Thursday, January 20, 2011

Are We There Yet?

Assessment and evaluation are often used interchangeably, but the framework that I use when thinking about the Teaching-Learning Cycle sees them as two separate phases. Assessment is data gathering. Evaluation is analysis of data.

I was first introduced to this framework at a Learning Network Conference. The distinction made between assessment and evaluation was new to me and it took a while to get use to it. The intentionality of the split makes sense, however, as it allows me to concentrate on the task at hand. Once data are collected, then I can evaluate what they mean.

The Teaching-Learning Cycle’s perspective on evaluation also required a change in my thinking. As a math teacher, my typical evaluation approach was to judge things as right or wrong.  The Teaching-Learning Cycle reflects a more Vygotskian approach through a series of questions:
  • What can the learner do?
  • What is the learner trying to do?
  • What does the learner need to do next?
I see the first question as representing Vygotsky’s zone of actual development. The second and third address his zone of proximal development.

I came to appreciate this view of evaluation. I think it fits nicely into an analogy for making and using rubrics that I share with preservice and inservice teachers. The idea is that evaluation is like monitoring one’s progress on a trip from Grand Rapids, Michigan to Detroit. A version of the analogy rubric is shown below.



Grand Rapids

Because of a lack of understanding or effort, you spun your wheels and never really left Grand Rapids.


Where are we? You made some movement out of Grand Rapids, but it is unclear as to where you are headed.


It’s obvious you put a lot of effort into this trip, but you went in the wrong direction.  You did not meet most of the intended goals.


You’re headed in the right directions, but there is still a lot to do before you reach your destination. 

Detroit (but how)

You made it, but I’m not sure how.  There are gaps that make it difficult to follow your path.


Whoa!  You overshot the goal. An occasional side trip is to be expected (encouraged even) but be aware.


You made it!  You provide a unique, efficient, and insightful route from Grand Rapids to Detroit.


Not only did you make it to Detroit, but you were able to connect to ideas from class in order to make the trip memorable.

In the analogy, any rubric ought to represent a taxonomy that supports the evaluator (teacher or learner) in determining where the learner is (what he or she can do and is trying to do) and describing a path toward success (what comes next).

My wife, Kathy, uses a simpler but no less elegant rubric she developed with her first grade learners to support their efforts to engage in independent reading. The learners use the rubric to self-assess and self-correct during reading time. They want to be successful readers and now they have a road map to show them the way.

I think this is true of all learners. Unfortunately, in the past my evaluation methods reflected more of a sorting mentality than a supporting one. My rubrics measured product instead of progress and did not foster a growth mindset.

I have come a long way since then but there is still a ways to go. I would say I am in Lansing. At least now I am heading in the right direction.


  1. In education, assessment is most often viewed as testing and evaluation is considered judging, and both must result in giving a grade. Little consideration is given to the powerful impact it can have on learning when used as a road map for student sucess.

    Keep spreading the word about the Teaching-Learning Cycle! It makes so much more sense to think of it as you describe: "Assessment is data gathering. Evaluation is analysis of data."

  2. I knew the discrimination between asessment and evaluation since high school (I studied Pedagogy for five years back then).
    When I asked the question on Twitter I thought you used a specific set of strategies or system to accurately point out the Zone of Proximal Develoment.
    Obviously, evaluation cannot be made but on a wide range of asessment tools (anecdotal records, rubrics, checklists, student reflection, portfolios etc) so we can get a holisttic view of student knowledge, skills and attitudes.
    I don't want to sound critical but for instance, in the rubric you provided above the concept of "expert reader" is mentioned but no clarified to the student in any way - how would that enable him/her understand whether s/he is an "expert" or not ? Another item reads "stay in my spot". Well, I am a reader and I often move - I have a lot of energy. Does that make me less of a "reader"?
    I think rubrics sometimes become too "school-hijacked" and we lose sight of what real people (readers, in this case) do. In our effort to "measure" we force a less real behavior onto kids.

  3. Christina,
    You wrote, "I knew the discrimination between asessment and evaluation since high school (I studied Pedagogy for five years back then)." Cool! Where did you go to high school? I wish that this distinction between assessment and evaluation had been made for me early on.

    I do not know that it can be considered a specific strategy, but I see the learner as the best evaluation "tool." If we can help learners to self-identify where they genuinely need the support of a knowledgeable other (their ZPD) and ensure that their requests for help will be met in ways that empower them, then they are the best evaluation instrument. Certainly, teachers play a role through use of the variety of assessment tools you mention. This provides both triangulation (of the learners' evaluation) and modeling (that the learners might use in the future).

    The rubric provided in this post was developed with the help of students. Therefore, it also involved a classroom community aspect. It is my impression that the "stay in my spot" was intended to meet a communal need. Your point is well made, however, and developing an individual set of criteria might be an important activity. As for the "expert reader" point, I am assuming that this was addressed in a separate anchor chart (knowing my wife).

    Please continue to be critical. It helps me to clarify and expand my thinking. And that is what this blog is intended to do. I am trying to write my way to understanding.

  4. Hi David,
    I attended Pedagogic High School which here (Romania) lasts for 5 years and the main subjects were Pedagoy, Psychology (with focus on chidlren pshychology), and Learning Theories. We also had practice in the classroom on a weekly basis.

    Thank you for the clarifications. I enjoy reading your blog posts and Twitter comments.