art students could create digital works to share online; and math students could analyze data and share with the world, the way one 17-year-old student in Washington State did early in the crisis.

We’ve been given a gift during this difficult time: the prompt to re-think school. We are being forced to think outside the box and to re-imagine how might deeply engage students in this new paradigm. We know that inundating students with worksheets and make-work projects is not going to inspire them to keep learning. What can we do to engage students deeply while in a remote learning environment?

We need to focus on engagement over rigor, relationships over checking off curriculum boxes, and personalization over standardization.

eSchool Media Contributors