Output Education

Education Blog

Assessment in Education

Assessment in Education

1 March, 2016

Assessment in education comes in different types, forms and purpose.

Types of Assessment in education systems:

  1. High-stakes assessments are typically standardized tests used for the purposes of accountability—i.e., any attempt by federal, state, or local government agencies to ensure that students are enrolled in effective schools and being taught by effective teachers. In general, “high stakes” means that important decisions about students, teachers, schools, or districts are based on the scores students achieve on a high-stakes test, and either punishments (sanctions, penalties, reduced funding, negative publicity, not being promoted to the next grade, not being allowed to graduate) or accolades (awards, public celebration, positive publicity, bonuses, grade promotion, diplomas) result from those scores.
  2. Pre-assessments are administered before students begin a lesson, unit, course, or academic program. Students are not necessarily expected to know most, or even any, of the material evaluated by pre-assessments—they are generally used to (1) establish a baseline against which educators measure learning progress over the duration of a program, course, or instructional period, or (2) determine general academic readiness for a course, program, grade level, or new academic program that student may be transferring into.
  3. Formative assessments are in-process evaluations of student learning that are typically administered several times during a unit, course, or academic program. The general purpose of formative assessment is to give educators in-process feedback about what students are learning or not learning so that instructional approaches, teaching materials, and academic support can be modified accordingly. Formative assessments are usually not scored or graded, and they may take a variety of forms, from more formal quizzes and assignments to informal questioning techniques and in-class discussions with students.
  4. Summative assessments are used to evaluate student learning at the conclusion of a specific instructional period—typically at the end of a unit, course, semester, program, or school year. Summative assessments are typically scored and graded tests, assignments, or projects that are used to determine whether students have learned what they were expected to learn during the defined instructional period.
  5. Interim assessments are used to evaluate where students are in their learning development and determine whether they are on track to performing well on future assessments, such as standardized tests, end-of-course exams, and other forms of “summative” assessment. Interim assessments are usually administered periodically during a course or school year (for example, every six or eight weeks) and separately from the process of instructing students (i.e., unlike formative assessments, which are integrated into the instructional process).
  6. Placement assessments are used to “place” students into a course, course level, or academic program. For example, an assessment may be used to determine whether a student is ready for Algebra I or a higher-level algebra course, such as an honors-level course. For this reason, placement assessments are administered before a course or program begins, and the basic intent is to match students with appropriate learning experiences that address their distinct learning needs.
  7. Screening assessments are used to determine whether students may need specialized assistance or services, or whether they are ready to begin a course, grade level, or academic program. Screening assessments may take a wide variety of forms in educational settings, and they may be developmental, physical, cognitive, or academic. A preschool screening test, for example, may be used to determine whether a young child is physically, emotionally, socially, and intellectually ready to begin preschool, while other screening tests may be used to evaluate health, potential learning disabilities, and other student attributes.

Forms According to Purpose:

  1. Standardized assessments are designed, administered, and scored in a standard, or consistent, manner. They often use a multiple-choice format, though some include open-ended, short-answer questions. Historically, standardized tests featured rows of ovals that students filled in with a number-two pencil, but increasingly the tests are computer-based. Standardized tests can be administered to large student populations of the same age or grade level in a state, region, or country, and results can be compared across individuals and groups of students.
  2. Standards-referenced or standards-based assessments are designed to determine how well students have mastered the specific knowledge and skills described in local, state, or national learning standards. Standardized tests and high-stakes tests may or may not be based on specific learning standards, and individual schools and teachers may develop their own standards-referenced or standards-based assessments.
  3. Common assessments are used in a school or district to ensure that all teachers are evaluating student performance in a more consistent, reliable, and effective manner. Common assessments are used to encourage greater consistency in teaching and assessment among teachers who are responsible for teaching the same content, e.g. within a grade level, department, or content area. They allow educators to compare performance results across multiple classrooms, courses, schools, and/or learning experiences (which is not possible when educators teach different material and individually develop their own distinct assessments). Common assessments share the same format and are administered in consistent ways—e.g., teachers give students the same instructions and the same amount of time to complete the assessment, or they use the same scoring guides to interpret results. Common assessments may be “formative” or “summative.”
  4. Performance assessments typically require students to complete a complicated task, such as a writing assignment, science experiment, speech, presentation, performance, or long-term project, for example. Educators will often use collaboratively developed common assessments, scoring guides, rubrics, and other methods to evaluate whether the work produced by students shows that they have learned what they were expected to learn. Performance assessments may also be called “authentic assessments,” since they are considered by some educators to be more accurate and meaningful evaluations of learning achievement than traditional tests.
  5. Portfolio-based assessmentsare collections of academic work—for example, assignments, lab results, writing samples, speeches, student-created films, or art projects—that are compiled by students and assessed by teachers in consistent ways. Portfolio-based assessments are often used to evaluate a “body of knowledge”—i.e., the acquisition of diverse knowledge and skills over a period of time. Portfolio materials can be collected in physical or digital formats, and they are often evaluated to determine whether students have met required learning standards.

