What exactly comes to mind when you think of assessments? What comes to your students minds? While I was a student, the one, and almost only, thing that came to my mind was the grade. I had moments of grand performance scoring 100+% and moments that were straight out of a Stephen King novel where all information that once resided in your brain has somehow drained into your pillow during the night. How terrifying it was coming to the end of a semester or school year doing the math to realize what exact grade you would have to make in order to make a specific GPA.
Grading is a hot button issue. I’ve seen by observing my wife’s 10 years in elementary education and my time personally working in the education market that there are many grading “tools” used to motivate and improve student performance. Obviously, there are strong opinions on what is the right tool to use and when. I’m not going to debate grading tools or whether specific grading practices, such as the use of zeros, motivates or demotivates students, but as I read an article entitled "Do No Harm: Flexible and Smart Grading Practices" by Andrew Miller, the one thing that stands out to me is that assessment all comes down to data.
In the section titled, 'Reflect on Assessments' Miller states that reflection, "Allows students to recognize their strengths and weakness in what they need to learn, and how they can better prepare to learn the material. One of the best parts of this strategy is how it helps students connect behavioral issues that get in the way of academic achievement, addressing them "directly in a non-punitive way." The added value of student reflection on assessments is that it provides educators with the ability to take focussed action exactly where it is needed as identified by each student.
The truth is that there is no one-size-fits-all way to educate, motivate or inspire students to perform. In science, we learn that we observe, measure, and experiment to create a hypothesis. As educators, we must take the role of scientists with our students. What would happen in our classrooms if we learned to execute experiments and evaluate which tool motivates each student and understand why? I believe that we would see even more students thriving in their schooling, but we cannot do this without data. Steve Jobs once said in a commencement speech he gave to a graduating class at Stanford University, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards.” We are in exciting times in education. We have the ability to connect the dots of student data gleaned from assessments and motivational experiments and utilize that data in real-time inside the classroom to support our students' growth.
I want to be clear. In no way am I saying that educators need to do more; we all know how many hats that educators have to wear in order to be successful at their job. I am saying that as educators there is a privilege and a responsibility to unlock each individual student's potential. That is precisely why my wife pursued education and why she has remained in education for a decade. Unlocking potential does not look like longer hours or more meetings, but it does means paying attention to the data, such as reflection on assessments, and using that insight to help motivate students to achieve their potential.
Let us start looking back using data, connecting the dots and motivate our students to even greater achievement.