Assessment in Perspective: Focusing on the Reader Behind the Numbers (Stenhouse, 2013)
By Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan
Assessment in Perspective is a useful guide for elementary teachers of reading and literacy. Landrigan and Mulligan acknowledge the high-stakes testing environment teachers find themselves in but believe that assessment is how we “prepare our students to live in the twenty-first century while still teaching in a way that is developmentally appropriate.” Their goal is to help teachers make sense of all the data that testing produces. That’s a main focus of this book—how to use all the numbers to improve student learning.
That’s only one part of assessment that they focus on, however. They also make a cogent argument for the importance of the teacher’s own observations of and interactions with students as a key part of meaningful assessment:
Assessment is a window into understanding how our readers are approaching a text and what is confusing to them. It is through observing their actions and noting their responses that we understand how we need to teach them. It is through the act of assessing that we create learning experiences in our classrooms that reflect how our students learn. We observe them in the moment they are experiencing cognitive dissonance and note how they respond to our scaffolding. When we create learning experiences that push our students to think, problem-solve, and synthesize, we are creating an environment of authentic assessment. There is no better way to understand readers than to watch as they construct meaning from text. Only teachers—not published tools and not tests—know our readers well enough to design learning experiences that can inform us and scaffold their learning. (12-13)
For teachers new to the language and culture of assessment, there is a chapter to promote “assessment literacy.” They define the terms (formative, summative, qualitative, quantitative, diagnostic, formal, informal, etc.) and explain why teachers would use each type. They also match types to particular assessments so that teachers can figure out when and why they might use a particular reading test.
The two chapters I found most interesting focus on triangulating assessment to produce a richer, more accurate picture of an individual reader’s learning and needs; displaying data to organize and analyze information; and incorporating different types of assessment daily and authentically in the classroom. There are numerous charts, graphs, and other reproducibles that classroom teachers might find useful for organizing all of this information. I plan to use their Messy Sheets and Conferring Notes graphic organizers in my own college-level courses this fall.
Throughout the book, Landrigan and Mulligan focus on the ways that assessment is both positive and something that good teachers naturally do. They emphasize what’s practical and what’s valuable. If an assessment doesn’t give us a rich, complex, and accurate picture of the learning that’s happening in our classroom, it isn’t valuable. And they insist that we always have to focus on the story of learning that’s happening—not just the numbers.
The final chapter addresses the constituent who is often left out of considerations of assessment altogether—the student—and suggests ways to help students have a dynamic growth mind-set about their learning and to understand and value the types of assessments teachers might use.
We’ve all read far too much jibber-jabber about assessment. What I appreciate most about this book is how practical, manageable, and meaningful it presents assessment as being. Landrigan and Mulligan wish to help teachers be more intentional, organized, and transparent with what they’re probably already doing in their classroom, and there are numerous techniques in each chapter that teachers could start using tomorrow.