A Parent’s Reflection on the Driver’s Test Analogy

Here at Envision, we frequently use the Driver’s License Test analogy to talk about Performance Assessment: it is a clear and familiar example of showing you are ready for a momentous next step by demonstrating what you are able to do (drive) with what you know (driving rules and regulations).

As a mom, I recently had a chance to consider this analogy from a distinct vantage point: the passenger seat. Helping my daughter learn to drive has given me the opportunity to expand on this beloved Envision metaphor with some key observations related to Performance Assessment.  

First, it can be abjectly terrifying to drive with an “emerging” driver.  In Lola’s first few forays on the road, I had several white-knuckle experiences that will be familiar to any parent of teens. I had multiple visions of catastrophe. I may have screamed a couple of times. And I realized it was the loss of control that really unsettled me. It is daunting to realize there is NO OTHER WAY for your child to learn how to drive except by LETTING GO OF CONTROL. It dawned on me that it must also be hard for teachers to let go of control in the classroom. Of course, classroom performance assessment does not pose the threat of bodily harm the way hurtling over the Bay Bridge on my daughter’s maiden voyage did. But I found it interesting that I struggled to give up control even though I knew she was ready for this important step. I struggled in safer situations too—complete with pressing on the non-existent, passenger side brake—and sometimes found it hard to articulate instructions. It made me curious about how teachers confront and manage this struggle. 

Secondly, teacher-student relationships really do make a difference in student success. Lola took the test twice: she failed the first time. The first instructor was dour, unfriendly, and impatient. According to Lola, she gave the directions (turn left, turn right) with very little time between instruction and execution. She wasn’t receptive to clarifying questions. She did not smile. Two weeks later and the difference could not have been more stark: the second instructor was friendly and engaging, immediately introducing herself to both of us. After the successful test, Lola was effusive about how different this second experience was. This instructor took the time to give Lola a friendly overview of what the test would be like. When she noticed Lola was nervous, she offered suggestions for how to relax a little bit. For Lola, having the instructor see and acknowledge her anxiety helped enormously. Out on the road, when Lola made some small mistakes, the instructor said things like “this is a mistake I make sometimes too, so just keep in mind xyz…”. She also gave directions clearly, with time for Lola to execute on them, and was patient with questions. With that kind of assessor in the seat next to her, Lola was able to drive the way she knew how, and of course she passed.

In the days since Lola has been whizzing around the Bay Area on her own, I have thought often about this woman, her skill at her job, and the way she helped my daughter. It strikes me that performance assessment, at its best, is about not only challenging the learner but also creating conditions for her success. And I’m once again grateful for teachers who are practiced in the art of both supporting students and letting them truly show what they know and are capable of.

For more of Monica’s “parent perspective,” check out this 2018 post in EdWeek: The Gift of Portfolio Defense.

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