Assessing Student Learning

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"One of the most serious problems of evaluation is the fact that a primary means of assessment - the test itself - is often severely flawed or misused." - J.R. Hills (1991)

Assessment is a major issue in education. While many teachers take their classroom assessments from workbooks, textbooks, and other resources, we want them to be able to evaluate the tests they use and be aware of the other assessment options that are available to them.

The four characteristics of assessments covered in Educational Psychology are Reliability, Standardization, Validity, and Practicality.

Reliability: consistency in the instrument itself - meaning that the items are well-written and understandable and the scoring is fair and impartial.

Standardization: consistency in the administration of the test - meaning that the test is given in such a way that everyone has an equal chance of success.

Validity: testing what you intend to test - meaning that the test covers the content you taught in a manner similar to the manner in which you taught it.

Practicality: ease of use - meaning that the assessment takes a reasonable amount of time and resources to both create and administer.

Each of these factors should be weighted for each assessment that you give. For example, sometimes a performance assessment will be more valid than a paper-and-pencil test, but it is not as practical. Which is more important to you?

Another important consideration is which type of assessment to give. There are formal (graded, pre-planned) and informal (spontaneous, formative) assessments. There are also non-traditional assessments such as portfolios, performance assessments, journaling, interviews and conferences, projects, and presentations, to name a few.

Interpreting the results of assessments is also important. In this section, we cover this topic quite generally, discussing two divisions: norm-referenced v. criterion-referenced and formative v. summative.

Norm-referenced assessments compare students to determine relative placement. In other words, is Johnny doing better than or worse than his classmates? Criterion-referenced assessments encourage students to reach a pre-determined level of mastery. For example, I would like all of my students to score at least 80% on this assessment.

Formative assessments are used to shape and guide classroom instruction. They can include both informal and formal assessments and help us to gain a clearer picture of where our students are and what they still need help with. They can be given before, during, and even after instruction, as long as the goal is to improve instruction. On the other hand, summative assessments are given as a final measure of learning.

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