By Thelma Seyferth, Ph.D. on Thursday, August 29, 2013

SailboatOur destination is the bustling port of “Data-Driven Improvement” and that puts us straight into the wind. Forward progress depends upon our continuous tack, (meaning a zig -zag course, for the benefit of those landlubbers among us). Just as we must tack when under sail, in order to affect continuous program improvement we must change our perspective on several ideas that come straight at us from education. A ninety degree change of heading sets our course windward toward a second idea that bears consideration: the effective use of Assessor Comments. Ready about! Hard a lee!

In the previous post in the ‘Navigating Education’ series, we considered the misuse of learner reflections in the assessment process. Chalk & Wire’s validity research, involving over one hundred universities, suggests that there is widespread use of reflections to represent demonstration of skills. We suggested an alternate perspective: the effective use of learner reflections as student analysis of work samples.

But getting back to Assessors, our research further indicated that where there is analysis of student work entered into the online system, it is most often found in the comments made by assessors during the scoring process. For example, “You identified instruction and management areas from your unit and the implications of doing similar activities in the future.” “Connects the instruction and assessments together with the objectives to show how step by step progression tied the unit together.” “A very clear description was given.”

These types of assessor comments are less useful than they might be. Telling students what they have already done is not supportive of learning. From a validity perspective, effective comments have four characteristics: they are prompt, they are consistent, they are qualitative, meaning that they make reference to the quality of the work, and they are proactive. Proactive feedback tells the learner how to improve the quality of his or her work. Proactive comments put wind in the sails; by contrast, comments that analyze are like sailing in the Gulf of Mexico in mid-July…there may be a lot of hot air, but it doesn’t get you anywhere.

Next time, I’ll take a look at grades versus scores…I feel another tack coming on.

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