According to Evangeline Harris Stefanakis,
“The word assess comes from the Latin assidere, which means to sit beside. Literally then, to assess means to sit beside the learner.”
This is my sole and only contribution to the assessment and evaluation debate in Ontario.
Consider this picture of a math activity. I was sitting beside this kid, talking to him about what he was thinking.
What questions do I need to ask him? What mathematics is happening here? What will I do to move his learning forward?
Assessment is less about guesswork, when you sit beside and have a conversation, than it is about having a real and human conversation. You become aware of each kid’s understandings, misunderstandings, and best of all, you don’t need to wait to mark a piece of work to get that picture of their learning. Feedback cycles are too long. Frequent feedback is necessary for all of us to learn.
That is not to say you will be able to “sit beside” everyone, every single day. But you will likely only need to target certain students, on certain days, when they need it. Assessment should be more of an ongoing conversation, than a series of numbers in a grade book.
If you were, perhaps, assessing my knowledge of Bitcoin (a topic I have spent 20 hours in the last month researching), would you find it best to make me write and essay or would you perhaps ask me what I know? It might depend on where we are in the semester, but I hope you would talk to me about it before making me write that essay.
I have no frame of reference any more for relying on so-called “objective” data points like tests. Tests should already confirm what I know about that learner. I have taken the time to check in with them, to know where they are at in their learning, and what they need. My so-called “objective” data point is just the proverbial icing on the cake.
Speaking of cakes, in education, we overbake all our cakes. The work is excessively theorized. The apparatus of teaching is bigger than teaching itself. We need theories of assessment that are simple to understand and based on the shared humanity of teachers and learners. We don’t need more graphic organizers and diagrams with lots of arrows on them. We don’t need new jargon, new theories, and an entirely new apparatus of assessment.
We need to focus on the learners in front of us, an see assessment as a human act, a metaphorical or literal “sitting beside”.