Formative assessments, summative assessments, standardized assessments, and report cards. How do they shape instruction? What impact do they have on learners (and their parents)?
As a kid, I took the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS) each year, an early standardized test. I don't remember ever knowing what my score was, nor did I care. But I do remember hating having to take the test and feeling stupid every time there was a question I was unable to answer with confidence. When I think of standardized assessment for the kids in my class, I have that lingering memory and attempt to assuage fears, embarrassment, and feelings of inadequacy that many of them have attached to them like an extra appendage.
At the beginning of each school year, and then as a reminder several times throughout the year, I give a little talk to my kids. I tell them about my two daughters and their potty-training experiences. Jessie was our first and she was completely potty trained (even through the night) about a month before she turned two. She has only wet the bed once in her life. When Hannah came along, it was quite another story! Although she walked much earlier than Jessie, she was determined NOT to potty on the potty! We tried everything in the book, but it seemed that she'd just hang out on the toilet, often crying, screaming, yelling about how she didn't have to go potty. When we would finally let her get off, she'd promptly "do her business" in her diaper. We were convinced she'd still be in diapers when she went to college. As it turned out, she was four before we could safely say diapers were no longer in her future. The point that I make to my kids, though, is that even though the two girls had completely different timelines in their potty training, they both eventually got there! And that's how it often is with learning.
Literacy assessment is so important, and we use it on a daily basis to help my kids grow. I conference with students about their reading, writing, and math. We are honest with each other about how they are growing and what learning goals they have. When they are working toward their goals, they own their learning more readily and have an intrinsic motivation for achieving that goal.
It is important to show that students are growing in all areas of literacy and moving toward becoming proficient and eager readers and writers. Just as children learn to walk at different ages, kids are going to develop their skills in literacy at different ages. Our assessments should reflect goals reached, strengths, weaknesses and next steps in development. What I find often is more of a status symbol or (at the other end) a statement that a child is not up to snuff. do is reflect a "grade equivalent", as this leads to children (and parents) feeling either inferior or superior (stupid or smart). Once a child feels "behind" it can often be counter-productive to maintaining a positive mind-set in literacy development. And yet, often children will naturally grow within the "normal range" if that pressure is simply removed.
My job as an educator is to help all kids learn to love reading, and lead them to become independent readers who can find and choose "good fit" books. In writing, it is to develop a love for getting their thoughts and ideas down, with confidence that small ideas, crazy ideas, everyday ideas often end up in a great story! It is also to help them embrace the fact that while they typically read a book from the first page to the last, writing is an exciting journey that holds many revisions, and although there are deadlines for completing some writing in our classroom, they are free to keep putting their ideas down on paper (or on the computer) for the rest of their lives! There's no need to "finish"! (unless you are fortunate enough to get a book deal!)
In the last couple of weeks, my kiddos had both math and reading standardized tests (online). While I am very proud of their progress, I also know that some of them had an off day, so the scores still don't reflect their true amount of learning. In addition, some of the questions were very difficult to understand, so that threw off kids enough that it did not reflect their true knowledge.
Honestly, I'm not sure that standardized testing does anything positive for our kids' learning. Inevitably I think about all the things the kids could be engaged in to learn every single time they sit down to take one of those tests. It won't help them learn math, spelling, language, problem solving, history, vocabulary, or social skills. However, I'm sure it makes some people a lot of money.
Here's a fun video on testing!