Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Rigorous Assessment, by Design

This post is cross posted at Education Is My Life.
Free Giant Macro Pencil and Pink Eraser Creative Commons

The purpose of education is to cultivate and develop students who are not merely good at school, but also good at life.

However, most traditional assessments promote the acquisition of superficial knowledge that can easily be “crammed” by learners. These types of tasks don’t prepare students for the messiness of life. The best assessments embrace the challenges and ambiguity involved in real, adult work.

In my experience, adult work typically has the following characteristics:

1. A real purpose and audience (i.e. You don’t only complete work for your boss; there are typically many parties involved.)

2. No clear “right” answer (i.e. Many different solutions or strategies could lead you to an acceptable answer)

3. A clear picture of what success looks like (i.e. If my presentation is exemplary, we’ll likely win the contract.)

In addition to modeling assessment after the demands of adult work, teachers must consider the role of educational transfer. Put simply, we must ask students to tackle unfamiliar problems without prompting from an adult or teacher. If we only ask our students to reproduce recipes that we’ve taught them, we’re missing the mark.

rigorous assessment design =
qualities of adult work + educational transfer

And remember, you don’t need an elephant to teach the color gray. Rigorous assessments don’t always require extensive technology, fluffy presentations, or oodles of class time. Consider these great examples of rigorous assessment from across the web:

Personally, when I’ve designed assessments that demand adult work and educational transfer, engagement has gone through the roof. Just before the winter holiday, I asked eighth grade students to redesign FEMA’s data collection methods during a disaster. On a day that is typically filled with word searches and food, students were fervently occupied with academic conversation and creative brainstorming.

So, use the power of rigorous assessment design to change your classroom and heighten expectations for your students. Cultivate students who are good at life!


  1. Good post Kristen. I have spent the last few months researching project-based learning and the various ways of implementing it. The idea of considering the "real world" when designing assessment will hopefully also help to create authentic learning experiences. Wouldn't it be great if we all strive to cultivate students who are good at life and not just at tests.

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Rhonda! What type of projects are you preparing to begin? I'd love to learn more!

    2. We are developing a new optional, elective career and technology studies curriculum for students in grades 5-9.

  2. This is a different approach. Education should not be a burden to the students. Instead, they should enjoy while studying. The lessons which are given in schools should not be crammed by the students, they should be implemented in their lives.

    1. I agree with you. Education should be a challenge, but not a burden. Thanks for sharing your thoughts in this space, and thank you for reading!



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