How to Plan Student Assessments that Support the Whole Child

Contributed By

Lauren Davis

EdTech Editor, Former Department Chair and Instructional Coach

How to Plan Student Assessments that Support the Whole Child

Posted in Pro Tips | January 07, 2021

In the last year, students and teachers have been introduced to new, innovative teaching and learning methods. While the Whole Child approach is far from a new idea in education, it has further demonstrated its validity during COVID-19. The Whole Child approach addresses the needs of the 21st-century learner, accommodates distance and blended learning, and fully prepares students for college, career, and citizenship. It’s a method that aims to shed light on students’ social, emotional, mental, physical, and cognitive development and focus on the long-term development of the child. When it comes to assessment, the Whole Child approach is an effort to transition away from traditional assessments that focus on narrowly defined academic achievement and shift toward assessments that support a more holistic concept of student well-being. Let’s take a closer look at the 3 Cs of whole-child assessment—comprehensive, continuous, and coherent. Keep these in mind when you’re planning assessments for students.  

Create comprehensive assessments 

Start with a combination of assessments of and for learning. As a reminder, assessments of learning are typically summative, while assessments for learning are formative. Effective assessments should include multiple measures of learning so that students can demonstrate their understanding of course material and learning objectives in various ways. These can include, but are not limited to: 

  • Portfolios and projects 
  • Norm-referenced tests 
  • Computer adaptive assessments 
  • Diagnostic evaluations 

With these types of rigorous formative, interim, and summative assessments, teachers get a more comprehensive picture of student achievement and progress over time. Students get to apply what they’re learning to real-world tasks and scenarios that require them to demonstrate their knowledge and skills. 

Administer continuous assessments 

Continuous assessment is the frequent analysis of learning. It’s a tool that should complement and inform instruction. Within the Whole Child approach, assessments cannot be conducted in isolation. Teachers should use various assessments to gauge and monitor academic behavior—like motivation, for example. Teachers can then use the assessment data to monitor progress and provide targeted interventions to address learning gaps and support student learning.  

Continuous assessments also provide opportunities for timely feedback and allow students to retest or revise work. These assessments allow teachers to intervene immediately and change course when assessments reveal that a particular lesson or skill isn’t clicking for a student or to provide new challenges to students who have mastered a concept. 

  • Continuous assessments:  
  • Are regular and frequent 
  • Provide early indicators of student performance 
  • Position teachers and students to have a mindset of continuous reflection and improvement 

Develop coherent assessments 

Assessments should be coherent with student, course, school, and district goals. Assessments to support and inform learning are most effective when they have vertical coherence at the school, district, and state levels and horizontal coherence that aligns with the planned curriculum, instructional approaches, and professional learning. Essentially, assessments at the classroom level and large-scale assessments should be conceptually compatible. When planning assessments for the whole child, ask yourself: 

  1. Are the assessment tasks aligned with significant learning goals?  
  2. Are assessments fair and free from bias? 
  3. Are assessments accessible to all students? 
  4. Does the interpretation of student responses provide accurate proof of student learning and support the intended purpose? 
  5. Does performance on the assessment reflect capability and transfer to other settings or applications beyond the assessment? 

Ultimately, students and teachers need assessment to be a more useful tool for learning. Schools and districts have the opportunity to build comprehensive, continuous, and coherent assessments that support the Whole Child approach to teaching and learning by ensuring that both formative and summative assessments are aligned. 

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