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Assessment, Success, and Success Skills

By Mike Simpson
Assessment, Success, and Success Skills

This week, we had a school psychologist volunteer his time to work with our faculty. I could write about any number of the issues he addressed but I have chosen to write about a comment that really stood out to me: “Asking children to do things that they are not ready to do leads to a sense of incapacity, and resilience is based upon a child’s sense of capacity.” Resilience, along with perseverance, diligence, self-discipline, positivity, and a love for learning, is a success skill that we are working hard at our school to develop in all of our children. I believe that the development of all of these success skills are dependent upon a child’s sense of capacity—the belief that they are capable of achievement. This comment really made me think. Is a child’s academic success a product of that child’s success skills? Are a child’s success skills a product of that child’s academic success? Upon reflection, I think that the answer to both of these questions is yes. I scribbled a diagram to help me make sense of this. To reach ever-higher levels of achievement, children must be challenged. We must set high expectations for our children, but those expectations and the challenges we set for them must not exceed a child’s capabilities. Our expectations and challenges must fall in the zone between what a child can do without help and what a child cannot do, no matter how much help we give him or her. The zone is often referred to as the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), a concept introduced by psychologist Leo Vygotsky (1896–1934). If things are too easy, children won’t connect their academic success to success skills. Children might develop a belief that they don’t even need to try. If things are too hard, the application of success skills will not lead to academic success. Children might develop a belief that there is no point in trying. Either way, these beliefs are fatal to the development of a growth mindset that views intelligence as something that can be developed. A growth mindset, as defined by Dr. Carol Dweck, leads to a desire to learn and therefore a tendency to embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, see effort as the path to mastery, learn from criticism, and find lessons and inspiration in the success of others. As a result, children with a growth mindset will reach ever-higher levels of achievement. If the development of success skills and ever-higher levels of achievement are dependent on children working in their ZPD, accurate and robust assessment practices become crucial in identifying the achievement levels of each child. Like many schools, we assess our children’s reading, mathematics, and language usage achievement levels using the standardized, online Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessment. This provides us with important external data that we can use to measure our children’s achievement levels and identify areas for school improvement. However, we cannot rely on data collected from MAP testing in isolation to provide us with an accurate assessment of a child’s achievement levels. We must be clear about the purpose of MAP testing. MAP testing is one diagnostic tool to help us assess a student’s achievement levels. The data we gather from MAP testing must be analyzed alongside data collected from teachers to ensure that we can make an accurate assessment of a child’s achievement levels. To ensure that we are able to make accurate assessments of our children’s achievement levels in reading, we use reading running records. These are assessments in which children read aloud to their teacher and answer comprehension questions on what they have read. In mathematics, we use diagnostic interviews that allow our children to verbalize their mathematical thinking in solving problems that are asked by their teacher. In writing, we use standardized assessment rubrics to assess the writing our children do in class. These internal assessments do not replace MAP testing but they do enable us to make sense of MAP data and to use it appropriately. Assessment is not about rewarding and punishing. Assessment practices should strive to accurately identify the achievement levels and learning needs of all of our children. Assessment practices must also ensure that our children connect success to resilience, perseverance, diligence, positivity, self-discipline, and a love for learning and empower them to apply these success skills to reach ever-higher levels of achievement.

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