Last night I was attending a presentation on the SAT test and culturally literacy. While the presenter was beginning her overview, I unconsciously began counting people in the room. Turning to my colleague I whispered, “42 students, 14 of which appear to be students of color, and 11 staff are here. That’s pretty good.” She then whispered back, “Gavin, you assess everything.”
Perhaps I do.
Is that a bad thing? Is it unhealthy? Should I seek professional help?
Recently, I was in the grocery store and I had a realization. Assessment isn’t an activity. It’s a state of mind.
Yea, I know what you’re thinking. Who thinks about assessment when they’re grocery shopping? What a geek! I can even hear some of you saying “yes, he definitely needs help for this obsession.” But, let me explain.
I am the one that goes grocery shopping in our house. For me, it’s a game – how quickly can I get in and get out with all of the items on my list. I know. I’m a geek.
But if you think about it, I approach grocery shopping like we might approach a program on our campuses. In other words, we set goals and determine our overall effectiveness at reaching your goal. Or at least that is what we should be doing. For me, the goal is to get everything on my shopping list in the least amount of time possible and at the lowest possible price. If I leave the grocery store and didn’t get everything on my list then I didn’t reach goal. This is similar for a student participating in a program who doesn’t learn everything we had intended.
I start the way many of you start your grocery shopping. I take the list from the refrigerator and rewrite it in the order I will approach them in the store. Nothing ruins a good “grocery run” better than having finished your shopping and realizing you forgot something at the other end of your store. Putting the items on the list in this order is very similar to what we do with students. When we develop our learning goals and outcomes we do so in a progressive way since students need to develop lower level skills such as remembering before they can do more complex things such as synthesis and evaluation.
Once I have my list, I then need to decide what is the best day and time to go shopping. I typically go early on Sunday mornings since the store is almost empty then. However, there is a balancing act in reaching my goals. While, there may be few customers at 7am, the stockers haven’t stocked all of the shelves yet, particularly the produce. Thus, I can quickly go through the store, but I might be able to get everything on my list.
Now if I go later, say 9am, the shelves are stocked, but there are many more people in store. Navigation is much more difficult because there are many more obstacles. I feel like I am in a movie car chase scene – weaving around other shoppers, dodging the soda delivery guys with their large pallets on the side of the aisle, and pushing the cart with my left hand so I can grab the items off the shelf with my right hand without stopping. I really think I could be a much more efficient shopper if I had a bell or horn on my cart. Rrring. Rrring. Honk. HONK!
The other challenge to shopping at 9am is long check-out lines. These are the biggest waste of time since you aren’t doing anything accomplishing anything. I can only read so much about Britney Spears and aliens in the Congress in those magazines.
Finally, I decided that I could most efficiently and effectively reach my goal by going shopping around 8am on Sundays. The shelves are stocked. And although there a few people in the store, there aren’t enough to be a hindrance. Also, by the time I get to the register, they usually have a few lanes open so I don’t have to wait. I can usually get in and out of the store in about 20 minutes.
This approach to grocery shopping is assessment – establishing a goal, developing strategies to reach that goal, and then determining how effectively and efficiently you’ve reached it. I am sure you do a lot more assessment than you think you do.
After the cultural literacy presentation I was talking with a student and she asked what I thought about it. I began saying that students were engaged, there were some really insightful points about bias of the SAT among other points that demonstrated reflective and critical thinking. After that conversation, I realized that I had just assessed that presentation. Of course, it wasn’t a systematized in the sense that learning outcomes weren’t established and then evaluated based on multiple data collection methods, but nonetheless, it was assessment.
For me, assessment is not just an activity. It’s a state of mind. The more systematized, the better, but any assessment is better than no assessment. Assessment can’t just be an afterthought. Some type of assessment needs to be embedded in everything we do. That will enable us to create the best possible educational experience for students to foster holistic growth. The more assessment you do, the more it will creep into other parts of your life.
Is that such a bad thing?
Submitted by Gavin Henning, Dartmouth College