Often times we think of assessment as a very formal process. This is not always the case. In reality 24/7 our brain is gathering information and making decisions based on that information. Our brain is, in fact, assessing data and we are making decisions and judgments based on that information.
As an example of informal assessment, if you are driving down the street and you realize that a light has been green for quite a while, you may suspect that the chances of you making the light are reducing by the second, and so make a judgment to either speed up (I think if I go a little faster I can make it) or to slow down (I think I am too far away to make it through before the light turns red), and then you act accordingly. You base your assessment of the situation on your past experiences as well as the current reality. Increments of meaning will also help you to assess the situation in a different way. For example, if you have made the decision to speed up to make the light, and you look in your rear-view mirror and see law enforcement, you may rethink your decision and slow down, even though your first judgment was to speed up. By the same token, you might decide to slow when you look ahead and you see that the intersection you are approaching is one that is governed by a camera that will take your picture if you are going through the light on the caution or red, and you will receive a ticket in the mail. All of the pieces of information that you take in, often within a few seconds, influence your decision. It is this informal assessment of data that we rely on to make life easier as we make day to day decisions.
During your after-school program you make many of these informal decisions. There is a rhythm in the workings of an after-school program, and it is a break in that rhythm that often prompts you to make a decision or judgment. Along with these informal assessments, it is also important that you are making more formal assessments to determine if you are making progress toward a high-quality program.
To guide these formal assessments, select a focus for the month. For example, do you want to strengthen the homework component of your program, work to clean-up the playground to support the custodian, have 90% of all homework completed…the list could go on and on. Select one thing at a time. Determine how things would be if they were stronger, cleaner, or more complete. Select strategies and activities that you believe will help you accomplish those goals. Bring your team on board, soliciting input from them (include the kids if this makes sense), and then check-in with this same group once a week to determine if you are being successful. This data are all a part of your more formal assessment. Set a deadline for seeing success. Each week you ask yourself the same questions—am I satisfied with the progress; should I stay the course; should I change directions; should I be patient and make a decision next week after I have more information.
Assessment is part of how we do business in life and in work. Be aware of the assessments you are making and how these affect your life.