Assessment Literacy Lives! (Just Not Where You Think It Does)

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For decades, the clarion call for “assessment literacy” has been made by educational thought leaders such as James Popham, the late Grant Wiggins, Rick Stiggins, and others. But even though the need for assessment literacy is greater than ever, the reality is that undergraduate – and even graduate – courses in assessment often fail to provide teachers with the essential information they need to apply the lessons of assessment literacy in the classroom.

The contents of professional educator preparation in assessment literacy are not mysterious. Ten years ago this month, James Popham suggested that “what most of today’s educators know about education assessment would fit comfortably inside a kindergartner’s half-filled milk carton. . .  This situation is analogous to asking doctors and nurses to do their jobs without knowing how to interpret patient charts.” 1


Popham suggests, for example, that we understand the difference between the claim that a test is valid (dubious) and whether test-based inferences are valid (essential).  We need to know that tests are consistent (reliable).  Most importantly, we must be able to use the information provided by assessments in a way that leads to improved teaching and learning.


I’ve been searching for examples of states that have a sincere commitment to assessment literacy, and the good news is that I found some – just not where you might expect.  In Ohio, for example, teachers who wish to assess students in field hockey, ice hockey, swimming, diving, and track and field, must take continuing education classes, followed by an exam in which they must score a minimum of 80%, with one possible retake.  If they fail twice, they are not permitted to assess (i.e., officiate) for a year.  It’s even tougher to assess gymnastics, where teachers must first obtain a rating from the Joint Certification Committee of the USA Gymnastics Judging Program, followed by regularly required continuing education.  In Alabama, teachers wishing to assess students in baseball, basketball, football, and wrestling must participate in a clinic, score at least 80% on an exam, and then only participate as a “restricted” assessor.  In Arkansas, track assessors must participate in annual clinics and meetings.  Texas claims to have “some of the highest standards in officiating” (um, I meant assessing).  You get the idea. For the student activities we care about, assessment literacy is taken seriously.  Can you imagine a literacy teacher being told, “First, you need to demonstrate proficiency in assessing students in reading and writing, you will be rated by your peers, and then you will be subject to required annual additional continuing education and peer review if you wish to continue to assess student literacy.”  That’s precisely what would happen if we took Popham, Wiggins, and Stiggins seriously.


The truth is, assessment literacy is not a mystery.  The only mystery is why we don’t insist on it in the classroom.


1Popham, W. James (March 2006),  “All about accountability/ Needed:  a dose of assessment literacy.”  Educational Leadership, vole 63, no. 8., pp. 84-85.

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