Using Our Students’ Persectives to Triangulate Assessment

121120_0144_SPWe are so inspired by the energy and passion that was demonstrated during the NCTE twitter chat on formative assessment that was hosted by Franki Sibberson (@frankisibberson) and Antero Garcia (@anterobot) on Sunday evening.  Tweets were flying!  Assessment was trending!  The energy was positive!  Let us repeat that last one again, the energy around assessment was positive!

We love assessment!  Most people question our love at first, but once they hear how we define assessment they begin to understand the passion, hope and dedication we have for this topic.  When it comes to assessment we have always believed that the why, or the story, behind the number is what is most essential.  It is not enough to get a number, report it, display it and move on.  We need to dig deeper to understand that number so we can build relationships with our students, shift our instruction and impact our readers.  What has dramatically changed for us over the past few years is how we include our students in the process of assessment.   We have found they fulfill a critical role in helping us truly understand and use assessment data.  This change has only further entrenched us in our love of assessment!

In order to ensure that our students are never defined as a number we triangulate our data.  We use multiple sources of data to dig deeper and puzzle together what is happening for a student.  Triangulating our data provides multiple perspectives and having multiple perspectives is essential to truly understanding our students.  In the past we found ourselves inferring why a student was struggling, disengaged, frustrated or confused.  We then began wondering why we were inferring when we could just ask them?  So we did.

Again and again, when we ask them why, they tell us the answer.  They have incredible insights into their learning process and can help us give them the support they need to monitor, revise and meet their goals.  We are now convinced that we need to make our students part of the assessment process.

When we triangulate our data, we are always looking at different types, sources, and intervals of data. We want our readers to know that we use data to uncover and understand, not to label and define. We also want our readers to know that they provide one of the best sources of data for triangulating. Their insights and thoughts on the process of learning often give us the information we need to understand what we learned from an initial analysis of data. When they know this, they understand their role in assessment and in the process of learning. They come to expect us to ask questions, observe, and analyze their work. We also find that once our readers understand their role in triangulating data, they begin to engage in this process themselves. They begin to analyze, question, and assess their own learning.

The research overwhelmingly supports the importance of involving our students in the process of assessment:

“Once they feel they understand what to do and why, most students develop a feeling that they have control over their own learning.”
Susan M. Brookhart, How to Give Effective Feedback to Your Students (2008)

“Effective feedback requires that a person has a goal, takes action to achieve the goal, and receives goal-related information about his or her actions. Learners are often unclear about the specific goal of the task or lesson, so it is crucial to remind them about the goal” (Wiggins 2012)

“When anyone is trying to learn, feedback about the effort has three elements: recognition of the desired goal, evidence about present position, and some understanding of a way to close the gap between the two.  All three must be understood to some degree by anyone before he or she can take action to improve understanding” (Black and William 1998)

This makes complete sense!  How can anyone get better at something if they don’t know what they are trying to get better at?

We are committed to triangulating our assessments by talking with students about the purpose, the results, and the analysis of all assessments.  They need to know why we are assessing them and how we plan to use the information to help them meet their goals as readers.  If you want to read more about how we collect, display, analyze and use assessment with our students you can find more information in Chapter 6 of our book, Assessment in Perspective.  We have been overwhelmed by our students’ responses.  They ask insightful questions, add information about the process of their learning and provide a critical perspective about their learning –their perspective!  Who better to help us understand their learning process than them!

Assesment in Perspective

This #nctechat was focused on the NCTE Position Statement on Formative Assessment.   We love how the role of students in formative assessment is highlighted in this document.   In the ten elements identified as important features, the role of the student in the process of assessment is explicitly stated in seven elements:

Formative assessment:

  1. Requires students to take responsibility for their own learning.
  2. Communicates clear, specific learning goals.
  3. Focuses on goals that represent valuable educational outcomes with applicability beyond the learning context.
  4. Identifies the student’s current knowledge/skills and the necessary steps for reaching the desired goals.
  5. Requires development of plans for attaining the desired goals.
  6. Encourages students to self-monitor progress toward the learning goals.
  7. Provides examples of learning goals including, when relevant, the specific grading criteria or rubrics that will be used to evaluate the student’s work.
  8. Provides frequent assessment, including peer and student self-assessment and assessment embedded within learning activities.
  9. Includes feedback that is non-evaluative, specific, timely, and related to the learning goals, and that provides opportunities for the student to revise and improve work products and deepen understandings.
  10. Promotes metacognition and reflection by students on their work.

This document needs to be shared with every teacher, administrator and parent.   It gives us permission to use assessment to make a difference in our classrooms and for our students.  We plan to use this in all of our work and write more blog posts about it over the next few months.  We need to bring positive energy back to assessment.  Assessment is about knowing our students, their strengths, weaknesses, hopes, fears and most importantly their stories.  Assessment is the heart of our instruction because without knowing them, truly knowing them, we cannot teach them.

Leave a comment


4 − three =