9. Assessment must be based in the local school learning community, including active and essential participation of families and community members.
The teacher is the primary agent of assessment and the classroom is the location of the most important assessment practices, but the most effective assessment unit is the local school learning community. First, the collective experience and values of the community can offer a sounding board for innovation and multiple perspectives to provide depth of understanding and to counter individual and cultural biases. Second, the involvement of all parties in assessment encourages a cooperative, committed relationship among them rather than an adversarial one. Third, because language learning is not restricted to what occurs in school, assessment must go beyond the school curriculum.
The local school learning community is also a more appropriate foundation for assessment than larger units such as the school district, county, state, province, or country. These larger units do not offer the relational possibilities and commitments necessary for a learning community. The distance from the problems to be solved and among the participants reduces the probability of feelings of involvement and commitment and increases the possibility that assessment will become merely a means of placing blame.
With the school community as a center of inquiry, diversity of perspective is possible not only as a source of growth for individual classrooms and teachers but also among teachers, administrators, and more broadly among stakeholders. Diversity of perspective brings depth of understanding and productive problem solving, and face-to-face involvement brings personal knowledge of the issues of assessment as well as personal investment in them. If teachers are able to make informed assessments and articulate them well, it is largely because they have been engaged in dialogue about their students’ reading, writing, and learning and have been supported by the larger community in doing so. In order for a school community to do this effectively, it is necessary to engage in self-examination and make learning with the community a priority.
To function as a center of inquiry, a school must develop a trusting relationship with its community. This relationship commonly grows by involving all members of the community, balancing power, and recognizing different points of view. Because building such a relationship is nearly impossible in the context of large schools (whose hierarchical structures discourage the openness necessary for reflection, discussion, and inquiry), manageable schools-within-schools become an important possibility to be considered.
Schools have a responsibility to help families and community members understand the assessment process and the range of tools that can be useful in painting a detailed picture of learning, including both how individual students are learning and how the school is doing in its efforts to support learning. A part of this educational process must also be helping families and the local community to understand the most effective and appropriate uses of a variety of assessment tools, including large-scale standardized achievement tests.
There must be an ethos that educators are learners too, particularly about their own role in students’ learning and the operation of their institutions. In order for educators to learn from others’ perspectives, school communities bear particular responsibility for ensuring that all their members become fully involved in the assessment process. Many parents and caregivers, partly because of cultural disparities, linguistic barriers, or their own schooling histories, do not feel comfortable voicing their concerns. School communities have a responsibility to create conditions and assessment procedures that make people comfortable doing so.
As families become more fully involved in schools and assessments, they become more informed about and more observant of their children’s development. This involvement allows them to be more supportive of their children’s learning and of teachers’ efforts and leads them to articulate more clearly their concerns about their children’s progress. When families are intimately involved in the assessment process, they are less likely to allow cultural or racial bias to interfere in their efforts to determine how well their children are learning and how well their schools are doing. Furthermore, when administrators, families, and the public become involved together in assessment issues, trusting relationships are likely to evolve. With a trusting relationship, members of the school community can confront limitations and weaknesses as well as recognize strengths of their curriculum and assessments.
Parents and caregivers know a great deal about their children’s learning and have an important perspective to add to local conversations about assessment. Schools must engage parents and the local community in conversations about the goals they have for the ways children will use reading and writing and the ways reading and writing are used in the community. When parents and the local community are intimately involved in the assessment of learning, they are in a better position to understand the assessment information reported and better able to support the literacy learning of children.