Balanced Assessment

Overview

Balanced Assessment is an approach to assessment focused on maximizing learning for students and informing the teacher.  It involves pre-assessments to determine the students’ prior knowledge, setting clear targets so that students know what is expected of them, assessment for learning that gives specific feedback to students for the purpose of their improvement, assessment as learning where students reflect on their own progress, and assessment of learning which provides a snapshot of the students’ ability to achieve the targeted outcomes at a certain point in time.  Assessments should be as real-world (authentic) as possible and get to true understanding, not simply regurgitation of facts.  The full picture of student learning only comes through balanced assessment.

Definitions:

Pre-Assessment involves gathering information about where students are in relation to the ultimate goal of the learning.  Teachers can then design differentiated lessons that address the needs of all learners.  Pre-assessment information gathering should never be factored into final grades, but used to inform the instructional process.  Examples include: charting what they know and want to know (KWL Chart), pretests, and activities that uncover prior knowledge.

Clear Targets: Students need to know what is expected of them at the front end of the learning process.  Teachers should clearly identify these targets and communicate them to their students in child friendly terms.  Strategies may include “I can” statements, the use of rubrics, and examples of desired results.

Assessment for Learning (formative): Throughout the learning experience, teachers will be gathering evidence of learning and assessing student progress (through observations, conversations, and the work students produce). They will give specific, timely, and accurate feedback to the students.  This information gathering and feedback loop has two goals: giving students the information they need to improve their learning and giving teachers the information they need to adjust their teaching strategies to meet student needs.  This process should be frequent (the more frequent the feedback, the more opportunities for adjustments to be made) and should not factor into the students final grades.  If students take time through the process to master a concept, they should not be penalized for the early stages where they did not yet find mastery.  Coaches and music teachers intuitively give this feedback all the time (and never mark it) - “keep your eye on the basket when throwing the free-throw”, “you have to tighten your lips to make the trumpet sound right”.  Teachers, then, are like coaches in every subject.  Examples include the use of Clear Targets (exemplars and rubrics), questioning, descriptive feedback, and peer-coaching.

Assessment as Learning: By guiding students to reflect on their own work and self assess, the assessment process itself becomes a learning experience.

Assessment of Learning (summative): This occurs at the end of the learning cycle. It is the opportunity for students to apply their knowledge and understanding in novel ways.  Its primary purpose is to judge where students' understanding is in relation to the outcomes of the curriculum at a given point in time.  Teachers gather evidence (through observations, conversations and the work students produce) to provide a snapshot, or better yet, a photo album (portfolio) that represents a student’s understanding and achievement of the defined outcomes.  Teachers should provide multiple and varied opportunities for students to demonstrate their accomplishments (not just tests).  Final assessments should flow from the “big ideas” and “essential questions” of the unit (UbD) and, as much as possible, be authentic project-based activities connected to real life.  Teachers should be ready to confidently answer the question “Why did my child get that mark” by showing this evidence.  See the school’s assessment practice in the handbook for more details.

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