‘The Upside Down’ – Wolfgang Gartner & JayKode

Check out my post about depth of knowledge (DOK) before reading this post. Before turning assessments upside down, it’s important to understand how to truly assess students’ learning at its deepest level.

It’s time to overturn the apple cart. When considering “assessments”, my brain immediately rushes to tests and quizzes. It’s interesting because as an adult, I don’t take tests and quizzes, but I am continuously assessed.

This morning, I sat in my living room and participated in interviewing a potential teacher with my principal and fellow assistant principal (they weren’t in my living room, it was a videoconference meeting we held using Zoom software). While I sat in my button up shirt and pajama bottoms, I had to successfully connect to the meeting and listen critically and attentively for the skills and characteristics that would make the applicant a good fit for either our 2nd or 5th grade vacancy. After my principal finished leading the interview, we dismissed the applicant and stayed online to chat about her qualifications. I had to share reasons why I felt this teacher would be a good addition for our school community or not, which meant I had to take into consideration testimony about her technology skills, communication with parents, collaboration with other teachers, classroom management techniques, and strategies for engagement (of course).

This was the furthest thing from a test or quiz, but it assessed my skills as an administrator and instructional leader. During the school year, I am regularly assessed as well. In these assessments, I am usually working with students, teachers, my co-administrators, and parents. None of these assessments are tests or quizzes. Would my knowledge of school leadership, curriculum, and instruction be better assessed with a test or quiz? How many teachers would be content with working for an administrator whose abilities have only been proven by a test or quiz? Ironically, I had to take quite a lengthy test for certification, but no one outside of the state department seemed to be too concerned with my score.

Our students have been assessed with tests and quizzes for years, but a lot of what they are proving is only their ability to take those tests. It’s time to turn assessment upside down; this means providing opportunities for kids to demonstrate their mastery of content and skills through tasks and exercises. Demonstration takes assessment into higher levels of DOK where students can create, prove, design, argue, and construct. Traditional testing methods mostly require students to tell, identify, and show.

For example, one of the indicators for 5th grade social studies in South Carolina states that students should be able to “Summarize the aims and course of Reconstruction, including the effects of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, Southern resistance to the rights of freedmen, and the agenda of the Radical Republicans” (SC Social Studies Standard 5-1.1). An example test question to assess this standard might be, “What was the most important contribution of the Freedmen’s Bureau, and why did it meet so much resistance from many Southerners?” While this question is not multiple choice and it requires explanation, its DOK could be increased by having students create and perform a monologue of a newly freedman, celebrating the most important benefits he’s received from the efforts of the Freedmen’s bureau. The student would also have to address the climate of their community which includes other freedmen as well as plantation owners. This task enables students to prove the same knowledge, however it requires them to apply their knowledge of Freedmen’s rights and think critically about why those rights were received with resistance from some southerners. Not to mention, this writing assignment allows the opportunity for interdisciplinary assessment through writing. By performing the monologue, students who do not always take tests successfully can have a chance to exhibit their knowledge through another means. Assessing in this manner requires a shift in grading however, as a rubric with exemplars would be most appropriate.

Providing students the opportunity to perform in order to display their learning is just one way to turn assessment upside down. Below are a few more ways to assess without using traditional tests and quizzes:

  • Build
  • Create
  • Produce a video
  • Compose a song
  • Draw
  • Debate

If schools want to rise to the challenge of creating 21st Century learners who can perform successfully in society, students need to be challenged similarly to the way professionals are in the workplace. Assessing in this manner takes learning from recall to relevance.

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