By Rick Stiggins
Many don’t realize that the social institution we call school in America has undergone a fundamental change in mission. Historically, a primary mission has been to produce a rank order of students based on achievement by the end of high school—that is, to begin the process of sorting us into the various segments of our social and economic system. But over the past 20 years, new missions have been added. Schools also are being held accountable for delivering ever higher levels of achievement, universal lifelong learner competence, narrowing achievement gaps, and reduced dropout rates.
Under the old sort and select mission, assessment’s role was merely to provide the evidence needed to determine the rank order. First we teach; then we test–and the evidence speaks for itself. Some succeed and some don’t. In the face of consistent failure on assessments, major segments of our student population were supposed to give up in hopelessness (resulting in the achievement gap we now seek to narrow, incidentally). The problem that emerged, we have now realized, is that those who give up in hopelessness and drop out, along with those who finish low in the rank order, fail to develop those essential lifelong learner proficiencies, keep the gap from narrowing, and lower annual test scores. The question we have been asking at ATI for over 20 years is, will assessment remain the dispassionate uninvolved act that merely provides the evidence that triggers these consequences, or can we rethink assessment in ways that can help us fulfill the new missions that society has assigned?
Every summer we answer this question at our Summer Conference with a resounding, YES! 2014 will be no different in the sense that we will continue to share our ever-evolving and innovative vision of excellence in assessment. But we do promise some surprise new ideas this year too. Presentations will analyze the various users and uses of assessment to support learning and to certify it, highlighting the one use and user almost universally neglected in our old vision: students as partners with their teachers in the day-to-day classroom assessment process as they learn and grow. Banking off of two decades of visionary thinking about using “assessment FOR learning” from around the world, we’ll describe how to balance local assessment systems to meet the information needs of all assessment users and how to provide teachers and their supervisors with the tools they need to develop a long-missing foundation of assessment literacy, that is, an understanding of how to develop and use quality classroom assessments in ways that both support and certify learning.