Assessments That Provide Real Insight into Learning

A math teacher described a problem he was having with his 2nd graders: “One of the goals of our math curriculum is to enable the students to articulate their mathematical reasoning. We would like them to explain, ‘The problem said two more came, so I knew I needed to add,’ but instead we get, ‘I knew 2+4 was 6.’ ” Although the level of abstract conceptual understanding that the teacher wanted to elicit is not typical of 2nd graders, the teacher was convinced that because a few students could use the words he wanted to hear, all of them ought to be equally capable. Further exploration revealed that even those who used the words didn’t understand the concept; they were merely parroting the language the teacher insisted they use.

Developing conceptual understanding is a process that takes the learner through stages of increasingly sophisticated comprehension, stages that require understanding the relationships among smaller ideas that make up a larger abstraction. Moving through these stages requires a brain that is developmentally ready to do so. Tests, whether those given by teachers in classrooms or the standardized variety, typically fail to take these factors into account. Teachers continue to mistake sound for sense: They assume that if students can regurgitate the word, they must understand the concept. Despite all the chatter about testing, little has changed since I was in school, memorizing the definition of osmosis. As a 9th grader, I had no clue what “the passage of water through a semi-permeable membrane” meant, but I got an A on the test, and my teacher assumed that I understood the concept.

A new model for understanding student learning

Things may finally be changing. For the past 20 years, Theo Dawson, founder of Lectica, an initiative to measure and support deep learning, has been leading an effort  to redesign tests so that they reveal students’ current levels of conceptual understanding. The tests also provide teachers with the necessary insight to plan the next steps toward developing more complex understanding in students, using developmentally appropriate learning activities.

To construct these tests, Lectica’s analysts make a deep study of how particular concepts and skills develop over the life-span. This makes it possible to describe, in detail, how learners develop important concepts and skills through the 14 “phases” of development that are typically found in grades K-12. Tests are comprised of open-ended questions, and Lectica can assess student answers immediately with a ground-breaking electronic developmental scoring system, CLAS (Computerized Lectical Assessment System).  Instead of merely rewarding students for memorizing the definition of osmosis, the test reveals their level of understanding of the concept.

The picture of student understanding that emerges from assessing answers to open-ended questions, as opposed to choices from a list of possible answers, provides real insight into the concepts the students are working with–how they understand the concepts, what their line of reasoning is, and how well they can explain their thinking. Informed by these insights into students’ thinking, educators can provide developmentally appropriate learning activities to help students move toward the next level of understanding. 

An opportunity for parents

Many parents are frustrated that schools aren’t doing a great job supporting the development of skills for thinking and learning. They have every reason to be frustrated. Recent research from Stanford University shows that the majority of middle and high school students can’t tell the difference between fake and real news—even when the fake news is clearly labeled. Today’s children are growing up in a complex, uncertain, and changing world. To thrive, they’ll need top-notch skills for learning, thinking, and deciding. Yet the majority of middle and high school students lack the basic thinking skills they need to make everyday decisions. Lectica delivers powerful learning tools that help children build these skills. In addition to providing these tools to teachers and school administrators, Lectica has also decided to offer them directly to parents through Lecticalive for Parents.

Lecticalive for Parents enables parents to trace their child’s growth over time, see how it compares to the growth of students in low-, average-, and high-performing schools, and find out if their child is on a growth trajectory that’s likely to produce college-ready thinking and learning skills by the end of grade 12. The program also provides parent-friendly learning activities and resources that are designed specifically to engage and challenge children so that they can develop their skills and understanding.

If you want to learn more about the differences between Lectica assessments and traditional standardized tests, click on this link.

If you want to learn more about the insights you can get from Lectical assessments, watch this video.

If you want to learn about subscriptions to Lecticalive for Parents, click on this link.