What If Assessment Was a Verb?

I often get the urge to say, “Ignore the dots on the wall, kids. Those dots don’t demonstrate your value as a learner or your identity as a student.”

Instead, I hope they walk past it, ignore it, and walk on. But it’s there. A big, imposing board, standardized in our factory school, same as every other classroom, proclaiming boldly who sucks at persuasive strategies or can’t quite get long division yet. It is a representation, not of our conversations or their own self-reflection or of the general trends in their school work. No, they are colored dots designed to communicate how students have done on kill-and-drill tests.

My students spend 6 weeks out of the year taking tests. On top of that, they spend one day out of each week taking more tests. When they are below their proper reading level (measured by verbal, rather than non-verbal, fluency) they take a weekly assessment. When students fail, I pull them for small groups and give them re-takes. 

What if we have it all wrong? What if assessment wasn’t something that a student “takes?” What if it wasn’t a tangible item we construct? What if, instead, it was a verb? What if we viewed it as a part of the learning process, happening daily? What if it was a conversation? What if it was a chance at reflection?

If assessment is supposed to be timely and exist for the benefit of the student and the teacher, why not view it as a verb instead? Why not count teacher observations, student reflections and student-teacher conferences? Why not count blogs, projects and portfolios in the category of “summative” assessment? Why not use rubrics along the way instead of stopping learning in order to go to the make-believe world of testing, where knowledge is isoalted, separate and instantly objective? 


John Spencer

John Spencer

Phoenix, Arizona

In my sophomore year of college, I began tutoring a fifth-grader in a Title One, inner city Phoenix school. What began as a weekly endeavor of teaching fractions and editing essays grew into an awareness of the power of education to transform lives. My involvement in a non-profit propelled a passion for learning as an act of empowerment.

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