The Ultimate ‘Outcome’

January 17, 2010

We often use the example of assessing driving skills in faculty development workshops.

We like the example because most of us feel that we know a good driver when we see one (and that we’re good drivers!), but it is an immediately difficult skill to assess. Try developing a rubric for driving skills…

There are also lots of regional peculiarities that help personalize the conversation. Examples:

  • Jug handles in New Jersey
  • Ice/snow driving in Maine
  • Requirement in Connecticut to verify that you are not a child molester when purchasing/operating a van (!)

In one such workshop, a teacher made a terrific assessment insight: they argued that observing how a driver acted at a suburban stop sign would tell you a lot about their driving skill and attitude. Do they:

  • Screech to a halt?
  • Roll through the stop sign?
  • Ignore the “if two cars arrive at the same time to a 4-way stop, the car to your right goes first” rule?
  • Let the car’s momentum end, then accelerate away after looking both ways?

This ‘outcome’ trumps a lot of minute detail that ‘experts’ try to build into such assessments (remember, everyone thinks they know how to drive, so their rubrics are immediately complex).

Last night I saw the documentary film In A Dream, which contains an even higher level form of outcome: if you were trying to measure parenting skill, imagine what would become evident if an adult child of the parent created a documentary. And captured on film the father abandoning the mother for another woman. After 40 years of marriage.

It’s a great documentary, available on DVD. And how more subjective can you get than parenting over a lifetime? The results require thinking and analysis on the ‘assessors’ part – obviously any filmmaker will have an agenda, a viewpoint, and edit footage for certain effect. But the film feels like an authentic, balanced portrait and is intensely moving.

Assessing a presentation, or a collage, or a term paper should seem fairly simple in comparison. So rather than worry about multiple criteria measured nine different ways, think about what leading indicators are appropriate for your students and the task at hand.

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