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Aurora Institute

Measure What Matters

CompetencyWorks Blog


Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Create Balanced Systems of Assessments

Teachers need to make sure that they are measuring the right elements of student work. Teacher training places a lot of emphasis on curriculum, but not a lot on assessment. The result is that we teachers become comfortable, invested even, in the materials that we design for instruction. We share lesson plans and ideas, but there is little discussion about what we are measuring.

Those of us who routinely create rubrics for our students’ lessons are moving in the right direction, but we need to make sure that we are actually measuring competencies. Too often, our rubrics are nothing more than quantitative lists that don’t really articulate the complex thinking skills that students are being asked to learn.

Making a measurement tool that is clearly designed to evaluate a specific competency requires intentional effort. Imagine, for example, that you were preparing a unit that included the Common Core State Standard that reads, “Integrate multimedia and visual displays into presentations to clarify information, strengthen claims and evidence, and add interest.” The trick is to define the words integration and strengthen without turning them into quantities. In other words, if the rubric simply says “specify three pieces of evidence to strengthen your claim,” that doesn’t define whether the evidence is robust or unique. The three pieces of evidence might be sufficient, but the tool is aimed at the quantity of evidence, rather than the quality of the thinking involved.

Similarly, the rubric shouldn’t measure unrelated characteristics, such as writing conventions, unless that was part of the explicit instruction. Students should still be expected to present quality work, and a criteria list might be useful, but the learning becomes murky when we try to measure everything at once. What’s important is that students are able to see that quality work and basic conventions are expected, but that they are different than the competencies that you are measuring.

Articulating exactly what is being measured, what criteria are expected, and what process students need to follow in order to learn the competency makes it possible to target instruction or revision. The focus, then, is appropriately on what a student can show that he or she has learned.

Rubrics are a time consuming part of teachers’ work, but good rubrics will ultimately help your students succeed. Open the lesson file for the next project that your students are going to tackle, and pull out only the rubric. Systematically examine each part of the rubric. Decide whether these parts measure quantity or competency. You might even recruit a colleague who is willing to spend an afternoon dissecting a rubric with you. That process may yield a fruitful discussion about measuring what matters.


__________About the Author__________

Barbara Weed holds a B.F.A and a M.S. Ed. She is a National Board Certified Teacher. Ms. Weed taught middle school art for seven years, and is currently an instructional coach. She has been engaged in school transformation, as a parent and as a teacher, for many years.