Make Assessment a Learning Experience

Posted by Michael Milone on Mar 16, 2016

  • Assessment
  • Education Technology
  • General Education

An Innovative Approach to Meaningful Embedded Assessment

In recent years, assessment has gotten a bad rap because of overuse and misapplication of mandated accountability tests. All of us involved in education, however, know that meaningful assessment is an important aspect of the learning cycle. We are particularly grateful that, in a time of frustration over isolated testing, embedded assessment is finally getting the attention it deserves.

Simply put, embedded assessments are selected learning experiences that are also used to measure a student’s understanding of the content. The assessment task is embedded in the learning experience.

The activities that constitute embedded assessments range from simply choosing a correct answer to a capstone performance or project. The latter feature is one of the most endearing aspects of embedded assessment because it involves tasks that allow students to demonstrate their understanding of skills or concepts in authentic ways.

What They Don’t Know Won’t Hurt Them

Ideally, embedded assessments are transparent. That means the learning experience is not disrupted significantly, and in some cases, the activity might not be specifically identified as an assessment.

Another characteristic of embedded assessments is that they may be continuous. Because they are not disruptive incidents, embedded assessments may be undertaken with appropriate frequency so they parallel the timeline of the learning experiences.

The information gathered through embedded assessments may be used for a variety of purposes. Because they comprise activities that reflect current and past learning experiences, embedded assessments are formative because they can guide instruction in a far more meaningful way than single-event testing. The results of embedded assessment may also be aggregated as a summative profile of a student’s knowledge of the given content.

Again, because of the variety of the activities and the timeframe over which they were sampled, embedded assessments are more thorough measures of a student’s ability than a single-event test. Embedded assessments might also be used for benchmark assessment, diagnostic assessment, and to monitor student progress for Responsiveness to Intervention (RtI).

A Little History

As much as we in the assessment community would like to believe that our recent brilliance was responsible for the invention of embedded assessment, sadly, that is not the case. (Some of my peers will insist it was their idea.) The term “curriculum-embedded assessment” has been around for more than two decades. In the most excellently named Assessment in the Service of Learning: Proceedings of the 1987 ETS [Educational Testing Service] Invitational Conference, Margaret Wang presciently stated that, “Although computers are far from being a panacea for totally objective precise matching of student learning characteristics and learning needs to instructional alternatives, their capacity for curriculum-embedded assessment has only begun to be tapped” (Freeman, 1988, p. 75). Two of the other contributors also mentioned curriculum-embedded assessment.

Another ETS publication carried the construct further. In describing how assessment will be reinvented, Randy Elliot Bennett expressed the belief that even large-scale assessments can be tied to conventionally recognized standards and “... embedded in the school curriculum and occur frequently. Sometimes an assessment will be made known in advance; at other times—with informed consent—it will simply be embedded seamlessly in the distance-learning session and be indistinguishable from the instructional components of that session” (Bennett, 1998, p. 11).

Embedded assessment is similar, in many respects, to the Work Sampling System (WSS) developed by Samuel Meisels. In an article in Educational Leadership, he describes WSS as a type of authentic performance assessment that can be used “... to document children’s learning experiences, meet standards, and connect assessment to instruction” (Meisels, 1996, p. 60). Near the end of the article, he mentions the long-standing adversarial relationship between instruction and assessment, suggesting that authentic performance assessments can resolve this conflict.

How Velocity Uses Embedded Assessment

Velocity is a new digital solution from Voyager Sopris Learning® that uses an analytic decision algorithm to enhance its embedded assessments. The acronym for analytic decision algorithm (ADA) is a tribute to an awesome geek girl, Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace and the first computer programmer (pictured here).

In Velocity a placement activity, combined with teacher recommendations, establishes a starting point for each student. From this point onward, the ADA uses data from transparent embedded assessments to determine the student’s ideal learning path. The performance data are also available to the teacher in real time to inform instructional decisions.

So here’s the cool part. All of this is accomplished with activities that are engaging, meaningful, and challenging. By that I mean students are functioning in the zone of proximal development, a term invented by the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky. It describes the cognitive space that is just beyond the independent problem-solving level where a little help from friends (in this case, digital friends) allows students to struggle a bit and then succeed. Through these productive struggles, students master content and learn that perseverance and reasoning can take them wherever they want to go.

And there’s one more thing that should give you comfort at this testy time of year. (Get it?) Within ESSA, the Every Student Succeeds Act, there is a glimmer of hope about allowing innovative accountability assessments that include “competency-based assessments, instructionally embedded assessments, interim assessments, cumulative year-end assessments, or performance-based assessments that combine into an annual summative determination for a student.”

Perhaps at some time in the near future, disruptive accountability assessments will be replaced by embedded, transparent assessment activities that inform instruction, represent student knowledge more accurately, and fulfill the accountability mandate of the law. That will be a very fine day.    


Watch this video to learn more about Velocity, a revolutionary new digital solution for K-5 ELA:


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