Assessing learning and learning gaps

Posted by Mat Kirby

As US education gains momentum towards getting young people back into classrooms in-person, we note that districts at least, are really prioritizing learning recovery (for lack of a better term) right now. Although it’s encouraging to see things heading in the right direction, there's still a lot of unknowns.

Through our conversations with leaders, we hear that lack of data is, in part, contributing to this issue. What’s missing might be some of the informative data that they're used to having, so gaps in state assessments, or even district and benchmark assessments. In some cases, the assessment data is available, however, there were so many changes in how the tests were administered and whether students were taking those assessments home, that there are some questions about the validity of what that data reveals about their learning. Challenges in teachers’ ability to conduct meaningful checks for understanding in a virtual learning setting has really resulted in some slow pacing. So, where do we go from here to complete the picture and enable teachers to accelerate learning?

One Class Measures’ practice that has gained a lot of traction is that of Effective Learning Observation (ELO). The process shifts the focus of observations from teacher instruction to student learning. It is helping teachers and leaders to note exactly what students are doing, what they're saying, what they're demonstrating, or physically representing. All of these things are being used as evidence of learning that helps fill those gaps that maybe once were filled by some of our formative assessment data. What we’re seeing is this supports teachers to very quickly and accurately see if learning is effective and establish how they can move learning forward.

The fact that the ELO discipline assesses the quality of tangible learning observed at any moment, it allows us to capture evidence that supports accurate teacher assessment. As we recognize the gaps in all current assessment, this relevant marker is of vital importance. ELO is simple to implement for all learning modalities, whether that is in-person or virtual.

To draw upon just one example, we have recently worked with districts who are utilizing virtual ELOs for their ELL specialists who are housed at the district office. They are able to access classrooms remotely across the district for about 10 or 15 minutes, and then provide the teacher with feedback about where learning was most effective for language learners, and when learning could have been more effective, or for whom learning could have been more effective.

In another example a district has trained their instructional coaches, both in remote and in-person across the district, for whom they're working, and what conclusions they can draw (or things that they can put in place) based on that new understanding. Some of the feedback that they've shared with us is just how beneficial it is to be able to come together, virtually, in one class at the same, and see evidence of effective practices across the district. The benefit is even more pronounced for those specialists that are working district-wide and for whom the logistics often prevent such interactions.

Another area where we see significant impact is in how schools are developing more effective response and feedback. Because ELO is a more holistic tool for assessing learning, it is allowing teachers to be intentional and to be more immediately responsive as they make adjustments in instruction. It enables them to quickly identify and lift up some of those practices that really are working for young people. So, when we’re talking about assessing learning gaps and responding with the right instructional adjustments, there are certainly schools and districts out there tackling the challenges in new and successful ways that are not difficult to adopt.


Find out more about ELO and Improvement Cycles