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Fueling Educational Innovation Through Assessment

Assessment is gaining newfound attention in education. Assessment is increasingly important in formal and information educational settings as educators commit to quick response times between administering assessments, analyzing data and using data to provide meaningful feedback or changes to programs to increase the power of student learning experiences.

We’ve pulled together some inspirational assessment stories from our School to give you a snapshot of what’s beginning to take shape and evolve in the field of educational assessment.

Innovations in Evaluating Science Learning

Associate Professor Maria Araceli Ruiz-Primo received national and international accolades this year for her groundbreaking research findings, published in the prestigious Science magazine. Her 2011 article, titled “Impact of Undergraduate Science Course Innovations on Learning,” found that research conducted in studying teaching innovations in undergraduate education tends to suffer from weak design and inadequate reporting. “I believe that a partnership between professors, methodologists and assessment experts will bring a more solid knowledge about the impact of innovations on student learning, knowledge that we can purposefully accumulate rather than just having bits and pieces from methodologically unsound studies,” said Ruiz-Primo. “In the innovation study, when the assessments used to test learning were more aligned with what students were studying, the impact was more clearly seen than when external assessments were utilized. This finding was similar to results from a study I conducted some years ago and is related to the work my lab [LEARN] is doing right now. To add to this line of research, I’m currently working on a National Science Foundation–funded project on the construction of a robust approach for developing and evaluating instructionally sensitive science assessments, the DEISA project. This research is exciting because we’re creating assessments that are developed at multiple distances to the enacted curriculum (close, proximal and distal) and are more sensitive to what students actually have learned in their classrooms and can transfer to different contexts.” This work on instructionally sensitive assessments has been considered by experts as a critical contribution in the assessment field.

Linking Accountability and Performance

Associate Research Professor Carolyn Haug is industriously leading and overseeing program outcome assessments for our School and collaborating with the Colorado Department of Education and Colorado Department of Higher Education. Her work includes teacher education assessments. “We are analyzing student outcome assessments and a body of evidence (including work samples and scores on licensure tests for teacher candidates) to discern how our School’s students have improved their knowledge and abilities while enrolled in our programs,” said Haug. “We’re also working on measuring the impact of our alumni. Where do they accept work? How do they perform in their jobs? What impacts are they having on K–12 students? And, how can we continuously improve and inform our work at the university to fine-tune our syllabi, courses and programs? We’re collaborating closely with the Colorado Department of Education’s new educator ID program and closely monitoring Colorado Senate Bill 191 on teacher effectiveness. It’s an exciting time to be in the educational assessment field because of new data being collected and our ability to do much more sophisticated analyses.”

Changing the Role of Assessment in the Classroom Context

Julie Oxenford O’Brian, director of the School’s Center for Transforming Learning and Teaching, works with educators nationwide to provide professional development opportunities that are changing the role of assessment in the classroom, as well as in teacher and principal preparation arenas. “Assessment can play a much richer role in instructional settings,” said Oxenford O’Brian. “For a long time, educators thought about assessment as only being used for a ‘grade.’ But the key to excellent classroom learning success is continuous feedback between students and teachers to make sure that the learning is on track. Many times, students need that extra feedback in order to intentionally make new choices and engage fully in their own learning progresses. And sometimes teachers need to better describe the learning targets or find new ways to shape and present lessons. As assignments become more relevant to learners, learning gaps will diminish.” Oxenford O’Brian and her team also play an advisory role in the implementation of Colorado’s state educational standards, provide professional training on the Colorado Growth Model, and help low-performing schools with improvement planning. They truly engage educators and educational leaders at the intersection of theory and practice.

Teacher/Student Cooperation in Assessment

Bonnie Utley, associate professor in the Special Education program, and John McDermott, senior instructor in the Urban Community Teacher Education program, are collaborating on the Teacher Work Sample, an assessment that holds all teachers accountable for the growth of their students’ academic progress. It instructs teacher candidates in curriculum, instruction and assessment practices that they will use with their K–12 learners. And, it identifies and implements new Urban Community Teacher Education program assessments that exemplify the values and methods we teach. “The Teacher Work Sample is a natural and necessary evolution of the goal-setting and review processes that have been going on in the field of special education for years,” said Utley. “The goal is for all teachers and students to collaborate on what is being taught and learned so that everyone has deep clarity about the learning objectives as well as shared ownership for learning outcomes.” Sometimes this means that teachers allow students the chance to resubmit assignments until they can demonstrate that they understand the agreed-upon learning objectives. “School should be about the learning, not a grade competition,” said McDermott. “This is motivating and engaging for me and others on the team. It’s about giving learners a chance to provide meaningful feedback and tying that feedback back into the learning process. We’re getting pushed out of our comfort zone, and that’s good.”

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