February 21, 2011

Grant Wiggins on Assessing Student Performance

Assessing student performance has always been challenging and controversial.

Assessment is more than testing. Intellectual performance is more than right answers. New systems of assessment more closely examine students' habits of mind and provide teachers and policy makers with more useful and credible feedback.

Leaving aside the true politics of assessment, I want to look at the work that has been done by Grant Wiggins.

Understanding by Design, Expanded 2nd EditionGrant Wiggins (http://www.grantwiggins.org) who is probably best known for being the co-author, with Jay McTighe, of Understanding by Design.

How do you know when students understand something and how can you design learning experiences that make it much more likely that students understand content and apply it in meaningful ways?

Understanding by Design (UbD) is a method that seeks to answer these questions. One thing the approach provides is a template for creating curriculum units based on the idea of "backward design" method.

Backward design is a method of designing curriculum by setting goals before choosing activities or content to teach. That seems so logical, but for much curriculum the goals are not considered until some assessment is needed. The content is often decided first, possibly by the selection of a textbook. The idea of backward design is to select content and methodologies and then teach towards those goals that were set first. It goes against the idea of "textbook coverage" which is so prevalent in higher education.

Backward design is "backward" only because it challenges the traditional methods of curriculum planning. In backward design, one starts with goals, then assessments and finally lesson plans.

UbD hs been used as a framework to maximize student understanding in grades K through college and Wiggins was lead consultant on many state assessment reform initiatives, such as the portfolio project in Vermont and performance assessment consortia in New Jersey and North Carolina.

Educative Assessment: Designing Assessments to Inform and Improve Student Performance (Jossey Bass Education Series)In Educative Assessment, Wiggins challenges schools to adopt a different type of student assessment. Rather than the one-shot audit tests that are generally used, it examines assessment grounded in authentic tasks enabling students to self-correct their ongoing performance.

Many of these types of assessments - rubrics, portfolios, reflective practice - are being used by us in the Writing Initiative.

Assessing Student Performance: Exploring the Purpose and Limits of Testing (Jossey Bass Education Series)In Assessing Student Performance: Exploring the Purpose and Limits of Testing, Wiggins discusses how testing differs from assessment.

Why are performance tests, by themselves, not an adequate system of student assessment? How might we better "test our tests" beyond current technical standards?

Like many educators, he does not feel that increased national testing will offer the accountability of schools that is obviously needed. The book analyzes problematic practices in test design and formats like multiple choice that prevent students from explaining their answers.

Further Reading
Understanding by Design
Understanding by Design: Professional Development Workbook
Integrating Differentiated Instruction & Understanding by Design
Making the Most of Understanding by Design
Assessing Student Performance: Exploring the Purpose and Limits of Testing

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