How Do You Measure Learning?

| March 27, 2012 | 6 Comments
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It’s not a new question, but it’s certainly a divisive one — how to best measure student learning. As the Department of Education works toward finding a way to assess student learning beyond what most agree are sub-par standardized tests, and movement for opting out of assessments grows, educators and those who work in the education system are attempting to define the criteria for themselves.

At the Big Ideas Fest a few months ago, where teachers, administrators, entrepreneurs and policymakers gathered to parse valuable ideas and figure out how to bring them to action, we asked a few participants their opinion on how to measure learning. Their answers showed the broad range of the differences in opinion.

“It depends on how you define what we mean by learning,” said Neeru Khosla, founder of CK12, a nonprofit open education source for free Web-based content in the form of digital “Flexbooks.” Our current form of assessment only measures what students know “in the moment,” she said. But what we should be measuring is dynamic learning — how students can understand a concept and how they can apply it based on what information they have.

Art teacher Constance Moore from Oakland, Calif., suggested that students assess their own work. “They can reflect on their own learning and drive their own progress so they can take it where they need to go,” she said. It’s unfair to use the same measurement for every student, she said. That kind of assessment has no meaning.

Kaycee Eckhart, who teaches at Sci Academy, a public charter school in New Orleans with a high special education population, believes she would do a disservice to her students to dismiss standardized testing outright.

“There are so many ways to measure student growth,” she said. “I’m not against standardized testing and multiple choice testing. It’s one way we need to assess kids,”in light of the fact that students need to be prepared to take tests like the SAT to get into college. “It’s unfair of me to say we’ll never take one of those tests. ‘We’re going to do all creative learning, and by the way, when you’re a junior there’ll be a really hard test, and don’t worry about it.'”

Even taking standardized tests, she says, requires learning a skill set — things like understanding questions and deciding between two difficult choices.

Embedding assessments in the context of what students are learning at the time would be ideal, according to Bernadette Adam Yates, senior research analyst in the Department of Education’s Office of Education Technology, which recently launched Evidence Framework for Innovation and Excellence in Education. “So you’re getting feedback, instruction is changing, adapting to what kids need,” she said. “It’s a hard thing to do.”

Watch the full interview here.

Produced by Matthew Williams

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  • http://willrichardson.com Will Richardson

    Standardized tests measure knowledge and limited application. They don’t measure learning unless we define that solely as “acquisition of knowledge” which, unfortunately is the case currently.

    And if the only reason we are giving kids bubble tests is to prepare them for the SAT, we’ve really lost our way.

  • http://Business.unlv.edu/dean/ Paul Jarley

    Learning is a multidimensional concept that at a minimum includes both knowledge acquisition and knowledge application. It is not just about knowing something, but knowing when and how to use that knowledge in performing some action. Testing this can be done in a number of ways, but certainly includes more than just multiple choice tests. It also requires developmental feedback to help students learn from their mistakes. Gaming technology and other types of simulations could be of real help in developing complex testing mechanisms and providing real time feedback to students in contexts that students find both real and familiar.

  • http://allanquartz,blogspot.com Allan Quartly

    The question begs a further question, doesn’t it? Why are we measuring the learning in the first place?

    In most cases it is to ensure that the student is able to “do” and “know” what we want them to be able to do and know. It is so we can tell others that the student is knowledgeable and capable.

    I prefer the question, “When does the student know when they have learnt something?” Its that, “Ah, I get it!” moment that teachers use to assess when to build the next level of knowledge, which is the true assessment. But the only assessment tools for measuring that learning are the student and the teacher.

  • http://www.mindfulstew.wordpress.com/ Paul B.

    The best learning in my mind is project-based learning with measurable skills assessed along the way.

  • Barry Kort
  • Sarah Borgerding

    The last on of these interviews makes me sad….we should not be testing to get students ready for SAT tests that show nothing about about a student will do at a university level…. I say imagine world with out SAT if you can currently imagine an elementary or middle school class without multiple choice tests then you can imagine a world where SAT/GRE’s are not a marker for admission….

    She continues that we need to have data…hard data and then just tell our selves that it is accurate….but it is not…most standardized test I have worked with have the data being used in a invalid way that is not backed by what the test was intended to measure… like Map testing used to look at individual student growth being used to identify good vs bad teachers if a student makes a particular number on the test or not…..Just wrong….