Assessment: What’s in a Name?

Posted by on Feb 17, 2014 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Assessment: What’s in a Name?

Assessment: What’s in a Name?

What a joy to participate in a fast-paced, passion-filled Twitter chat hosted by Franki Sibberson (@frankisibberson) and Antero Garcia (@anterobot) on Sunday evening. Educators were on fire! The #nctechat hastag was trending! The topic? Hold onto your seats: formative assessment. (cue: WONH wonh waaaooooonnnhhh). Is it just me or do you feel lately that when you utter the word “assessment” people immediately change the subject? I’ve been puzzling about this trend and here’s why I think this is so:

1. When we hear the word assessment, we think about capital-A Assessment – stuff created by psychomatricians that is being improperly used to evaluate teachers. 2. We think that assessment yields stuff that reduces kids to numbers and letters and winds up on data walls with charts and graphs.
3. We hear the word and think of something that’s a time-suck, something that interferes with teaching.
4. We think of something someone else forces us to do, instead of something we’ve chosen to do ourselves.


What was so inspirational about this chat, rooted in the NCTE position statement about formative assessment (which you can find here) is how all the participants kept the discussion student-focused, goal-oriented, and about how assessment can empower teachers and support students. Yes. That’s what I mean when I use the word.

Assessment and powerful teaching are inextricably linked. Being a strong assessor means the difference between teaching lessons from pre-made curriculum and teaching kids. It’s about taking a teacher-as-scientist stance, puzzling over what our students know and what they might be ready to learn next based on what we see and don’t see before us.

At one point in last night’s chat, I suggested we change the name that’s bogged down with all kinds of negative connotation. Kristi Mraz (@mrazkristine) suggested “successment” which made me smile. I love it – assessment that leads to success.

But then I thought maybe instead of changing the name, it’s time to for us teachers to take back the word, reclaim it as ours. Knowing the word’s history might help. As my colleague Cheryl Tyler reminded me last night, one origin of the word “assess” is from the Latin “assessus” which means, in part, “to sit beside.” I like the image of a teacher sitting beside a student in a conference, working together to arrive at goals and plans based on the student’s work (instead of scan tron bubble sheets and graphs of numerical data). Here’s a video of me doing just that. I’d love to hear your thoughts!