OPINION: Assessing “Assessment”

My background is in communications rather than education. And since I’ve been spending time with educators as of late, I occasionally have to stop the conversation and ask for definitions. The word or phrase in question is usually part of that strange dialect known as Edu-speak.

That’s understandable. Shorthand and professional nomenclature are a normal development in any area of specialty. It is common for specialists in a field to splinter words and phrases into new subsets of related words and phrases to reflect nuances and subtleties that focused collaborative intellectual activity requires.

But occasionally the opposite occurs. Words that should splinter don’t.  These words, in time, can gather a wider and wider set of meanings.

So I suggest to you educators out there that one of those words that ought to have splintered and has not, is the word “assessment.”

I ran this notion by Jim McCall, known officially as Dr. James McCall, Coordinator of Health and Physical Education at the New Jersey Department of Education.  He schooled me on some formal theory around the subject: For instance the distinctions of formative assessment verses summative assessment, as well as some of the challenges that physical education teachers face in particular, in applying some of these theoretical concepts while simultaneously keeping a several dozen young bodies moving and grooving.

But he did agree with my general observation: that a considerable amount — maybe too much — wiggle room had developed around the word “assessment.”

I don’t want to turn this into a book proposal or anything but  speaking to the educators out there: this is one outsider who has been listening closely to you folks and pressing some of you for an exact definitions. And what you mean when you say the word “assessment” is often somewhat different from what the next educator means when he or she uses that word.

Given the crucial role that the word “assessment”  (and the set of concepts around it) plays in the today’s educational system I humbly suggest that you all consider it a topic worthy of further discussion.

- Ken Youmans

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