Summative Assessment with Cultures of Thinking

I am working through Creating Cultures of Thinking and nearing the end of Ron Ritchharts book and I am aware of the minimal conversation surrounding the use of summative assessment.  Afterall making thinking visible is formative by its very nature.  So what of summative assessment? I was left puzzled (Araucaria araucana).

Simon Brooks kindly offered a detailed reponse to my enquires on the role of summative assessment within a cultures of thinking framework.

Below is a hotch-potch of Simon’s reply and my reflections.

I am pleased to know that I have offered a potentially new question, at least one worthy of your time and thought.

Summative assessment is noted though not extrapolated. I didn’t get the sense that it was “very important.” Where, from my “edugeek” perspective, I felt it was.

SIMON: It’s just that the majority of our focus in a culture of thinking is on HOW learning gets done, HOW understanding develops, and what types of disposition children develop in the process, rather than on how learning outcomes might be measured.

We would not know if the HOW – was successful in encouraging the retention – without summative assessment?

SIMON: I think this is partly explained when we think about the cultural force of expectations.  In a COT, we have expectations FOR students rather than OF students.  As Ron puts it, ‘In schools and classrooms we often talk of expectations in terms of the behavioural actions and performance outcomes adults want from students.  Our expectations OF students’ (p.40).  Of course, there is nothing wrong with such standards.  But in a cot, we think predominantly about expectations FOR students.  In other words, what type of people will they become in consequence of the time they spend with us?

The FOR or OF distinction is fully support and commended. I have already positioned that language with staff [and in my classroom]. Interestingly, that is where I see the FOR/OF categories. In language rather than expectation (if that makes sense?). This is a theory I need to develop further.

Simon: So – I know I’ve not answered your question yet 😊, but I guess I’m trying to explore WHY there is this under-emphasis on summative assessment you’ve noticed.

I continued to read Simon’s response attentively and patiently… I get the sense that the broader concern of “who they will become” is more philosophical and operational . The learning emphasis over work is, in my humble opinion, the right one.

Simon: In a nutshell, we’re interested in how they get there, and helping them get there, rather than how we measure whether they’ve got there or not.  (And do we ever really get ‘there’?)  So, yes, the focus is principally on formative assessment, rather than summative.

I will accept the description, however my bias is knowing “what” has been learnt, retained, reinforced. I am an advocate of gap analysis. I am not saying students have to know, but teachers should know what has been learnt/retained. If nothing more, to know where to go next?

Simon: When formative assessment is so comprehensively embedded (in the form of building a culture of thinking), summative assessment is less likely to result in any surprises.  In the case study Simon offered / described, the teacher believed “that when we build a culture of thinking, summative assessment takes care of itself.”

I am still not fully persuaded. Assessment is too often presented as testing – when it is merely a rehearsal, a showcase, a practice. When presented in this language, with CoT expectations, as an opportunity, it is there to reveal the “surprises.” Not withstanding the skills required to build purposeful assessments themselves.

I think we would be agree, it is not always simple. The language of education is a barrier, even here, to our shared understanding [to the fruitful conversations between teachers regarding teaching.] Our comments on performance seem aligned. Yet, summative assessment, still seems under-represented in the discussion of cultural forces. Though maybe just not fully defined/outlined. On the topic of assessment, Simon provided a range of resources.

I will take a look at the book recommendation – thank you. At Loughborough on the PGCE we had a heavy diet of “Games for Understanding” on the PE course as the authors were on staff – edu-cycles.

I read about the four assessment opportunities (linking back to my thoughts on assessment, hence the impetus to emailed in the first place). I found these definitions interesting. Thank you.

Simon’s conclusion

In a culture of thinking, children are continually assessing their own thinking and learning in service of developing deep, meaningful and lasting understanding.

Simon, thank you so much for your time, for the thoughtful, impassioned and comprehensive reply.  Hopefully my commitment to the conversation, valuer of feedback, shows you I appreciate it.

Kristian

 

2 Replies to “Summative Assessment with Cultures of Thinking”

  1. HI Kristian,

    I came across your blog via my google alerts on “cultures of thinking” and thought I would weigh in on your question about why summative assessment, which you think is very important, isn’t really prominent in my book Creating a Culture of Thinking. The quick answer to that is that book is focused squarely on transforming the culture of schools/classrooms and promoting thinking. Consequently, the book is centered on the 8 cultural forces, the theoretical framework that makes up the backbone of the book, and helping people understanding how teachers use those forces to create powerful cultures of thinking.

    You mention that you think summative assessment is important, but I have to ask: Important to want? Do you feel that it is important to culture? To thinking? To learning? If so, how? Or is it mostly important to the practice of “doing school” as we know it?

    I would argue the latter. If you don’t agree, try this thought experiment: Imagine one of your richest learning experiences as a learner. Was summative assessment a part of that experience? If it was, then exactly how was your learning enhanced by having a summative assessment? Could you imagine that same learning occurring without it?

