Monday, January 30, 2017

Skills-Based Assessment- The Journey so Far

I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical of skills-based assessment when I first was told that my new school was making a shift to it...

And as I made the jump to join colleagues who were reading up on this new system the year before, I did find myself a bit behind the 8-ball in the first semester.  However I am slowly developing my style and the "feel" to my class as I have had to reinvent some things, scrap other things, and create new things to get my class off the ground.

There are a few cool things about skills-based assessment. It asks students to demonstrate an ability, not just knowledge. I'm working to refine exactly what those abilities, those skills are.  I'm hoping for next year to take the work that was done prior to my arrival and continuing to make it better.  The toughest thing so far has been aligning some of the good work I have done in the past to a new assessment system.  Some of those things have been a round peg in a square hole, and really I didn't have a great reason to use them even though I knew they were successful in the past.  Jettisoning good work that took time to create really stings, but it was the right choice.

The opportunity to really diagnose a student's skills is much greater in a skills-based system.  A typical C student is seen as average, but instead as the layers are peeled back it can be decided what the individual strengths and weaknesses are in the student's skills.  That's helpful to teachers, to parents, and to students.  That's quality feedback.

With skills-based grading, feedback is key.  Doing it right takes a lot of time.  So planning assessments requires some key considerations.  There has to be formative practice with feedback of some kind.  There has to be chances to show what can be done, and there has to be summative assessment.  Being one among 150 means that decisions have to be made in terms of what kind, how much, and how often assessment is used.  Rethinking the nature of assessment is necessary too.  What can be done to probe for understanding quickly?

I made it sound easy there (well maybe), but it's not and I'm still learning.  In a lot of ways I have been like a first year teacher again.  New school, different kids, and a new way of grading.  Something I am finding that is as important as ever is the need to collaborate across subjects.  To make skills-based learning really work, identifying the intersections of skills in different classes is important.  When teachers can team up on assessments, the time that is available to create a product is multiplied.  Instead of forcing students through dozens of products, students can create something that shows numerous skills in numerous classes.  This is my vision.  Working with other teachers to allow students to write and research, to debate, present, and collaborate can yield products from students that can make themselves as proud as their teachers.  

Having trading in A's and B's for 4's and 3's was tough at first because everyone was just trying to wrap their head around it.  But it's getting easier.  It is making more sense, and I hope that soon I can take the next steps to improve the overall system in my class.  My job is to develop skills, to forge tools, and my students have to show me how they can use them.

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