Transitioning assessment of learning for organic education

Assessment is a huge part of how our current education system works, and it is not something that many people would consider giving up lightly. Many people argue that assessment is necessary in order to see whether children are learning anything by going to school. As I have discussed at length, I do not think standardised tests are really proving that children have learned anything more than what they needed to know to pass the test.

Thom Markham argues that teachers who are in tune with the needs of their students sense the disconnection between the curriculum and reality and would like the freedom to respond more directly to students’ needs. However, ‘standardised information and testing remains a barrier to innovative teaching’.

‘Tests should be diagnostic – they can help, but they should not be the primary focus of education. They should support learning, not destroy it’, Sir Ken Robinson.

I believe that if the education system is determined to measure children’s learning then we should start to look for ways for children to show what they have learned in a personalised way. I believe that children should be encouraged to document their own learning process on an ongoing basis.

I have kept a written journal for decades and it is an amazing reflection of my thinking and learning processes over the years – as well as where I got stuck and how I got out of being stuck. I believe it is quite possible for children to document their learning each week as part of a formalised system of assessment. Perhaps children should have to present a weekly report back on what they have learned during the week (this could be written, oral, video, painting, or any other medium of expression) – this could be done to the whole class, or just to the teacher. If this is too time consuming maybe once per month would be sufficient. This could be extended to the whole year – to finish the school year and ‘graduate’ children could write and present their learning to their class/teacher/school/community at the end of the year.

I know that all children at Waldorf Schools do a Grade 11 project which takes them the whole year and which they are required to present to the school at the end of the year in order to graduate. Children can choose whatever they want as their project for the year as long as they present something at the end to describe what they learned over the year and how. This is one example of personalised assessment in practice.

The portfolio system has been an attempt to get this to happen but has failed miserably in many parts of the world because of the time-consuming nature of checking the progress by reading the portfolios and by the high stakes attached to certain points in the school system that has led to cheating and manipulation by students of material produced by others to make it look as if they have created/ achieved this themselves. For this reason personalised assessment cannot be reduced to marks, especially not comparative marks.

Many people will argue that personalised assessment is too time consuming and unsystematic. I think that we need to think more creatively about how to do this, rather than simply assuming that it is impossible. How can we do this better?

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