What do we mean by assessment?

What is the first word that comes to mind when you hear the word “Assessment?” Most of you are probably thinking “test.” We are deeply trained during our time in school to think of assessment as something that happens AFTER the work is done. You read a chapter of a book or complete a unit and then you have a test. By the time you get the grade back on your test, you have already moved on to the next chapter or unit. So the actual feedback you get about what you learned is not about doing it again at a better level; it’s telling you where you rank among the people around you. Our collective experience with assessment is about winning or losing, about good grades and bad grades, but not often enough about improving performance.

The primary purpose of assessment as we define it is to improve performance, through careful design and feedback, not merely to audit it, or judge it.

What if the primary purpose of all assessment was to improve performance? In schools, there were always two people who understood this concept: your coach and your performing arts teacher. Can you imagine your basketball coach waiting until the end of the season to tell you that the reason you missed all of those foul shots was because your feet were too close together? Of course not. He would blow the whistle in practice and say, “Do it again!” Your performing arts teacher understood that the performance was not about the grade, but about the process as well as the performance itself, because whenever there’s a performance, there’s constant feedback along the way; it’s not, “You’re a winner,” or “You’re a loser,” but, “We’re working together to make this better.”

Ok, so you understand what we mean when we say that the primary goal of good assessment is improving performance, not merely auditing it. Now what? Where do you start?

For non-linear browsing of the online Assessment Workshop click on the links below:

How To Navigate This Workshop

You may choose to go through this workshop in a linear, page by page fashion, by clicking on the "Next" and "Previous" buttons at the bottom of each step.

If you want to browse through the steps, jump around, or need to go back a few steps, use the "non-linear" menu of steps at the bottom of each page.

If you are familiar with this workshop, and you are looking to refresh your memory, we think the following steps about the Rubric, which is the tool at the heart of this workshop, might be most useful to you: