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We recently spoke with Dr. Malbert Smith, CEO, President, and Co-Founder of MetaMetrics about the importance of assessment and the role it plays in children’s learning. Dr. Smith is widely recognized as a major thought leader in educational innovation and reform. He has worked on a number of research projects with the National Center for Education Statistics, the Gates Foundation, and others to study issues such as summer reading loss, the effectiveness of the NAEP assessments, and English language learning. He has also taught graduate seminars at Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was named a research professor at UNC’s School of Education.
We were eager to chat all things assessment with Dr. Smith. Let’s dive into our conversation!
Is assessment an essential part of learning and why?
Unsurprisingly, Dr. Smith believes that assessment is foundational to learning. “In order to know where you are going, you need to know where you are right now,” he noted. Similar to how a “start location” is required when programming a GPS, Dr. Smith explained, it’s essential to know where students are starting on the learning spectrum so that instructors can appropriately plan and guide them through the subsequent levels. Referring to the “Zone of Proximal Development” theory, Dr. Smith noted that when a student is learning a skill, they should be taught at a level slightly above their current level. Assessment helps instructors gauge what that current level is.
Dr. Smith also pointed out that assessment should encompass more than just one test score. A single test score only reflects the student’s ability to answer those specific questions on that day. There will always be some level of error or estimation, and students shouldn’t be defined by a score; rather, assessment should be a tool that is used to help guide students’ learning and instruction.
What has technology enabled us to do with assessment that we couldn’t do in the past?
Over the last 60 years, technology has had a major impact on assessment, Dr. Smith observed. In the 90s, a lot of testing went from fixed forms on paper to computer adaptable where the questions change depending on how the student answers.
Dr. Smith is most excited about what we will be able to do in the next 10-20 years. With more data becoming available, teachers will be able to measure how long students take on each question and whether they are engaged with the questions. They can run a distractor analysis to better understand why students choose incorrect answers. All of these additional data points will lead teachers to topics that their students should focus on to improve.
What role does assessment play in self-guided learning?
“We are a data-driven society,” Dr. Smith observed, pointing to his steps tracker that helps him stay on track with his physical activity. With any goal, be it learning a new skill, practicing a new language or improving your tennis swing, regular measurement and self-assessment is important. Dr. Smith believes it helps to provide benchmarks for people to understand the trajectory of their learning process. “There is a role for self-assessment and I think we all do it,” he explained.
And finally, we are curious to hear your thoughts on education more broadly. What is your hope for children’s education?
He noted that even though his work is focused on academic skills, it’s crucial for children to also develop emotional maturity, ethics, integrity, and social skills. His hope for young children growing up in today’s world is that they will have access to every opportunity and find their place in the world. He envisions a world where education is more accessible and inclusive to all. “In education, we should always be concerned about two things: equity and excellence.”
With four grandchildren of his own, Dr. Smith believes with each generation, our world is getting better and better. His vision for the future of assessment and education is optimistic. As Dr. Smith observed, “Tomorrow is better than yesterday.”
As part of the Thought Leadership Series, we highlight professionals and luminaries from around the world that are helping to shape the modern-day landscape of learning with affirmative and thought-provoking action.
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Along with A. Jackson Stenner, Malbert co-founded MetaMetrics. Malbert has worked on a number of prestigious research projects with the National Center for Education Statistics, the Gates Foundation, and others to study a myriad of issues such as summer reading loss, the effectiveness of the NAEP assessments, and English language learning. Malbert has taught graduate seminars at Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, from which he received the Distinguished Alumni Award. He has also been named a research professor at UNC’s School of Education, focusing on psychological and human development studies.