Sure, we quickly see the absurdity in asking an elephant to climb a tree, and the commentary of our unjust education system and standardized testing warrants a good giggle.
However, let’s use this image for just a moment to talk more deeply about the practicalities of assessment design in the everyday classroom outside of mandated standardized testing. Notice that in this assessment only the learner’s activity is communicated: climb the tree. This seems straightforward enough. We tell our students to “write a report,” “create a presentation”, or “build a model.” But do we always tell them everything they need to know to be successful?
The conditions under which the animals will climb the tree and how they will be graded are not communicated by the teacher. Do you ever do this to your students? Do you ask your students to prepare a presentation and forget to share with them your plans for measuring the quality of their work? Let’s go back to the comic. What if I told you that these learners were required to climb the tree; however, the grade each animal earns on the task will be measured based on the following criteria:
- The learner was able to get only himself/herself into the tree (0 points)
- The learner was able to get 1-5 classmates into the tree (1 point)
- The learner was able to get all 6 classmates into the tree, but not himself/herself (2 points)
- The learner was able to get all classmates and self into the tree (3 points)
Does this grading criteria change your estimation of which animal will do best? Is this assessment more or less fair now that the grading plan is revealed?
Well-communicated assessments have two parts:
1) activity or performance
2) feedback criteria
The first part of an assessment design is the most obvious; the student performance, or more simply referred to as the activity. This requires a student to show the teacher what they know or can do. The second part assessment design is often assumed or omitted; however, this part of the assessment is critical to optimizing alignment to the objectives, and provides valuable support towards student success. This critical component is the grading plan or better named the feedback criteria. As a teacher, we need to effectively communicate to our learners both a description of how they will perform an assessment activity as well as a description of how we will judge the quality of their performance. In fact, sharing our feedback plans with learners, provides them with better understanding of what their end products or performances should include and makes self-evaluation possible. When a student can effectively self-evaluate…grading gets simpler! To the learner, this makes your classroom feel fair, and feelings of instructional fairness, is a sign of well-designed assessment and curriculum alignment.
Blended and Online Assessment Taxonomy Design Infographic
Are you planning and communicating your feedback criteria? Here is our Blended and Online Assessment Taxonomy Design, an infographic to help you plan better assessments.
In the infographic, Blended and Online Assessment Taxonomy, we have organized types of activities that suit various levels of assessments (2001) starting with remember, understand, and apply in the first row. Assessment activities like matching, multiple choice, and word problems fall among these lower levels of learning. Grading and feedback criteria for these levels of learning are very objective and include answer keys and checklists. One key advantage of using assessments in these levels is that often grading and feedback criteria are objective enough to be computer automated in the blended or online environment.
The second row of our infographic includes higher levels of active learning including analyze, evaluate, and create. Engaging curriculum whether face-to-face, blended, or online push student performances to these levels of learning; however, these assessments are less conducive to automated feedback systems as rubrics typically require intelligent judgment. The appropriate level of learning for any assessment should be determined by the learning objective(s).
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