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Teaching for assessment vs teaching for learning

final exam

Right now, here in New Zealand, we have two major things going on in relation to national assessment. We have the NCEA (National Certificate of Educational Achievement) revision with the revised standards to be assessed from 2011, and of course we have the 2010 roll out of National Standards for Years 1-8. If you are from New Zealand you will know that the NCEA has been in place now for about a decade. The revision is to bring the standards in line with the 2007 revised New Zealand Curriculum document (which incidentally also has to be used from 2010 onwards). So for teachers of Year 11-13 students, having a set of standards for students to be assessed against is not new. For teachers of Year 1-8 students this is new.

Anyway, this post is not about whether or not we should have standards-based assessment, and it is certainly not about my view of National Standards (which is a hot topic right now), but it is about assessment and/or learning.

I have heard a lot of talk that the introduction of National Standards will mean that teachers will start ‘teaching to the standard’. It’s so important to be reporting to parents on where their children are at against the standard, and then for the board to report to the MOE their results, that the only way a school/class/teacher can ensure that all the students can meet the standard is to ‘teach’ the standard. This is an example of teaching for assessment.

Now, I realise that there may be some things in standards that need to be taught on their own in order to ensure that students have the best opportunity to be working at or above the standard, however I strongly believe that teaching should be closely related to learning rather than assessment. My belief is that if we teach students in relevant contexts, a lot of what they need to know at a particular level will come out of the learning time, or can be drawn out by the teacher.

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to have student driven, just-in-time learning that is relevant and interesting. Where we did not have to worry about the ‘test’ (or other assessment). Where we could enjoy learning with our students, and then at the end of the topic, term or year we can go back and show that the student has demonstrated that they meet this standard, this standard and that standard. (Better yet – I’d be happy to have learning without the need for assessment, but that’s for another time perhaps.)

I’m not saying this idea is easy, or even possible right now, but I’m just throwing out some ideas (some of which have been suggested by colleagues). I would love to be able to spend time facilitating/guiding learning that has a point to our students – not just to gain credits or a qualification – and helps our students learn to think, question and learn.

I know that I’m still mulling over some of these ideas so this may or may not be the only post on this. I’m finding it so valuable to discuss these sorts of ideas with my colleagues though.

Image: dcJohn: Flickr

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