Friday, December 04, 2009

A different way of doing assessment

I just got back from the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented's annual conference (where Jan Davidson was the keynote speaker). I'll write more in coming days about various issues that came out of the conference. But one fascinating one, at least for me, was the assessment that the Davidson Academy at the University of Nevada-Reno has developed for choosing its students.

The Davidson Academy is the nation's first public school for profoundly gifted kids. To be eligible, students must have IQ scores above a certain level. However, scores only tell you so much. And so, the folks who run the Davidson Academy have developed a way of gauging how a student actually learns. Here is the Assessment Schedule (taken from a hand-out at Academy Director Colleen Harsin's talk-- the words in parentheses are from the hand-out):

1. Read a short story and respond to four critical thinking questions (done independently on laptops)

2. Academic discussion and direct instruction (About an hour using a PowerPoint presentation to guide the students through the literary elements of the story -- PowerPoint also includes information about how to write a literary analysis essay)

3. Write rough drafts of essays (Given detailed guidelines about how to approach the essay and what is expected)

4. Science questions (Both objective, multiple choice questions and reflective short answer and essay questions)

5. Lunch

6. Math assessment (Not multiple choice-- while students are doing this, the English teachers are writing feedback on the students' rough drafts)

7. Peer editing with each other's rough drafts (Allows students to get different ideas and perspectives from each other, helps students focus on the expectations we have of their writing -- handout that guides the editing process)

8. Work on final drafts of essays (using advice from the teachers and their peers)

9. Outside break

10. Read and respond to a short story (a quick check with a second story to help us look at critical thinking, reading comprehension, and independent writing).

What I like about this assessment is that, for starters, most tests are a complete waste of a day. They are designed to test what you know, and so they are inherently retrospective. But this assessment teaches kids something they, at age 10-12 (or so) have probably not encountered much before--namely, writing analytical essays. And second, the process is not so much about getting the right answer, or writing the perfect essay the first time (which I have never done in my life! I spent 5 hours revising a 900 word essay this week!) but about whether you can learn to incorporate feedback and write a better essay after evaluating your own and others' work.

In much of school, you learn something, cough up what you remember, get a grade and move on. There is little emphasis on revisiting what you've done and learning from any mistakes or seeing what can be done better. But this is precisely how one actually develops talent in a discipline. The nature of intelligence is being able to fit together disparate pieces of information and draw inferences and solve problems. Basic tests don't often measure this well, but I think this assessment does.


Anonymous said...

Terrific article in the WSJ this morning.
You did a great job of discussing the issue.

Sandra Foyt said...

Very interesting! This type of assessment seems to be very similar to how we homeschool most of the time, with the luxury of one-on-one or small group feedback and collaboration. Makes me wonder how educators can incorporate digital resources and social media to promote more of this kind of positive learning exchange.