The Case for Thoughtful Educational Assessment

A long-ago mathematics colleague at another university told a story about his first semester in the classroom. He threw a bunch of proofs on the blackboard and then, in the last five minutes, asked if there were any questions. There were no questions. He was unnerved. These students were good. The second class, he did more problems, more proofs, faster. Any questions? No questions. These students were geniuses. He had to ratchet up his game. He prepared mightily for the third class. When he showed up for the third class, there were no students. They’d all dropped.

There are a lot of reasons to love this story, and one of them is the assumption that teaching and learning are the same thing.  Yet as Kathleen Blake Yancey has written, there are three curricula in every classroom: the one students bring with them, the one we teach, and the one they learn. Students always learn. They just don’t always learn what we want. Thoughtful assessment aims to close the gap between teaching and learning. …