Message From Our Executive Director – May 2019

The Practice Question

Across education, I see the development of a healthy habit, and the performance assessment movement deserves plenty of credit for it. Educators everywhere, when considering a desired learning outcome, are reflexively asking, “How would we measure that?”

This is good. Asking the measurement question holds us accountable to our goals; answering it points us to actions.

But there’s another question that is just as focusing, should be just as reflexive, and would not hurt to come first: “How will our students practice that skill?”

Answer the practice question, and the measurement answer comes easily. It’s not so easy the other way around.

As a young teacher, I too often measured things that my students didn’t get to practice. I whipped out a public speaking rubric when students presented at the front of the room. I assessed them on their volume and eye contact. But we hadn’t practiced those skills in class.

Collaboration shows up on most graduate profiles. How will our students practice that skill? Answer it honestly. Assigning some group work is not the same thing as practicing collaboration.

Another grad profile meme—critical thinking—is not any kind of thinking. It’s grappling with “How might I be wrong?” How do students practice that skill? If a student has gone through a school year without consciously changing her mind on anything, then I doubt she has really practiced critical thinking.

I applaud what I see announced on graduate profiles all over the country—really important skills that schools can help kids get better at: inquiry, citizenship, creativity, persistence, problem solving, cultural competence, and so on. But it’s not fair to measure things that students haven’t had an opportunity to practice.

A high-quality performance assessment system knows its desired outcomes and its measurements; it also takes responsibility for scheduling practice.

Please share with us one of your favorite ways to help your students practice a key skill!


Justin Wells, ELP Executive Director

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