Joe Hallgarten - “Assessment Is an Act of Love”




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Dec 14, 2015
by Heather Jaber
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Joe Hallgarten - “Assessment Is an Act of Love”

Joe Hallgarten, director of education at the Royal Society of Arts (RSA), discussed the purposes of assessment and scaling for adaptation rather than adaption

Conceptions of creativity bring to mind an unbounded and imaginative process, one that is dynamic in nature. But how, if at all, do we assess that process? How do we encourage a creative learning experience while supporting wiser decision-making? Quoting Rinaldi, Joe Hallgarten reminds us that foremost, “Assessment is an act of love.”

Hallgarten, a participant of Untapped Talent: Can Better Testing and Data Accelerate Creativity in Learning and Societies?, is director of education at the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) in the UK. The RSA, a prominent think tank and act tank, helps launch ideas into action, supporting human creativity for social change. Hallgarten runs the education strand of the organization, working with research, program development for teachers and learners, and other initiatives which encourage creativity and innovation.

“I think the challenge is that the assessment of our creative capacities has got a long history of failure,” he said. “There is a tension there about whether you can have a generic assessment of creativity or whether it has to be domain specific. I also think it is dangerous sometimes when you are moving toward assessing creativity and you begin to conflate creativity with problem solving—they are different things.”

While there are no generic or universal methods of assessing creativity, Hallgarten highlighted three purposes of assessment.

“One is around supporting selection and certification,” he said. “The second is around accountability so that you know how schools and teachers are performing; and the third, and the most important to me, is supporting learning––really supporting good teaching and learning.”

The creative process and outcomes rely on three things, said Hallgarten—trust, collaboration, and unpredictability. The issue with schools today, he said, lies in the constraints they face in order to be reliable, leading to a loss of unpredictability. 

“We know from the cognitive and developmental science,” he said, “that it is really important to retain a level of unpredictability over the learning process and outcomes; because that is what engages young people, and that is what leads to wildly higher expectations and wildly higher performance.”

A recent RSA report tackling the issue of innovation in school systems offered suggestions for schools interested in innovative approaches, including developing teachers’ skills at designed thinking, allowing innovation in the assessment of a broader set of outcomes, and building a case and powerful alliance for change.

“Essentially, top-down innovation doesn’t work particularly well,” said Hallgarten. “And even when you’re scaling innovation, you do need systems to support scaling, but actually, you need to scale for adaptation rather than adaption, because teaching is ultimately about human relationships.”

System-level innovation cannot occur without foundational support for radical change, he said. In this sense, it is important to consider the more subtle factors in educational reform. “Where do we want power to lie in our education systems?” he asked, “How can assessment systems support wherever we think power should be?” 

Joe Hallgarten was a participant of the Salzburg Global program Untapped Talent: Can Better Testing and Data Accelerate Creativity in Learning and Societies? which is being hosted in collaboration with the Educational Testing Service (ETS), the National Science Foundation, and the Inter-American Development Bank, and in association with the Royal Society of Arts (RSA). More information on the session can be found here: