Current Issues

Gathering Evidence of Learning

When designing assessment, it is helpful for teachers to think like detectives.  Once you have clarified your learning goals and articulated some essential questions, ask yourself this provocative question:

If understanding the content I am going to teach was illegal, what evidence would be needed to convict a student of the crime?

In other words, assessment can be thought of as a process of collecting bits of evidence that, altogether, enable us to determine the extent to which students have met our learning goals and/or can answer our essential questions.

How can my students provide evidence of their progress towards the learning goals?  Do they need to…

  • Perform a skill in an authentic context?
  • Design/create a product that meets a specific need?
  • Provide a clear and thorough answer to a question?
  • Apply an idea or skill to an unfamiliar context?
  • Solve (or propose a justifiable solution to) a real-world problem?

This is not an exhaustive list, but some possibilities to get us started. 

Once the type of evidence required to demonstrate progress has been identified, the job of designing assessment becomes a creative process of framing a task that invites students to provide exactly this type of evidence.  In many cases, it will be possible to build some flexibility into the assessment task, so that students have some choice in how they provide this evidence.  Giving them the chance to play to their strengths and interests is likely to increase their engagement in the task and therefore strengthen the evidence they produce.

For example, when my 8th grade Bible class was studying the book of Revelation, two of my learning goals were:

Students will be able to…

  • describe the main themes of the book of Revelation.
  • offer a basic explanation of the role of the book of Revelation in the Biblical narrative.

From this, one of the essential questions I asked was: “Why should 21C teenagers read this book?” 

I then decided on an assessment task that required them to develop a product for a specific audience.  I “appointed” them as teen marketers for a publishing company whose latest book release was Revelation.  Their job was to design an advertisement that would encourage teens to purchase and read the book.  I provided some basic guidelines and a rubric that I would use to assess their work, then turned it over to them. Their products were brilliant!  Some produced magazine-style advertisements, others opted for bulletin board style posters, and still others created digital master-pieces for display online.

How do you invite your students to provide evidence of their progress towards your learning goals?

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