The Assessment Superhighway:
and non), Curriculum Based, Competency Based, Portfolios, Norm Referenced,
Criterion Referenced, Formal, Informal, blah, blah, blah . . versus
The Road Less Traveled: Self-Assessment Or: The Importance of Self-Assessment
Templates and forms, lists, tests, observations, cross-referencing of scores . . . hey! Is there a person in there? Far too often in the struggle to document, regulate, and conform to standards required (usually connected to funding) we surround and drown the people we teach with the numbers we use to represent them. What a person knows and what that person needs to know to be deemed "functional" in today's society is the million dollar question everyone from educators to politicians wants answered by an assessment instrument. If that all encompassing assessment instrument is discovered, we will all live happily ever after!
I accept that assessment is necessary and important. And I am grateful for the cornucopia of choices that allow me to round out my perception of students' abilities and needs. But I have to say, that when I'm tired of the highway with white numbers telling me where I am, and the green signs telling me where I'm headed, a scenic back road can give a beautiful snapshot of the world I'm in.
That back road is self-assessment. If a student has an educational need that prompts him to enroll in a class, I'll bet he can explain what that need is. If a student can tell an instructor specifically what part of her life could run a little more smoothly with just a little help, I'll bet that instructor can provide some materials, lessons, and practice to address that need. If a student can recognize a change, then that student will be performing self-assessment.
I would like to share a story that helped me focus my attention to the value of self-assessment. I had a student who told me, "I can't write." Thinking he meant that he wasn't a very good writer, I encouraged him and told him just about everyone feels that way and no matter where he was, he could improve. But he meant that he really couldn't write. He could read and comprehend (with enough time), but he finally got it through to me that he didn't know how to make the letters of the alphabet. He didn't know how to spell. His goal was to be able to write a letter to his mother on his own and not have to dictate it to another inmate.
After recognizing his self-assessment and what he really wanted and needed, I got him to type out about three sentences of a letter on a computer. We went over what he wanted to say compared to what was actually there. I taught him to use the spell checker. He was very pleased with himself when he could choose the correct word from a list. He experienced some success and some failure. Sometimes his word was so far off he couldn't find one even close in the list. Eventually he realized that he had a basic vocabulary and he could and did use the same words over and over. After a lot of hard work, pay dirt for us both was the day he walked into class, just beaming with pride, and said, "Miss, I wrote my mom a letter last night, three pages, all on my own without any help!"
"All on my own." That's self-assessment.
In the midst of all the available assessment tools, how do we show our students the value of self- assessment? We probably don't need to. Once they experience success and recognize it themselves we don't have to convince them they've learned something. What we may need to do is persuade them that sometimes, that's enough. Many times students look to their instructors for approval and since many of our assessment instruments seem out of the reach and control of students, goal setting and self-assessment may be the first steps in turning their educational future over into the hands of where it truly belongs.
Self-assessment depends upon clear, realistic, and mutually understood goals. I didn't understand what the student needed. Once we were on the same track, we were on the road to success. For students to become independent and successful, a teacher should become a facilitator instead of another judge. Long and short term goals should be clearly differentiated. Small successes build into larger ones. And when a student states he or she has done it, "All on my own," then who needs a number attached to that?
About the Author
Stacey Weaver is a full-time instructor for the Victoria College Adult Education Center. She teachers ABE, ASE, and ESL classes at the Victoria County Jail. Stacey serves on the Adult Education Leadership Committee, the Victoria College Adult Education Advisory Committee, and the Adult Literacy Clearinghouse Focus Group. She is a participant in Project IDEA, Cohort A, developing research on the VCAEC's professional development program. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org