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My View: Authentic assessment, planning must be in teachers, toolbox

Education must shift its focus away from standardized testing and legitimize more authentic means of assessing student growth.

While I understand and acknowledge the value of an assessment that measures how our students are doing, a standardized test cannot be the driver of expectations.

As we work to strengthen Oregon’s schools, we must ensure that our teachers have the tools to deliver an education that will assure our students graduate ready for college, their chosen career, and a life in a global economy.

And gathering constant feedback is the only way a teacher can maintain an accurate calibration of where students are on that path — from what they know and where they lack essential foundations to where they need additional help and instruction to meet those needs.

This ability is the most significant characteristic separating good teachers from struggling ones.

Teachers assess their students dozens, if not hundreds, of times each day. Feedback can be gathered through a multitude of techniques including checking for understanding, thumbs-up and thumbs-down reactions, exit-slips, comments made during a discussion, observing guided practice, student engagement levels, projects, research papers, participation in collaborative groups, speeches, essays, performances, presentations, quizzes and tests.

While many of these are clearly informal gauges, others can, and often do, stand as true indicators about growth toward learning standards and benchmarks.

We must give teachers the ability to make essential calibrations in their instructional planning and delivery. But too often this critical part of the teaching process, left to the teacher to assemble, analyze and convert into an instructional plan, is simply not done or done haphazardly and too infrequently.

In 2013 there is no reason why authentic assessment, in coordination with the proper technology, cannot assist teachers in identifying critical learning blockages and help them deliver the best learning prescription available.

This 21st century tool would remove the single greatest hurdle that keeps struggling teachers from being good teachers. We can remove it from the equation altogether and authentic assessment is the lingua franca that will make the technology work.

It’s truly amazing the way that information flows online today. Software can track bugs in complex programming code, automate and trigger split-second stock trades in markets on the other side of the globe, and tell people within seconds which fantasy football league player is injured. Education technology should be as capable to quickly tell teachers where there are bugs in their planning process, when to trade out a strategy for a better one, and which student is struggling in silence.

Authentic assessment and its automatic incorporation into planning is essential to redesign 21st-century education and ensure we have the ability to help teachers, schools and families become responsive to the needs of our students.

Rudy Crew is Oregon’s chief education officer.

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