Assigning, assessing, responding, maybe just abandoning it all…it’s enough to give me a little bit of a stress stomachache. Kohn stridently challenges us to “question the whole enterprise of assessment” in the educational system. But then Elbow rebuts: “It is obvious why we need high stakes assignments in our courses. We can’t give trustworthy final grades…unless we get them [students] to articulate in writing what they have learned” (p. 5). What is an elementary special ed teacher to think? Therein lies the reason for the stomachache. Sometimes I wish I could have just a little less to think about in my job.
In my gut (so many stomach references!) I believe in assessing through observation, watching how students perform, asking probing questions, monitoring levels of independence. This kind of assessment informs my teaching every day. But data collection is also my job. I need to be able to show teachers and families how students are progressing toward their annual goals. I need to write short-term objectives that have clear, precise criteria for mastery. This is the language of special education. This is my legal obligation to my students.
Reading and math are more concrete academic areas. I can measure fluency, or sight word recognition, or decoding skills, or the ability to solve double-digit addition problems. But “measuring writing skills” really goes against what I know and believe about writing. Writing is not the sum of its parts (can a student write a complete sentence? can they start with a topic sentence? do they use transition words?). I have to break down those skills in order to show progress in some quantifiable objective way, but really, progress to me is when students are pleased with their own written work, when their personalities emerge within their writing, when they start recognizing the power of words and language. Those things are not quantifiable.