In a UDL-based classroom, assessment is a source of meaningful information that enables educators to plan flexible learning activities that support student learning. As UDL curriculum is designed to be flexible and accessible, the assessment methods should be the same.

Assessment in the UDL classroom means providing the strategies and tools to students so that they can best demonstrate their learning. There should be no mystery to assessment. Students should know exactly how they will be assessed and what knowledge or skills they are responsible for demonstrating. They should know what mastery level understanding looks like and how to achieve it.

Transparency in assessment methods will not only result in a better overall learning outcome for students, it will also reduce the students’ stress and anxiety that is normally associated with assessment. Research and experience clearly show when students are stressed or feeling anxious, demonstration of understanding and performance levels are reduced.  The goal of assessment in the UDL classroom is to provide an additional activity that enhances the students’ learning experience while simultaneously providing the teacher with the information needed to plan subsequent learning activities.

Assessment within the UDL framework is the area in which most educators express the most concern.  How will I assess my students if they are all doing different activities?  How can I assign grades if they are showing their learning in different ways?  How am I supposed to compare a puppet show to a book report?  And the big question – isn’t it unfair to compare a puppet show to a book report?  These are all valid concerns – the answer lies in shifting from assessing the learning product to assessing attainment of the learning outcomes.

In this video, teachers discuss how they tackle the challenge of assessment in their classrooms now that students are engaged in producing a variety of projects.  They reflect on some of the same concerns all educators have and how they have seen the benefits of transparent and flexible assessment methods.

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In a traditional curriculum, goals are often constrained by a single method used to achieve the goal. Students work toward the same goal using the same resources and tools to produce the same product. This automatically sets the bar too high for some students and too low for others. The design is intended for the ‘average’ student.  But who is that mythical ‘average’ student? Most UDL educators feel he doesn’t exist and, even if he does, designing for the ‘average’ misses everyone else.  In a UDL classroom, students work toward the same learning goal, but they may use different methods to attain it and varying ways to demonstrate their learning along the way.

To be effective in this area, we need to be clear on what we are assessing. For example, if we ask students to write an essay about the diminishing habitat of polar bears, are we focused on assessing how well the student is able to write and follow the structure and quality of essay writing conventions or are we focused on assessing the students’ understanding regarding the future of polar bear habitat? We can add the necessary flexibility once we identify our assessment target. Continuing with this example, if we are interested in assessing our students’ skills in essay writing, the topic for the essay itself can be open to student choice instead of restricting it to polar bear habitat. On the other hand, if we are interested in assessing students’ understanding about global warming and how it impacts polar bear habitat, we can allow students to demonstrate this understanding in various ways like creating a PowerPoint presentation, a diorama, a poem, and so on.

When assessing students who are completing different tasks to demonstrate their learning, it would be extremely challenging to generate assessment criteria for each specific type of product or presentation students may choose to complete. A better strategy is to use the lesson’s ‘big idea’ and ‘essential questions’ to form the basis of the learning outcomes to be assessed. Every student, no matter what product he or she was creating, would be subject to the same assessment criteria.  Once again, it is most effective to involve students in the determination of the assessment criteria – a natural activity while discussing the learning goals for the lesson or unit.

There are more standard assessment guidelines that BC educators can use to develop their assessment tools.  For example, the BC Performance Standards for tasks related to reading and writing could be used to assess students on their proficiency when completing tasks with literacy based outcomes.

In general, in the UDL-based classroom, there are 3 different types of assessment that mutually inform students and teachers about the level of student understanding.  All three are an integral part of a UDL-based curriculum and are planned before the curriculum is delivered.  The three types of assessment include:

Assessment for learning

Assessment of learning

Assessment as learning

Assessment for Learning

Assessment for Learning is also referred to as formative assessment. This type of assessment happens on-the-spot during a classroom activity as an informal check-in to determine where students are in the general pacing of a lesson. This feedback allows teachers to make changes to the lesson in a responsive and immediate fashion. This form of assessment works with both whole-class or individual response.

This short video shows how some teachers use this no-tech assessment strategy to check student understanding during the lesson. This is a non-threatening strategy for students as they can change their answers if needed.

Video: Personal Whiteboards

Nick Korvin, teacher

Should see your whiteboard out and solve for x please, start with the equation and then solve for x.

Pam Rutton, teacher

So as I read through the stories, the story, you’re welcome to draw on your whiteboard or use your tiles as I read through the story.

Spaghetti and meatballs for all. He baked 16 loaves of garlic bread and made 8 pounds of fresh pasta. He simmered 8 quarts of spaghetti sauce and rolled 96 meatballs.

Okay so as of right now I would like to see your setting for 22 people.

Nadia Young, teacher

You will need one whiteboard and I will hand out a clock after.

Assessment of Learning

Assessment of Learning is also referred to as summative assessment. This form of assessment is based on a collection of information throughout a designated time period. Assessment of learning focuses on the level of a student’s understanding about the concepts, information and skills that were presented and developed during a unit of study. Common forms of summative assessment include: mid-term or final exams, student portfolios, projects that have written and/or oral products, or performance tasks that demonstrate student mastery of the learning outcomes.

To ensure students to know what is expected of them, clear criteria must be presented at the outset of a lesson or unit.  This is key to ensuring that student efforts are appropriately directed at learning outcome achievement and they perform well during summative assessment activities.

Assessment as Learning

Assessment as Learning helps students become aware of their own learning habits and strategies and helps them identify their own areas of strengths and needs. With the help of an educator as their guide, students can be shown how to self-assess and how to self-monitor in order to recognize the strategies that most effectively support their own learning. Encouraging students to understand their personal motivations for learning can help them to develop the confidence to take risks in their learning, to stretch and grow, and to become enthusiastic and independent learners. Because assessment as learning involves metacognition, having students compare their work against a set of exemplars or criteria will assist them in forming a better understanding of how they are performing as learners. When students see themselves as learners and understand their areas of need, they are better able to self-advocate and proactively seek out the tools and supports they need to accomplish their learning goals.

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