Journal of Case Studies in Accreditation and Assessment, Carol Oberg, University of La Verne
“Teachers, make it your first task to know your students better, for you surely do not know them” (Jean Jacques Rousseau in Ellis, 2001, p.67). Today’s classrooms provide unique challenges for teachers. Teachers must know content matter as well as state standards. They are accountable to multiple constituents: students, parents, administrators, and community members, and are expected to demonstrate appropriate yearly progress. Teachers of special needs students are expected to teach to state
standards while aligning students’ IEP goals to these standards. In addition, district assessment demands may consist of exit exams, district benchmarks, and high stakes state assessments, often times with results made public. Teacher accountability, student achievement, progress monitoring, and analyzing testing data are key phrases in today’s educational culture. Our educational system is driven by student outcomes as measured through standardized assessments.
Today’s pluralistic, inclusive classrooms demand a sharp lens of understanding and awareness from our teachers to reach and teach all students. This lens must serve as a microscope to magnify teachers’ understanding of individual student’s talents and skills as well as a stethoscope to listen deeply to their students’ daily experiences, unique interests, and individual dreams. In short, teachers need to know their students to teach them and align “thoughtfully directed curricula” to them as much as to standards (Stanford & Reeves, 2005). They must carefully consider not only what to teach, but also how to teach and how to assess.
When teachers are fully informed about their students, they are better prepared to make appropriate instructional and curriculum decisions, and adapt, as necessary, their teaching practice to ensure success for all students. To learn about their students, teachers must rely on data collected from their students through a variety of methods. Student data must be rich enough in detail and breadth to provide teachers with necessary information to connect instructional strategies to their needs and skills. These data must provide information about students’ current ability and knowledge within the subject matter as well as information about students’ interests, learning styles, and pace.
Assessments used to collect student data for both information and diagnostic purposes are termed pre-assessments. Pre-assessment helps teachers “front load” their lesson preparation by utilizing knowledge (data) about students in the instructional planning stage. However, traditional pre-assessments such as paper-pencil tasks or question and answer formats may leave teachers “data-deprived” as they offer limited information about students. Performance assessments, on the other hand, offer a variety
of ways for students to demonstrate what they know about content, as well as elucidate students’ additional skills sets within the classroom. These additional skills are related to attitude, creativity, ethics, perseverance, honesty, teamwork, sense of fair play, and many other behaviors and dispositions needed not only in the classroom, but also in the work force (Sternberg, 2007). When performance assessments are added to teachers’ current repertoire of pre-assessment tools, they help refine teachers’ knowledge of their students so they can create robust, motivating lessons attuned to their students’ strengths and needs.