Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Self Evident Assessment

by Mike Kaechele

I hate buzz words! I really do. But in education, as in any profession, we use them all of the time. I am guilty of it too, but there is one particular use that I especially hate. The political use of educational buzzwords by reformers and politicians to promote standardization and testing. I hate the current movement focusing on standard curriculum and tests for every student. I have always believed that individual, authentic assessment by professional teachers is the better course. I also believe that when students are doing authentic tasks that really matter that their learning is obvious to anyone who takes the time to talk to them. I have not always felt the ability to express this clearly to others though. Usually the best way is through stories and examples.

Then I saw John Hunter's Ted Talk about his World Peace Game. It is a fantastic simulation that is structured but open-ended. The whole video is worth your time but I want to focus on the segment from 14:40-16:55.

I love what John Hunter says:
       I get chills every time I see that. That's the kind of engagement
      we want to have happen. And I can't design that, I can't plan
      that, and I can't even test that. But it is self evident 
      assessment. We know that that is an authentic assessment of 
      learning. You know we have a lot of data but I think sometimes
      we go beyond data with the truth of learning of what is going on.

So as much as I hate buzz words I propose a new one to fight against people who say that we need more "data" (test scores) or "common assessments" (test scores) to help improve "student achievement" (test scores): self evident assessment.

When students, especially in the PBL model, present authentic work to real audiences the skills and learning are apparent and obvious. I do not hear people asking how teachers are assessing in these situations. On the other hand testing is a great way to assess worksheet dittos and questions from the textbook. Maybe the reason that we have so many politicians and reformers pushing the testing agenda is because too many teachers for too long have not given students the opportunity to engage in activities which produce self evident assessment.

I believe as politicians push educators into testing and more testing leading to test prep and more test prep that parents will seek out and demand these type of learning experiences for their children.


  1. I agree with what you are saying. I see better THINKING from my students when they are engaged in authentic assessment. Having been ditto free now since December, I will NEVER go back.

    The only worksheets I use are the standardized tests I am required to give. And because they are all so different, at different levels, often testing low-level skills ... One can not get a true picture of a learner. The comment you made about just TALKING to a student to see what they learned says it all. That's not to say that everyone is a verbal processor, but whatnot does say is that it meets one of our basic human needs/functions: being social. Just talking to a child about their learning says to them, "I value your ideas."

    While there may be many of us in the twitter & blogosphere who understand the need for authentic assessment...many policy makers, other educators, and parents do not. You have struck something that I believe is the center of the push back for authentic assessment: it's not what has been done for YEARS. I have a theory along these lines. Because so many hasve experienced this type of worksheet, kill-and-drill education they believe it has worked wonders for them and if it worked for them, it will work for today's student. What they don't realize is how much the world has truly changed because they themselves are not engaged in social media. The other part of my theory is in relation to standardized tests. What we are seeing now is an entire generation (mid 30's & younger) who were required to experience standardized testing now having children, making policy, and teaching. Again, because this is what they grew up with, they know of nothing different. And what these folks don't realize is that there is no correlation between standardized tests and an ability to problem solve; a requirement of today's employers.

  2. John Hunter's talk was extremely insightful and motivating on this point. What better way to evaluate educational experiences than by students sharing what they think, and how it connects to their personal experience. Great post!


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