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21 Jan Education: How Assessments Can Improve the Academic Results and Teacher Quality

Education today is very much a world of assessments. Between federal, state and local mandates, students spend enormous amount of time being tested or evaluated for what they know or don’t know. Yet, the question needs to be asked are we getting what we need from these time-consuming testing activities?

As a former teacher who entered teaching later in life and had a plan to quickly earn a Masters, I had a two unique benefits that many of my colleagues have not had. The first one was my professor who taught elementary (K-8) science. On the first day of this senior level class, he asked the following question: How do you write learning objectives that match testing objectives? After much discussion from the 20 plus college seniors in the room and with no agreement as to the answer, this very wise professor simply said “You write the test question first.” By taking this action, he continued, you will always be sure that you are teaching exactly what you will be testing so that you don’t discourage your students and you will be using your limited time to the best of your control.

The second unique benefit was that my Masters of Science focused on creating engaged instruction. Within this course of study, I invested a lot of time studying how people learn whether they were young or old as well as how to evaluate that learning. In this process, I learned that an assessment was just as much as evaluating the participant’s performance as it was my own. This is when another professor introduced me Kirkpatrick’s 4 Levels of Evaluation.

This model demonstrates how to evaluate the effectiveness of learning or training. Most learning is conducted at Level 1 – Reaction and Level 2 – Learning. Yet, when learning shifts up to Level 3 – Application and Level 4 – Impact, results also shift up.

By incorporating Kirkpatrick’s 4 Levels into daily instruction especially at the third and fourth levels, performance increases from both the student and the teacher. A simple example is when students learn how to write words to construct sentences and paragraphs. The teacher evaluates them on the effectiveness of his or her teaching such as identify the three basic components within a sentence. Then the students are asked to take what they have learned and write an essay – Level 3 – Application. The essay is part of a state assessment and is evaluated accordingly. The outcomes from the students’ effort are now reviewed as to the overall impact the teaching is having on the organization as a whole.

From these two unique experiences, I learned that any assessment that I created was not only a measurement of the students’ learning, but more importantly a measurement of the quality of my instruction. If a test question was missed by over 50% of the students, I realized that I had either written a poor test question or that I had failed to convey the correct learning objective. In either case, the fault was not the students’ and the students shouldn’t be punished by receiving a poor grade. Also, until the students had learned the concept, they couldn’t advance to applying the concept. Hence, it was my responsibility as a quality teacher to review the learning objective and repeat the instruction to ensure that the concept was learned by the students.

Additionally, I learned that by focusing my efforts on application, students were having new opportunities to perform the previously learned concepts. (Research tells us that individuals need more than one opportunity to retain a learned concept within long term memory.) My change in focus improved both student outcomes and the quality of my teaching performance. This focus is still with me today as I work with young people and adults because quality instruction helps to deliver exceptional results.

Leanne Hoagland-Smith

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