Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Assessment practices and diabetes

Below is a diagram of how a human body typically regulates blood glucose levels:

The concept show above is common in biological processes. It is known as a negative feedback loop. A negative feedback loop works because a stimulus (in example below blood sugar level) causes an action. The action results are monitored to stop the action once the it has reached an acceptable level. 

In a person who does not have diabetes (either type I or type II), a high level of blood sugar would cause the pancreas to release insulin that would stimulate the cells of the body to take in the blood glucose and causes the liver to go through the metabolic process of changing glucose into glycogen for storage in the liver (See yellow arrows). In a person who does not have diabetes, a low blood sugar level would cause the pancreas to release glucagon, which has the opposite effect of insulin. Glycogen is broken down in the liver and glucose is released into the bloodstream. When an acceptable level of blood glucose has been reached, the stimulation of the pancreas stops and the insulin and/or glucagon is no longer released.

In a person with diabetes, the body has an abnormal blood glucose tolerance and does not produce insulin (type I diabetes) or has decreased sensitivity to insulin or inability to use their own insulin (type II). Either way, the feedback look is broken. Either the stimulus does not begin the action or the action is not stopped after monitoring.

Our current practices in assessment are like a person who has diabetes. The feedback loop is broken. Students participate in instruction, they take an assessment, and instruction continues, regardless of students' results on the assessment.

If we are to actively utilize assessment for learning (instead of assessment of learning), then the use of these assessments must be formative and instruction must be adapted to match the needs of the students (i.e. blood sugar level). 

From Kanold & Larson (2012), Common Core Mathematics in a PLC at Work, pg. 90

As seen in the cycle above, steps three and four are the key monitoring pieces to achieve step 5. Students must be active contributors to the Teaching-Assessing-Learning cycle. They must reflect on their classroom practices, as teacher should, to help alter actions in class. If this learning environment can be cultivated, both students and teachers will help drive needed changed in instruction to meet the needs of students and to assist them in achievement of their learning goals.

Educators cannot continue to provide assessments without the clear understanding of how they will be used to adapt instruction to help students meet the learning targets. If a student does not demonstrate that they have learned the information/skills from a unit, what sense does it make to just push them down the curriculum road map that is scaffolded upon that previous information?!

Diabetes is a disease that is treatable is monitored closely, but at this time, there is no way to fix what is "broken". We can fix the broken part of the teaching-assessing-learning cycle.

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