Assessment for Good Conference: Why Assessment? Why Circles?

By Carisa Corrow, Founder and Principal Owner of Educating for Good

This post was originally published on the Educating for Good website on July 19, 2020 to describe the design decisions in the forthcoming virtual event, Assessment for Good: Ethical, Equitable and Justice Oriented Assessment Conference. Register now and join a circle August 10-12, 2020. Carisa Corrow is the founder and principal owner at Educating for Good.

Assessment has consistently been the force that has led to the marginalization of individuals and communitiesand it doesn’t have to be that way. It can instead be used as an engine for good and is a pivotal lever in moving school systems to act in support of each student and the communities they serve. In the spring, emergency remote learning was generally treated with Grace as everyone worked in difficult circumstances to make school work. As we watch school re-entry debates appear in news feeds and experts weigh in on what should happen, both from a safety perspective and from an education lens, it is hard to imagine that Grace will be extended so freely and questions regarding assessments will become punitive afterthoughts if not addressed up front. Assessment must be at the top of minds in re-entry plans. What do we want learners to know and do? How will we know? What student produced artifacts will we accept as evidence of learning?

On top of pandemic responses, many white teachers and school leaders are experiencing a summer of awakening, many with an urgency to adopt anti-racism curriculum to both support BIPOC, and to examine history and systems through a critical lens. Exposing and addressing the problems with the written curriculum is not enough, we need to have a conversation about what assessment systems are teaching. The hidden curriculum in our traditional assessments systems is steeped in white supremacy culture including meritocracy, perfectionism, and a worship of the written word, to name just three. If we focus on only what is taught, and not the assessments that help us understand what students understand and can do, then we’re not going far enough to address systemic racism in our system.

A lot of schools are going to be virtual or hybrid this year, and many of the teachers are nervous about how they are going to build community and develop relationships without physically being in a space with learners. Others going back to school schedules as normal wonder how to meet learners where they are, after six months of social distancing. One strategy to consider is holding circle. The beauty of holding circle is that the facilitator does not have to hold all the answers, but only the questions, and in many cases, only the first question. Circle makes space for listening when there is so much noise. It builds community. It helps develop relationships, even virtually.

I was introduced to circle as a learning strategy when I was in high school. In 1995, I was in a class that used the Touchstones Discussion Project. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced as a learner. Other classes held lectures, note taking and some whole class discussion, but Touchstones was text based, ensured everyone had space to participate and was the type of reflective listening that is so important when trying to understand the perspectives of others. At the end of the year, students were able to design their own circles and were able to practice being facilitators. The experience was not perfect; the texts in our program were from a classical Western male perspective, but the strategy taught me so much about myself, how I interact and how I listen.

Since then, I have been part of different communities that use circle as their method of learning, sharing, reflecting and relationship building. Learning is deepened when diverse perspectives are in the space, whether they are identity based, positional, cultural, or philosophical. 

So, when thinking about how to bring the Assessment for Good conversation to a wider audience, it was a natural choice to use a circle format. In this format, circle facilitators can raise philosophical, ethical and technical questions about assessment and participants are able to learn with and from each other and helper texts, whether they be written, video or audio. Education assessment is human work, and humans are imperfect. Facilitators do not hold the answers, the whole of the circle holds the answers and the curiosity to explore further. Many times not all the answers that want to be answered will be; that is the joy of circle.

The Assessment for Good: Ethical, Equitable and Justice Oriented Assessment (at any distance) Conference will begin to shift the narrative on assessment so that it truly serves the good of the community. It will also serve as a demonstration on how to learn in community, even virtually, by offering different circle formats as examples. We hope you’ll join us. Register here.

Carisa Corrow

Founder and Principal Owner, Educating for Good

Carisa served as a NH public school teacher for fourteen years before deciding to share her stories and experience in competency based education and performance assessment with educators across the country.  After four years working on the Quality Performance Assessment team with CCE, Carisa has started her own organization, Educating for Good, where she will continue to push communities to define the purpose, structure and function of their local assessment systems so they can be a force for good. She has three school aged children. One of her favorite educational thought leaders is Myles Horton.


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