flickr image via Stuck in Customs
Great strides have been made to adjust our instruction to meet individual student needs, but often we don't adjust the way we assess this individualized learning. Differentiated instruction must at some point lead to differentiated assessment, otherwise we're fooling ourselves.
Students are all on their own timeline and we're finally starting to realize that we need to figure out what that timeline is in order to apply an optimized and purposeful learning experience. We need to meet them where they're at and help them learn forward. This is the differentiation process. It accounts for a student's particular learning styles, interests, strengths and weaknesses and adjusts for them to optimize learning. However, once we've done such a good job creating an appropriate and fair learning context for individual kids, we often ruin the process by not making a reciprocal effort to create an appropriate and fair assessment context for individual kids.
There are countless ways to assess learning; some really good and some really bad. I'm not going to get into the debate over which are which here. I'm just going to say that teachers should be making as much effort to find the right way to assess each student as they do to find the right way to teach each student based on the learning styles, interests, strengths and weaknesses of each one.
How best to do this is up to each teacher and how much is known about each of their students' learning stories. Time should be provided for teachers to investigate the background of each student. A major element of this process should include asking students how best they learn, and providing learning opportunities that match what they tell us. We should be engaging them as early as kindergarten to do this.
The thirteen year learning story starts in kindergarten, and there are many ways kids show us what works for them and what doesn't. Observing and noting their reactions to particular learning tasks, watching them play and discover provides us the chance to get a glimpse into their unique perspectives. Keeping one eye on the prescribed curriculum outcomes, and the other on creative ways to achieve them in consideration of each child's learning preferences seems to me a great strategy to begin walking a good learning path alongside each of them.
However, assessing a whole class the same way after successfully and creatively designing a learning environment that accommodates the unique and individual learning variables of each student doesn't appear to make too much sense to me.