Measuring Learning Loss

In this new world of online learning, what evidence do we have of student learning? Teachers have heroically transitioned to online learning, produced curriculum, assigned homework, collected student writing and graded it. We do not have a full accounting of how effective online learning has been, but the early returns indicate that teachers and students are exhausted, that there has been some failure to adapt to the new online learning environment, and we have lots of anecdotal stories that students are experiencing learning loss that might be as bad as summer learning loss, or even greater. A very general estimate of learning loss might be that perhaps students are reading at 70% of where they should be, and maybe they are performing math proficiency at 50% of where they should be. How should we measure this loss?

Students Still At Risk; Equity and Access

Measuring learning loss starts with measuring the equity and access we provide multiple for each and every student to access the curriculum and demonstrate their learning. Historically, before the pandemic, as many as 66% of all 3rd grade students were at risk for literacy proficiency, so we have not been doing a great job on teaching reading proficiency, but, at least we have a mesure for knowing how far behind we are!

Anecdotally we know that the students who were falling behind inside of schools before the pandemic are now falling further behind at home. The ever-increasing narrowness of what is taught and what can be collected as evidence of student learning exacerbates the threat or failure of student learning to students who are already at risk. Before the Pandemic, for example, we collected evidence of student learning through quizzes, tests, exams, essays, short answer, project learning, science experiments, math solutions, tech projects, computer coding, and teacher observation. During the pandemic, for example, we have lost all of these “extra” avenues for collecting student learning except a narrow range of written assessments that rely upon already demonstrated student literacy proficiency. As assessment choices have narrowed, not only have students who are at risk for literacy proficiency suffered setbacks and learning loss, but also students with disabilities such as dyslexia and students who are at risk for learning because of their poverty have suffered as well.

What Students Need

What students need right now is communication with an adult who knows what they need to learn well! That means a professional teacher who knows how to use professional assessments and how to read a student’s performance on those assessments so that they can communicate what a student needs to do now in order to learn well. I know this is complicated, but it is the most important professional opinion that students need to learn well. How else would we measure student learning loss without a professional knowledge and use of those assessments?

Characteristics of Professional Assessments

Teachers need the knowledge of the characteristics of the professional use of assessments. To everyone’s credit, these characteristics of professional assessment use are a complicated part of what we include in teacher training courses and they are not well understood in school practice. For example, characteristics of professional use of assessments have been described by lots of experts, but in a very understandable explanation, listen to Jay McTighe:

“Jay McTighe (2011), describing the characteristics of cornerstone assessments, wrote “They: • are curriculum embedded (as opposed to externally imposed); • recur over the grades, becoming increasingly sophisticated over time; • establish authentic contexts for performance; • assess understanding and transfer via genuine performance; • integrate 21st century skills (e.g., critical thinking, technology use, teamwork) with subject area content; • evaluate performance with established rubrics; • engage students in meaningful learning while encouraging the best teaching; • provide content for a student’s portfolio (so that they graduate with a resume of demonstrated accomplishments rather than simply a transcript of courses taken).”

National Core Arts Standards, Visual Arts Cornerstone Assessments

Detailed Assessment Procedures

What seems to be missing is the national will power to push forward in an area that we are already in agreement needs professionalizing: we need an agreed upon outline for assessing student learning to obtain comparable work from multiple teachers. All teachers use assessments, but they are not comparable across teachers, classrooms, districts, states or nations. To review the assessment procedures in the arts that are comparable across teachers, take a look at this example of one cornerstone assessment procedure in the visual arts at 2nd grade:

Detailed Assessment Procedures

Statements included in Assessment Expectations and Assessment Administration sections below are intended to serve as guiding principles for conducting assessments in art education. The statements function as guidelines for structuring assessment programs.

Assessment Expectations:
A. Students should receive instruction that builds on previous knowledge and skills prior to beginning the assessment.
B. Knowledge and skills in this assessment should be taught in the classroom.
C. Students should have adequate opportunity and time to learn what is expected of them.
D. Expectations for learning should be clearly stated for students prior to beginning the assessments.
E. Students should have many opportunities to demonstrate what they have learned and to work through difficulties they may experience.
F. Assessment should represent what has been taught or should have been taught.

Assessment Administration:
A. The teacher should read or present all assessment materials, including glossaries, criteria lists or rubrics, and task prompts, to students prior to beginning the assessment to ensure that the assessment is implemented uniformly.
B. Students should receive MCA task sheets, glossaries, criteria lists or rubrics, and any other beneficial supporting materials prior to beginning the assessment.
C. Teachers should check for understanding and answer clarifying questions students may have about the assessment.
D. Accommodations based on IEPs or 504 plans should be strictly adhered to at all times
E. Teachers should demonstrate all appropriate and required uses of materials and processes prior to allowing students to begin the assessments.
F. At all times during the administration of the assessments, safety and adequate supervision should be a high priority with attention being given
to adhering to all school, district, and state policies and procedures.
G. Students learning must be assessed based on identified criteria.
H. When students work collaboratively, both individual and collective assessment of learning should be done.
I. Students must be provided with adequate time to complete all components of the assessment.
J. Feedback about individual performances should be provided to all students during and at the completion of assessments.”

National Core Arts Standards, Visual Arts Cornerstone Assessments

Professional Development in Assessment

The professional knowledge needed to accurately assess student learning is not universally understood by all teachers, K-12. What is needed is a professional development strategy in assessment—for example, the ability to accurately measure student loss of learning based on who is struggling and why—and how to improve teaching going forward to make sure all learners are learning well.

Team Approach to Assessment

The goal is to have the knowledge of best practices in teacher assessment collected and shared with each teacher through a team approach. This model for learning is what I call job-embedded professional development and can be supported in horizontal teams, for example, of 3rd grade teachers, or vertical teams, for example, such as Math Department teachers. All teachers should be on multiple horizontal and vertical teams. Our research indicates that arts teachers should work both vertically and horizontally, and should also integrate their creativity strategies in curriculum and performance assessment into all other subjects.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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