• The Curious Coach

The Role of Assessment in Coaching

Updated: Apr 25, 2020

Adolescent lions practice stalking, catching, and dominating; all necessary to become successful hunters and ensure their place in the pack as adults.

I recently completed the third module of the Student-Centred Coaching Certificate which explored how assessment data might enhance the instructional decisions we make together during coaching. It brought my stance on assessment right out into the light and made me realise that I need to be very clear when I use the word. When I use it, assessment to me is the process of assessing; a verb, rather than a noun.

When I speak to many teachers, assessments are defined as those big things that punctuate the year, synonymous with culminating tests or assignments and standardised exams. They are the task. But as teachers, aren’t we assessing every day? I might be stretching a little far for some here, but this is the craft of learning and teaching. Every day, together with our students, we take stock of our goals, measure where we are, identifying next steps, and taking action. Most of the time, assessment is a process, the doing part of learning, not a product.

Unsurprisingly, then, when asked to state my assessment beliefs and their underlying role in coaching, I didn’t focus on standardised or summative assessment as a hinge-point for coaching conversations. Coaching is about growth and the journey towards growth: what’s the point in going to South Africa if we are already there? The question in coaching is always where to, next? And we need to be ‘in’ the learning, to plan for, and act on, the answer.

Adapted from my responses during the SCC course, these are my beliefs about assessment and its implications for coaching.

I believe the primary purpose of assessment is to facilitate learning, occurring regularly and authentically throughout the learning process.

Our role as coaches is to support student learning and growth, and our impact in this capacity is only truly felt when it occurs during learning. As Sweeney states:

Student-centred coaching is central to moving students toward success, because it occupies the space between where they are and where they need to be. It is driven by standards and employs the use of data – such as student work and assessments – to help teachers make informed decisions about their instruction, (2013, p. 4-5)

The implications for coaching:

We ground our work in assessment through a formative lens, supporting teachers to consider much of their work with students as potential data to inform instruction.

As such, I believe:

The primary users of assessment and subsequent data are students and teachers: analysing data, constructing meaning, designing success-criteria, measuring learning, and devising next steps, together.

A string of research supports this, most notably Hattie’s ranking of effect sizes related to student achievement, with Self-reported grades (effect size of 1.33) and Teacher estimates of achievement (effect size of 1.29) ranking second and third highest on the current list (visiblelearningplus.com, 2019).

In earlier research, Black and Wiliam noted that greatest gains in student learning were achieved when the primary users of formative assessment information were the students themselves, (1998, p. 6). Likewise, Sadler (1989) named three conditions that are integral for students to improve:

The student comes to hold a concept of quality roughly similar to that held by the teacher, is able to monitor continuously the quality of what is being produced during the act of production itself, and has a repertoire of alternative moves or strategies from which to draw at any given point. (p. 121)

The implications for coaching:

Assessment is treated as a formative process for both teachers and students, providing us opportunities to learn and improve. Coaches encourage and support the gathering of relevant, aligned assessment data to build a body of evidence for each student, by asking clarifying questions that hone-in on learning intentions/standards. They may also plan and/or model a variety of approaches to embed a student-teacher ‘partner’ approach to the assessment process. This may include ways to:

  • co-construct success criteria and rubrics

  • identify mentor texts and examples of quality together

  • develop goal-setting protocols and proactive cognitive questioning

  • analyse work, self-assess and decide next steps for learning.

All assessment should align to the learning intentions and desired outcomes for students – ensuring what is valued drives learning, instruction, and assessment practices.

It seems to be widely acknowledged that academic achievement is not a good predictor of career excellence (Grant, A., 2018). This sentiment is echoed among teachers; they feel very confident, for example, that social-emotional skills are important and teachable (Brachman, S. B., LaRocca, R., & Gabrieli, C., 2018). With this in mind, are we honouring these values, and the futures of our students, in what we assess? In an effort to know what we should be measuring, Tomlinson suggests “…We should be as confident as it is possible to be in a complex world about what matters most in helping young people become their best selves (2018).

The implications for coaching:

When coaching is founded in the formative process, we are perfectly placed to support teachers in realising their beliefs around what we should be measuring: academic standards, transdisciplinary skills and dispositions/approaches to learning. During planning, coaches and teachers can work together to identify those beliefs (or reach to shared school values through the Vision and Mission). During coaching cycles we may use them as one of the success criteria by probing at ‘how’ academic standards are realised. Then we might ensure these skills, in conjunction with the academic standards, are part of what we teach and assess.

Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (1998). Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment. Phi Delta Kappan, 80 (2), 139–148.

Brachman, S. B., LaRocca, R., & Gabrieli, C. (2018). Accounting for the Whole Child.

Educational Leadership, 75 (5), 28–34.

Grant, A. (2018, December 8). What straight-A students get wrong. The New York Times. p. SR2. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/08/opinion/college-gpa-career-success.html [Accessed 8 Mar. 2019]

Sadler, D. R. (1989). Formative assessment and the design of instructional systems. Instructional Science, 18, 119–144.

Sweeney, D. (2013). Student-centered coaching at the secondary level. Corwin Press.

Tomlinson, C. (2018). “One to Grow On.” Educational Leadership, 75 (5), 90-91.

Visiblelearningplus.com. (2019). The Research of John Hattie | Visible Learning. [online] Retrieved from: https://www.visiblelearningplus.com/content/research-john-hattie [Accessed 8 Mar. 2019].

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The Curious Coach is a place to wonder and share educational 'aha's!', inspired by fellow teachers, readings, travel, and the memories made over 15 years in education.

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