Effective Assessment

Unsurprisingly, I’ve had assessment on the brain for some time now. While I think the case is open and shut for assessing students, I really struggle with how to assess teachers.

On the one hand, as I discussed previously, I think student produced evaluations are effective and rely on the only people who observe the teacher in action daily. On the other hand, can students ever be reliably knowledgable about their own learning? If the ultimate measure of a teacher’s skill in the classroom is how much students learn, then it appears that students as evaluators are a paradox.

So what if assessment shifts to satisfaction? At first blush it seems reasonable that a satisfied student is one who has learned. But we know that not to be the case (Cervero & Wilson, 1996; among others). Thus, I’ve met another contradiction. If a satisfied student hasn’t necessarily learned and a dissatisfied student hasn’t necessarily not learned, then how does measuring satisfaction help matters?

Lastly, the most grievous problem for assessment is full transfer of learning. While many activities can produce something that is learned–some sort of fact–but transfer of learning only occurs when the student incorporates what he or she has learned. Think of a vocabulary test. Memorizing pedantic, abstruse, esotericisms rarely leads to actually using those words in either real or academic life. In this light, a student would report learning a bunch of words, which would be assessed as effective teaching; but the new words never transfer into the student’s thoughts and behaviors, which doesn’t constitute real learning–but does it constitute poor teaching? Even if it does, is it possible to assess transfer of learning?

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