A Balanced Diet

Posted: October 15, 2015 in Uncategorized
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flickr photo by smiteme http://flickr.com/photos/smiteme/10009605263 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

flickr photo by smiteme http://flickr.com/photos/smiteme/10009605263 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

So, I’ve been thinking about assessment. One my “duties to be assigned later” is to co-chair, along with the three Division Heads, my school’s Prek-12 curricular group. This group consists of teacher leaders and academic deans or the equivalent. We focused on assessment last year and are continuing that topic this year.

One of our goals as leaders of the group was to broaden the types of assessments in each discipline. While we did not want to dictate that each department had to do one of this and one of that, we did want to diversify. I have taken to lobbying for a balanced assessment diet. I feel like this term respects that each discipline is different, while making it clear that all assessments being the same format is not the goal. I hoped that this phrase would give the department leaders a way to begin discussions with their department members–a way to say, “Let’s look at our assessments for any given course and see if they spread out the way we want them to.” Or, “Are our assessments assessing the skills that we teach?” Or even, “Are there skills we want to promote in our students that we are not assessing?”

A few of the chairpeople have adopted the balanced assessment diet term. And, what I hear when they speak is that they feel they have a framework that makes sense to them, that they can own. Again, it’s important, I believe, that as the leaders of the group we have not said your balanced assessment diet should be x. Maybe your department is going meatless, maybe your department loves a good milkshake. Fine, just mix it up with some fruit, some grains, some veg, a little good fat.

To continue with the food analogy, there should be something in the meal plan for everyone. I was discussing this issue today with @Betny802. My goal in assessing students is to find out what they have learned, give the students feedback on my findings, and report back to parents. If a particular type of assessment does not give me good information, I need to rethink that format. For example, when I taught 5th grade I had students write essays about the books we read. I used this writing to assess their writing skills. I did not use these papers to assess student reading comprehension for the most part. For 5th grader writing an essay was not an effective way to determine comprehension. Now that I teach in high school,  papers are a more common tool for general assessment in English class, but not the only tool. Students are more experienced readers and writers, and the expectation is that they should be able to write effectively enough that their writing is an accurate reflection of their thinking. Sometimes this is true. And, writing will not be everyone’s best format for communication.

Over the course of a semester or year, I want students to learn content and skills and be able to demonstrate that knowledge. Some of what students will learn is how to demonstrate knowledge in a particular format. However, I never want a student to know that all assessments will that dreaded format x. Therefore, if I assess everything in this one form, knowing there are students who are better in other forms, I have ensured that the information I gather is really about student ability in a particular format.  I should assess in a variety of ways over the course of a semester. In fact, I believe it is my responsibility to do so. Am I super-assessment-teacher all the time? No. Sometimes I am more successful, sometimes less. But by keeping the goal of a balanced assessment diet in mind, I think I can come closer to my goal.


  1. LisaC says:

    Thought-provoking post! I think the metaphor is apt.
    It’s difficult to talk about assessment–often I find like the conversation gets derailed by discussions of grading or placement. It’s hard to just focus on the “what” and “how” because assessments are used (for better or worse) in multiple, often contradictory ways.
    A while ago, I had a rather heated argument with a colleague (about the “right” form for a midterm exam–project or seated test). I think the underlying issue is that we had different views about the purpose of assessments–do they test what the students know? or what the students don’t know? Traditional tests tend (IMO) to emphasize what students don’t know (start at 100% and mark down for each error).
    The well-balanced metaphor is helpful–it doesn’t exclude traditional assessments, rather it makes space for other types of assessments, and provides a framework for including new ones.
    Love your blog!

    • mseiteljorg says:

      Thanks for commenting. I think you make an excellent point that sometimes a fundamental issue is a teacher’s view of the purpose of assessment. Some folks love the “gotcha assessment,” which is useful every once in a while, but often does not address what students do know since it is so focused on catching what they don’t know. I feel strongly that I should know something more about the student after the assessment. And, as I said in the post, I believe that using a range of assessment types will give me better information.

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