What do we mean by the phrase ‘Assessment Literate Learners’?

A phrase I am hearing more of in the world of education is ‘Assessment Literate Learners’. I have heard it used as both a rationale for focusing more on students test scores in their end of high school exams and one for giving students full ownership of the assessment process whilst dispensing of benchmarking students against others at a similar stage in their education. I found myself asking “How can one phrase encompass so many views?”

After a cursory internet search it became evident that this new phrase has descended from the idea that teachers need to be assessment literate. That’s right folks, we are back in the world of “Inside the black box” by Paul Black and Dylan William from circa 2006 (click on the link for a brief summary). Evidence suggests that teachers are still not literate enough in utilising the opportunities provided through the assessment for learning, of learning and as learning. In order for us to have the greatest positive impact on our students learning then we need to be literate users of assessment. This page from ASCD I found can be useful in clearing up any misconceptions.

This need for being assessment literate educators then leads on to the fact that if we are looking to create lifelong learners then we need to equip the students with the skills to generate their own assessment feedback loop when they are learning in the future. An example of this could be if they choose to learn the guitar.  They would need to have the knowledge of assessment strategies and the skills in utilising this knowledge to know that one way to assess their progress so far and identify their next steps is to record themselves playing against a metronome or drum beat and then listening back to themselves. There is still a level of benchmarking involved and they are generating feedback which they would otherwise need to rely upon an external assessor for.  To summarise this process in a sentence I have found this useful quote to clarify what we should mean by an assessment literate learner;

“Becoming an assessment-literate learner means understanding where you are going as a learner, where you’re at now, and what you need to do to reach a learning goal.” (McCafferty, A.S. & Beaudry, J.S., (2018))

It comes from this book which also includes some useful free resources. At no point does it say we need to teach to the test more and likewise it does not say we need to dispense with the benchmarking of students altogether. In the students’ future lives they will be consistently benchmarked and assessed against their peers. We should not be running away from making assessments on where a student is in relation to the majority of the students at an equivalent level of education. We need to know where the students are so that we can identify the types and level of support they need to ensure they can be as successful as possible in their future lives. This is part of being an assessment literate educator. We need to be able to then use this information to support our students in setting SMART learning goals for themselves which will help them learn the skills required to move their own learning forward. This will enable them to be truly ‘Assessment Literate Learners’.

What are your views on assessment? What resources do you use for benchmarking students learning? If you disagree with what I have said, why? Please leave your comments below.

Ref: McCafferty, A.S. & Beaudry, J.S., (2018) Teaching Strategies That Create Assessment-Literate Learners, Corwin)

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