Use Assessments to Encourage Growth and Instill Lifelong Learning

By Anna Murphy, Rubicon International

As a student, I had serious grade anxiety. I was constantly concerned about maintaining a high GPA and making honor roll. My barometer for success rested on grades, so much so that I conflated grades with long term success in my post-grad life, as if memorization of a Shakespeare sonnet meant I could attain my dream job. I occupied a surface level of learning, concerned with immediacy of a score, not realizing that grades are only reflective of a small part of the learning that occurs within schools.

Now, I recognize that education is much more about long-term learning. [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]Through education, we learn skills to think critically and navigate the unknown.[/inlinetweet]

For example, knowing the Corresponding Angles Postulate was certainly good geometry practice, but its bigger benefit is that it equips students with deductive reasoning skills. And, while I have long forgotten French verb conjugations, language class made me comfortable with being uncomfortable in situations where language and culture are different than mine—to recreate myself as a global citizen.

Moreover, what I had valued most highly—straight A’s—didn’t account for the most useful skills I developed in school.

Create a Growth Mindset in Education

We live in a time when the one constant is a constant evolution of technology and our interaction with it. In an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, Thomas Friedman writes: “self-motivation to learn and keep learning becomes the most important life skill.”

Work environments are agile and jobs are cross-discipline. Friedman notes that with the advent of new technology, jobs constantly evolve. Self-driving cars will likely replace bus or taxi drivers. Manual labor is supplemented by robots. This doesn’t mean jobs disappear, but rather, they change. Success in the future will be contingent on our ability to grow and adapt with this change.

The 21st century workplace requires people to be comfortable with the unknown and think critically; it requires lifelong learners. So, students like me need to step back from the mere achievement of a letter grade and go deeper into the skills mathematical proofs and language instruction develop.

Assessments: Recognize the Short- and Long-Term Purpose

Here is where assessments come into the equation. As the mechanism for assigning grades, assessments dictate how students, parents, and teachers gauge student performance. But, often, assessments value tactical over strategic learning: the measurement of congruent angles over deductive reasoning, short-term memorization over long-term skill acquisition.

Balance Scores and Growth

Assessments, from school to federally mandated, aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Therefore, to empower students, we need to change our relationship to assessments—a concept Friedman discusses in his article. We have to take the immediacy of a score and balance it with encouraging growth and, ultimately, lifelong learning.

To review this concept, Friedman cites  a study completed by College Board about the PSAT and SAT exams. The study found that students who used their PSAT results to create a personalized study program, like that offered by Khan Academy, drastically improved their scores. In fact, “20 hours of practice was associated with an average 115-point increase from the PSAT to the SAT — double the average gain among students who did not.” Friedman concludes:

Practice advances all students without respect to high school G.P.A., gender, race and ethnicity or parental education. And it’s free. Our aim is to transform the SAT into an invitation for students to own their future.

Practice Makes Perfect: Create Opportunities for Growth

Shifting assessments from a one-time chance to demonstrate knowledge to an on-going practice opportunity encourages a growth mindset. This approach instills the importance of learning over time, and normalizes, rather than stigmatizes, struggle and—sometimes—initial failure as a part of the process. Persistence and perseverance become a fundamental piece of the learning process. This approach, Friedman writes, “enable[s] anyone to accelerate learning for the age of acceleration.”

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