29 May 2012

What is assessment?

In its broadest sense, assessment is the process of setting goals, choosing strategies to help achieve those goals, checking on whether those strategies are working, and then making adjustments as necessary, i.e. when the strategies aren't working as we'd like or the goals change.

When seen in this light, it's clear to me that assessment is a life philosophy, not just something that educators do. And, like any life philosophy, it's not for everyone.

Trying to convert everyone to assessment thinking is like trying to make everyone like chocolate ice cream or make them believe that hanging toilet paper rolls with the loose end over (instead of under) is the "right way" to do it. Of course it's difficult for me to understand not liking chocolate ice cream, wanting the loose end of the roll to hang under, or not wanting to set goals. But that doesn't mean it's wrong to live that way. ;*)

That said, I value assessment thinking for its emphasis on clarity, logic, and efficiency. It says that the most efficient way to get stuff done is to first be clear about what you want to do (goals) and then think of ways to get there (strategies). It says that it makes sense to pay attention to what happens after you do something to see if it had the desired effect (data gathering & making judgments), and to make decisions about how to move forward based on the information you have (closing the loop).

I don't approach my entire life this way. Some things I do just because they sound fun and not because I have a specific goal in mind. Majoring in English (twice) is a good example of this. I did not have a particular career path in mind; I just knew that I liked to read and write and analyze, and I was pretty good at them. Traveling is another example; I love to see other parts of the world, learn new ways to perceive the world and be in it, but it isn't part of a master plan. But I do find assessment thinking useful for anything goal-related, such as...oh, say...writing, editing, teaching, and learning.

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