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CCE staff and partner reflections on our collaborative work to create schools where learning is engaging and rewarding, and every student is set up for success.

Many Small Assessments Paint a Big Picture

During a recent visit at the Francis W. Parker School in Devens, Massachusetts, I sat for a while with the Math/Science/Technology Team as they discussed their plans for the upcoming school year. The Parker School is, famously, a model of competency-based learning, founded by Ted Sizer and explicitly reflecting his Ten Common Principles. I noticed, as the team tried to figure out opportunities for students to demonstrate proficiency in standards, that they were planning a LOT of these opportunities.

I asked the team leader, Diane Kruse, what the thinking was behind this. Why choose to have many small assessments, rather than a larger assessment – maybe a portfolio – at the end of the unit or instruction period?

Diane’s response was that it made more sense to give the kids many shots at demonstrating a standard rather than linking everything to one big assessment event. For one thing, students may be good at one thing within the standard, but not another. The smaller assessments will allow students to demonstrate what they know, while providing information that can be used formatively to improve what they’re struggling with.

This makes so much sense! Think of your television or computer. The one picture is created of thousands of pixels. The more pixels, the better the picture. With assessment, rather than one big project that “proves” whether or not the student understands and can apply the knowledge or skills, you have many small assessment events that generate evidence over time demonstrating what the student knows and is able to do. As long as they are tightly aligned to the learning target, many “pixels” create a true picture of the student.

Gary Devens Small 01