    Still not convinced? Well perhaps another reflection: In what other micro-cultures (in particular, groups where learning is a part of their practice) outside of school do you find summative assessments? If you were able to identify some, I bet it was quite small compared to all the groups that do not employ summative assessments as a central practice. If summative assessment is as important as you assert, why isn’t a mainstay of learning everywhere?

    So to reiterate on why summative assessment does not feature prominently I would say it is because these assessments are not a mainstay of powerful learning and thinking and they are more an artifact of how we do school. Summative assessment isn’t a cultural force in and of itself (despite its huge influence on doing schooling), because it doesn’t exist in all group cultures as an incontrovertible given. Rather, it is an inserted practice that more often than not distorts other cultural forces. For example, it often changes our interactions with students by inserting a power dynamic in the learning process. Although, summative assessments can provide powerful opportunities for learning, as were detailed in the case study of David Riehl, I would say more frequently they are impoverished opportunities that bare little resemblance to robust learning. Furthermore, summative assessments increasingly can take away valuable time and send the message that summative assessment is what is valued over learning. This is not true of formative assessment, which you recognize as being valuable and noticed in virtually every chapter.

    It does indeed sound like you have a richer view of summative assessment than most, which is: “The goal of summative assessment is to evaluate student learning at the end of an instructional unit by comparing it against some standard or benchmark. Summative assessments are often high stakes, which means that they have a high point value. Examples of summative assessments include: a midterm exam. a final project.”

    You might then ask: What happens on such summative assessment tasks in the classrooms I documented? The students of every teacher about whom I wrote, receive higher average marks on summative assessments (HSC, VCE, Smarter Balanced, Park, IB) than do those of other groups of students who have other teachers at the same school. To the extent it was possible to share this information (not all teachers wanted to be held above their peers), I tried to make that clear. Creating cultures of thinking and focusing on formative assessment produces good summative outcomes. However, the converse is assuredly not true, focusing on summative assessments does not create a culture of thinking and may in many cases inhibit it.

    All the best,

    Ron Ritchhart

    1. I have thoroughly enjoyed learning about CoT, reading your book, listening to the Oakland podcasts and road testing some routines.

      So, to your first question –

      Important to want? Do you feel that it is important to culture? To thinking? To learning? If so, how? Or is it mostly important to the practice of “doing school” as we know it?

      Duly notes, there is an aspect of “doing school.” Point taken. We are directed to record three formal assessment points. There is also an aspect of prior practice and what we know. Though I know deep in my heart that the point of school is not, being good at school.

      As a teacher, I do value assessment, both formative and summative. Simon Brooks has had some success in disencouraging my stance towards summative assessment. To position this view, I am interested in the conversations with students about what has been “learnt” and identifying learning blindspots, addressing shortfalls, whereas I find formative assessment reveals student “performance” at any given time. I felt that this was part of David Riehl investment. I also find that summative assessment can reveal common learning misconceptions and blindspots. For example, I leart this term that my students have had a rocky time the past two years. This group did not know how to write dialogue. I learnt this marking their papers.

      Imagine one of your richest learning experiences as a learner.
      Lunchtime volleyball club.

      Was summative assessment a part of that experience?
      Not a chance.

      If it was, then exactly how was your learning enhanced by having a summative assessment?
      We did have set plays – not everyone knew their roles. This did led to in game errors. Would summative assessment made a difference – unlikely.

      In what other micro-cultures (in particular, groups where learning is a part of their practice) outside of school do you find summative assessments?
      Am I missing a key point, or not sharing a common understanding? Do not most professions require qualifications? Often assessed?

      So to reiterate on why summative assessment does not feature prominently I would say it is because these assessments are not a mainstay of powerful learning and thinking and they are more an artifact of how we do school.

      Quite happy to accept that. I would defend my position (if at the expense of my explanation). I am not confident that I view or present the view that summative assessment is a cultural force. Just that it was notable by its absence or even, the fact you didnt explain why it was ommitted. As you have kindly outlined here.

      Rather, it is an inserted practice that more often than not distorts other cultural forces.

      I am concerned by the time expended on assessment, the demoralising influence summative assessment can have on some learners. These points you raise later in your comments. Though it can enthuse others. I will add that preparing summative assessment is exceedingly difficult, whilst appearing deceptively simple and straightforward.

      “Impoverished opportunities that bare little resemblance to robust learning” – language is powerful, though I am not confident I position assessment as learning?

      It does indeed sound like you have a richer view of summative assessment than most, which is: “The goal of summative assessment is to evaluate student learning at the end of an instructional unit by comparing it against some standard or benchmark. Summative assessments are often high stakes, which means that they have a high point value. Examples of summative assessments include: a midterm exam. a final project.”

      Not picking at the definition – I refer to assessments “practice.” An opportunity to find out what you know and do not yet know under controlled conditions. Of course, this is not how the real world operates, it is how education currently works. I am professionally disappointed.

      To assure you, we have moved towards #CoT, within our Trusts philosophy. I will continue to challenge high accountability that I see as being one of the determinants promoting high stakes testing.

      Ron, thanks for making my week. After an ardous thirteen hour day, I must call time.

      Kind regards, Kristian

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *