Assessments of student’s progress are an essential part of the educational process. Assessments provide students and teachers with valuable information about what information has been learned and which areas still need more attention. Assessments help drive teachers planning and instruction to better meet the needs of the students. So most would agree assessments are important. The question is, what are quality assessments and what information are we really learning from them?
Reading about how academically, high-ranking countries approach education and assessments have opened my eyes. Finland and Sweden have very similar approaches to education and assessments. They have change there approach to teaching. They focus on fewer topics and teach them more deeply. This idea makes so much sense to me. I often feel like I am trying to teach too much and not able to spend the quality time to teach a topic fully. In Finland and Sweden, teachers do not teach in a lecture format. Students are more often engaged in group or individual projects the student have chosen and the student set their own targets. The teacher’s role is more of a coach. Another major change is the expectation of learning; it is focused on reasoning skills, application of knowledge, and organization of information.
Finland and Sweden have eliminated test based school rankings. Good for them, why must we compare and rank schools continuously. They have eliminated student-ranking exams that place students in leveled learning tracks. That is something I would love to see the US also get on board with. I truly feel by putting children into these tracks of ability based learning set them up from an early age to always be in that track. This track system also has many negative social implications.
The assessment philosophy is very different from what is typically thought of as assessment in the U.S. They do not give multiple-choice standardized tests these are believed to only assess student recall and recognition of facts, just what they know. Instead, they have moved to open ended tasks, project based or inquiry orientated assessments, which are believed to assess student’s ability to analyze, apply knowledge and write extensively. Teachers do give formative and summative reports which are based on multiply forms of assessment.
I do feel that in my school district and many others in CT there is a slow movement toward this type of thinking about assessments. The idea of assessing the whole child is gaining more ground. More and more schools are using authentic assessments; observations, essays, interviews, performance tasks, portfolios, journals, peer evaluations, and self-evaluations. However, we have not moved away from standardize testing that can overshadow the authentic assessments. The test scores are use to put schools and students in categories of ability. I wonder why it takes so long for us to change when it is clear these other countries have been so successful for so long on a national level.
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