Is the tone of the assessment conversation what really matters? (#edchat)

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Just read Kilburn’s Predictions for K-12 Education in 2015, and his point about the tone of the assessment changing for the better left me perplexed.

One thing is the “tone of the conversation”, or narrative, and another is the reality of two often diametrically opposing world views about K-12 education put into practice. Has the narrative changed all that much to think that some narrative equates to some concrete change for 2015? And who exactly are those participating in this narrative: teachers, administrators, public leaders, politicians, etc.?

I doubt really that many more teachers are talking about the benefits of formative assessment over summative assessment, which has been discussed at length for some time now in the literature – any decent educational program will reveal this.  And perhaps we might lump administrators into this same group as well.  If teachers and administrators are opening up classroom experiences in ways that make the implementation of formative assessments more transparent, and if this is what is meant by a change in the “tone of conversation”, then Godspeed. This is a good thing, but is it really enough?

Or, has a change in narrative by consensus that occurred in 2014 occurred beyond the level of teacher and administrator? Teachers and administrators within the school can be as transparent as they want, but if this level of transparency does not extend to educational stakeholders outside the school system (i.e., civic leaders, politicians, etc.), what good is it?  We still live in times of standardized testing when it comes to teaching and learning in K-12, so I ask, “Who reached this consensus in 2014?” If this consensus went beyond teacher and administrator, I would love to see some evidence of this.  Kilburn also states,

…during 2014 we have seen a growing consensus on the need for better, fewer assessments that provide timely insights into the teaching and learning cycle (para. 7).

So, moving on from consensus, I will assume that “better assessments means more formative assessment and less summative assessment?  And I was left scratching my head when I read about the idea of fewer assessments, to the degree that I wonder if he means better (formative and/or summative) assessment and fewer (formative) assessment?  For instance, since formative assessment is ongoing, informal, and an alternative to more traditional approaches to student evaluations, it’s hard to quantify it: checking homework, informal classroom decisions, etc. are examples of formative assessment that I doubt many would suggest we count doing, let alone think we should do less of.  So let’s assume that “fewer” assessments means doing fewer summative assessments.

Doing fewer summative assessments can occur internally or externally, which will depend greatly on who has taken part in the consensus building that occurred in 2014.  Since Common Core is still a reality, can we say that external summative assessments have not changed all that much in 2014?  Sure, there are those who oppose them, but is the opposition all that much greater than what we typically see when any standardized program is being implemented at the national level?  And since there is a big difference between talking about doing fewer assessments and actually doing fewer assessments, perhaps whomever is saying that we should do fewer external, summative assessments isn’t really an indicator that in 2015 that we can expect some meaningful change of the actual number of external, summative assessments that are being applied. Yet, Kilburn remains the optimist as he predicts,

I believe that in 2015—fueled by the ways that technology can make assessment data a powerful tool for personalizing learning—we will see a more positive and productive conversation about how assessment data can be used to provide more timely, useful feedback for teachers and students.  

So I ask,

  1. Which educational stakeholders will make this realization in 2015 that technology affords better assessment data for personalized learning?
  2. Are we talking about formative assessment, summative assessment, or both?
  3. Are we talking about personalized learning or differentiated instruction, since there is much more literature on and I would say more useful to discuss the latter.
  4. How will technology (through learning analytics) conjoin formative and summative assessments, both internal and external, using both qualitative and quantitative data in such a way that best benefits each learner?
  5. How will learning analytics be shared among all educational stakeholders and for what specific purposes?

The narrative I would like to see among all educational stakeholders would include seeking answers to the various questions that I pose.  The tone of a conversation is only as good as an end result.  Reaching a consensus is an outcome of putting into practice an idea that came from first having a change in narrative.  I want more for 2015…I want more than a change of tone of the assessment conversation, but a more specific yet contextual and open narrative of the differences in assessment and concrete plans that reveal timely and purposeful learning analytics to better transform each learner into more productive, global citizen.