Deep Dive: Assessment
"What we choose to assess is what will end up being the focus of classroom instruction" (Gordon Commission, 2013, p. 9).
Schools have several mandated assessments based on state and local policies. However, the day to day work of teachers requires an ongoing cycle of assessment and instructional adjustments to meet the needs of individual students. Summative assessment, formative assessment, assessment for learning, data-driven instruction…no matter the name, the goal is the same: to assess where students are at a given moment in time, and to determine what they need to be successful. The literature investigating assessment has reached several conclusions in common about best practices in assessment. A summary of common ideas from this body of knowledge is presented here. Look to the references list if you are interested in reading any of the sources for this section which can be found here.
Assessment in Project-Based Learning
Assessment in project-based learning (PBL) is student engaged and authentic, and it goes beyond basic recall of facts. It is integrated within projects, not separate from them. Just as students are learning as they engage in the project, educators are assessing the students and determining their learning needs as the project goes on.
In order for this to happen teachers need to be very clear about the learning objectives for their students within a project. Student voice and choice is elevated, but this does not mean the teacher steps back and is not involved in the learning that happens. PBL is an instructional strategy, and as such, important content and skills must be identified so that students are clear about where it is they are headed.
Students do take charge of their learning and make decisions about how to proceed, but they are also aware of learning targets. Teachers scaffold learning and put structures in place to assist students as they become aware of where they stand in terms of meeting the targets and what else needs to be done. This happens through a recursive cycle of revision and feedback until the final product is completed. The students lead the way through their performance, showing teachers what needs to happen next. Formative assessment--assessment for learning--is a key component of assessment in PBL.
Project-based learning requires changes in how teachers teach and how schools are run; assessing student learning in what might be a new way is part of this move away from traditional practices. The final section on this page is meant to support teachers in this process.
How does all of this happen?
How can I use this type of student-engaged assessment in my classroom?
How can I plan for assessments during a project?
How can I track and record my students' progress?
What about grades?
Authentic assessment, rubrics, feedback, formative, summative…what does all of that mean?
Where do I begin?
The module you will find in the next section, Strategies in the Classroom, takes a deeper look into these issues of assessment. There you will find practical strategies and tools to support educators in their journey toward more student-centered learning and assessment.
There are also other assessment resources on this site.
If you would like an overview of assessment in PBL, videos explaining assessment in PBL, and links to some resources, click here.
If you would like to review summaries of books with assessment in PBL/student-engaged assessment as a focus, click on an image below or visit the Book Talks page on this site.
Strategies for Assessment in the Classroom: What and Why
"Decades of using assessment as a neutral observer of inequity – measuring and monitoring achievement gaps – has done little to actually create more equitable learning environments" (Assessment for Learning Project, ALP, 2019).
Assessment in project-based learning (PBL) is not the traditional cycle of learning and then testing at the end of a unit. Depth is emphasized over breadth. Assessment occurs throughout a project, and therefore formative assessment is essential.
Assessment in PBL cannot be scripted, as it is a process that responds to students as they are engaging in learning. Instead, it is a system with various parts and processes that teachers use to determine, with students, their current level of understanding, as well as what the next steps must be to support continued growth. This is a shift in thinking: Assessment is not something done to students, it is done with and by students. Students are aware of learning objectives, set goals, and take responsibility for evaluating their own progress.
This video, while meant to be an introduction to the book Learning that Lasts, serves as a good explanation as to why it is important to give students ownership of their learning, and the tools to assess that learning.
Internationally, students in high-achieving countries are involved in these types of assessment practices to support deeper learning. Linda Darling-Hammond discusses this in this video.
The graphics below, from the Assessment for Learning Project, provide a model for this type of assessment. Clicking the images will take you their website.
Strategies for Assessment in the Classroom: How
"Assessment is too often treated as an event rather than a process" (ALP, 2019).
The modules below represent different tools and strategies that make up an assessment system in PBL. However, these tools need not only be used in PBL; the modules also provide a framework for assessment in a learner-centered classroom. Click one of the topics below to support your implementation of learner-centered assessment.