Assessments used to Improve Teaching and Learning

  • System and school accountability: Assessments, particularly standardized tests, have played an increasingly central role in efforts to hold schools, districts, and state public-school systems “accountable” for improving the academic achievement of students.
  • Teacher evaluation and compensation: In recent years, a growing number of elected officials, policy makers, and education reformers have argued that the best way to improve educational results is to ensure that students have effective teachers, and that one way to ensure effective teaching is to evaluate and compensate educators, at least in part, based on the test scores their students achieve. By basing a teacher’s income and job security on assessment results, the reasoning goes, administrators can identify and reward high-performing teachers or take steps to either help low-performing teachers improve or remove them from schools.
  • Instructional improvement: Assessment results are often used as a mechanism for improving instructional quality and student achievement. Because assessments are designed to measure the acquisition of specific knowledge or skills, the design of an assessment can determine or influence what gets taught in the classroom (“teaching to the test” is a common, and often derogatory, phrase used to describe this general phenomenon). Formative assessments, for example, give teachers in-process feedback on student learning, which can help them make instructional adjustments during the teaching process, instead of having to wait until the end of a unit or course to find out how well students are learning the material. Other forms of assessment, such as standards-based assessments or common assessments, encourage educators to teach similar material and evaluate student performance in more consistent, reliable, or comparable ways.
  • Learning-needs identification: Educators use a wide range of assessments and assessment methods to identify specific student learning needs, diagnose learning disabilities (such as autism, dyslexia, or nonverbal learning disabilities), evaluate language ability, or determine eligibility for specialized educational services. In recent years, the early identification of specialized learning needs and disabilities, and the proactive provision of educational support services to students, has been a major focus of numerous educational reform strategies.

Major Issues Being Debated On Assessment

  1. Is high-stakes testing, as an accountability measure, the best way to improve schools, teaching quality, and student achievement? Or do the potential consequences—such as teachers focusing mainly on test preparation and a narrow range of knowledge at the expense of other important skills, or increased incentives to cheat and manipulate test results—undermine the benefits of using test scores as a way to hold schools and educators more accountable and improve educational results?
  2. Are standardized assessments truly objective measures of academic achievement? Or do they reflect intrinsic biases—in their design or content—that favor some students over others, such wealthier white students from more-educated households over minority and low-income students from less-educated households?
  3. Are “one-size-fits-all” standardized tests a fair way to evaluate the learning achievement of all students, given that some students may be better test-takers than others? Or should students be given a variety of assessment options and multiple opportunities to demonstrate what they have learned?
  4. Will more challenging and rigorous assessments lead to higher educational achievement for all students? Or will they end up penalizing certain students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds? And, conversely, will less-advantaged students be at an even greater disadvantage if they are not held to the same high educational standards as other students (because lowering educational standards for certain students, such as students of color, will only further disadvantage them and perpetuate the same cycle of low expectations that historically contributed to racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps)?
  5. Do the costs—in money, time, and human resources—outweigh the benefits of widespread, large-scale testing? Would the funding and resources invested in testing and accountability be better spent on higher-quality educational materials, more training and support for teachers, and other resources that might improve schools and teaching more effectively? And is the pervasive use of tests providing valuable information that educators can use to improve instructional quality and student learning? Or are the tests actually taking up time that might be better spent on teaching students more knowledge and skills?
  6. Are technological learning applications, including digital and online assessments, improving learning experiences for students, teaching them technological skills and literacy, or generally making learning experiences more interesting and engaging? Or are digital learning applications adding to the cost of education, introducing unwanted distractions in schools, or undermining the value of teachers and the teaching process?