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Assessment Overview

Assessment Overview

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Published by Stephen Best
This document addresses a variety of assessment considerations for educators, and provides suggestions for assessing student work for a range of learning outcomes.
This document addresses a variety of assessment considerations for educators, and provides suggestions for assessing student work for a range of learning outcomes.

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Categories:Types, School Work
Published by: Stephen Best on Sep 09, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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The last focus area we are going to address in depth this year is the notion of assessing student understandingof science, and how this process relates to the instructional efforts of the teacher. Before we get into detailsof this process, we need to address some broad considerations about assessment, so that we have a commonunderstanding of what we want or need to address. The notes on the following pages accompany thepresentations around this issue.
Assessment vs. Grading
One of the difficulties in thinking about assessment is that teachers and students so often confuse the conceptwith grading. Assessment needs to be viewed as an on-going process intended to further our students’ learningand understanding of the desired materials. Grading is not such a process, considering the way it is used inmost classrooms. If we are to assess our students’ learning in order to determine whether or not they aremeeting educational or other objectives within the class, we must evaluate their learning at a variety of stagesalong the way, as opposed to a final, cumulative, all-or-nothing process. The underlying assumption that goeswith this definition of assessment is that we are doing this to better assist our students in learning andunderstanding the concepts and principles we are teaching in our classrooms.
Assessment Grades
FormativeDiagnosticPrivate to student and assessorNon-judgmentalSpecificSubtext and process specificGoal directedFocus is on learningSummativeFinalPart of administrative recordJudgmentalGeneral Text and information specificContent drivenFocus is on “counting” or discipline
Purposes of Assessment
When examining the types of assessment we use within our classrooms, we need to determine the purpose of the assessment and whether or not it is properly assessing the learning objective of the student. When this isnot done, it often causes misunderstanding and anxiety on the part of the student, both toward the class andthe teacher. When determining a method of assessment, one should ask the following questions:1.What tools are we already using?2.How are we using the results?3.How are we reporting the results?4.To whom are we reporting?5.What school proficiencies (goals) are being measured by the results?6.What are the relative strengths of the process?7.What are the weaknesses?8.What should we do to better achieve our purposes?
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Once these questions are asked by educators of their own classroom and school, it is much easier to determineappropriate methods of assessment for the actual instructional goals of the class.
To influence policyand planningTo improvesystemsTo focusteachingTo focus studentlearning1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
 To inform and guide students as to what they have learned and to suggest what they need to learn sothey can adequately manage the direction of their own work.
 To inform and guide parents for the same reasons.
 To inform day-to-day teaching so that teachers can adjust lesson plans to meet student needs.
 To evaluate teaching effects and the usefulness of their teaching strategies and methods employed inthe classroom.
 To determine special services that might be required to assist students.
 To evaluate systems which run the school.
 To evaluate the curriculum as a whole, and make necessary adjustments to accommodate studentneeds.
 To inform school boards and larger decision making bodies of the programs and evaluate their needs.
 To inform the public of the quality of educational programs in their schools.
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Classroom Assessment 
For a broad definition, we consider assessment as “the process of collecting, synthesizing, and interpretinginformation to aid classroom decision making” (Airasian, 1996). Assessments must match the content taught inorder for the students to demonstrate what they have learned. Effective assessments address the learningobjectives and the instructional emphasis when they are designed and implemented. Assessments should neverinclude topics or objectives not taught to the students. Also, assessments can never appraise everything thatstudents learn in class; they can only estimate what students have learned by sampling tasks from a muchlarger possible range of tasks. Ideally, we, as teachers, try to address this limitation by giving students severalopportunities to show what they have learned through different media (e.g., answering tests and quiz items,completing student sheets, collaborating in groups, presenting projects), and at different points during thecourse of study, so that we get a broader view of the student’s understanding of the concepts and skills, ratherthan a mere snapshot on what might be a bad day for the student.During the process of learning science through inquiry in our classrooms, there are many opportunities to assessstudent understanding. Assessment can include formal and informal assessments. Formal assessments examineproducts such as written or oral responses (Pellegrino, 2001). These might include tests, quizzes, artifacts,investigations, student sheets, and presentations, among other, tangible things. According to Pellegrinoinformal assessments are “intuitive, often sub-conscious, reasoning teachers carry out everyday in classrooms.”These might include checks for student understanding like classroom questioning and assessment conversations.These informal assessments are more based on habits of mind from the teacher, as well as their abilities asobservers of learners.Ideally, all of the assessments a teacher or school may conduct with students are formative in nature.According to Black and William (1998) formative assessments encompass all those activities undertaken byteachers, and/or by their students, that provide information to be used as feedback to modify the teachingand learning activities in which they are engaged. The feedback component of assessments is critical.However, many assessments have to be summative in nature in order to measure what students have learned atthe end of some set of learning activities and to assign a grade.Classroom assessment may look at various “grain sizes” for teachers to better understand their students’knowledge and depth of understanding of the content, processes and skills of science. Some assessments mightallow the teacher to get a glimpse into the individual thoughts of students and to be able to respond to eachstudentto addresstheir her/hislearning needs. Others might provide a broader view of the general understanding of small groups, or the class as a whole. Either way, when a teacher develops and uses anassessment, they need to be ready to analyze the work or responses of the student so that they can utilize thisinformation to better craft their own instruction. As a result, the teacher needs to look at a variety of factorswithin the design of the individual assessment. These might include the
type of learning desired
, the natureof the
understanding of the content
(and its place relative to the learning goals of the classroom), the
priorknowledge or skills
a student might have to address a particular topic or task, and the ways in which thestudent
communicates their knowledge to others
. As we focus on the design of assessments, we’ll look ateach of these categories.
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