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Research summary: Assessment

Robert Michael Capraro
Texas A & M University

Mary F. Roe
Arizona State University

Micki M. Caskey
Portland State University,

David Strahan
Western Carolina University

Penny A. Bishop
University of Vermont

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Capraro, R. M., Roe, M. F., Caskey, M. M., Strahan, D., Bishop, P., Weiss, C., & Swanson, K. W. (2012). Research summary:
Assessment. Association for Middle Level Education, 1-6.

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Research Summary


progresses, formative assessments detail students learning,

Tenets of This We Believe addressed: growth, and challenges (Afflerbach, 2008). While benefitting
Varied and ongoing assessments advance learning teachers, formative assessment also provides advantages to
as well as measure it. students. They become more closely attuned to learning goals
and their progress toward achieving them. As noted by Black
and Wiliam (1998), student performance also improves. When
Assessment is important for middle level teachers and their taken as a whole, the artifacts used for formative assessments
students. In fact, the National Middle School Association provide progressive indications of student knowledge of
(NMSA) highlighted curriculum, instruction, and assessment strategies and content. They provide a richer and more
in This We Believe: Keys to Educating Young Adolescents complete picture of what students know than would
(NMSA, 2010). The intention of this summary is to establish otherwise be available for teachers and students.
assessments rightful position as one priority for middle Within the classroom, and as found by Bryk, Sebring,
grade teachers and their students. When used wisely and well, Allensworth, Luppescu, and Easton (2010), data streams
teachers obtain information about their students strengths create the information feedback loops needed to support
and needs, and their students remain informed about their a continuous improvement regime (p. 205). This overall
achievements. benefit justifies the time and attention that using formative
To begin, educators need an operational definition of assessment entails. To maximize the advantages of formative
assessment. Based on the work of many scholars (e.g., Delclos, assessment, several attributes warrant consideration: (a) the
Vye, Burns, Bransford, & Hasselbring, 1992; Poehner, 2007), composition of the students (i.e., group versus individual),
assessment is defined as a process for documenting, in (b) the content, (c) outcome expectations, (d) time frame,
measurable terms, the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and beliefs and (e) the time students spend on the activity. These
of the learner. Although this definition of assessment is rather attributes point to the important differences in assessment
straightforward, the process of assessment in the classroom tools that stem from the number of students to assess, the
is complex. At the classroom level, teachers must decide discipline area under consideration, the amount of time
which specific knowledge, skills, attitudes, and beliefs warrant available for the assessment, and the extent of the activity
assessment; at what point and for what specific purpose they that drives the formative assessment product. Black, Harrision,
should be assessed; and which tools might best accomplish Lee, Marshall, and Wiliam (2004) identified four central types
these classroom-based assessments. This research summary of formative assessment that seemed to matter most for
addresses two forms of assessment, formative and summative. students: (a) questioning, (b) feedback, (c) peer assessment,
and (d) self-assessment. As Black and his colleagues
Formative Assessment concluded, The overall message is that formative tests should
become a positive part of the learning process. Through active
Formative assessment occurs throughout the school year. involvement in the testing process, students can see that they
Initially, it identifies baseline information about students can be the beneficiaries rather than the victims of testing,
achievements to inform instruction. As the school year because tests can help them improve their learning (p. 16).
progresses, formative assessments update teachers
understandings of their students needs and accomplishments For many scholars, formative assessments must also have a
(Afflerbach, 2008). Formative assessment data include ring of authenticity (e.g., Hall, 2010; Serafini, 2010). This call for
the cognitive components (e.g., skills and strategies) and authenticity stems from a basic tenet of quality assessment,
the affective dimensions (e.g., attitudes, motivation, and which confirms the importance of construct validity and
experiences) of learning that allow it to occur (Guthrie & matching assessments to key concepts in the discipline
Wigfield, 1997). According to Stiggins and Chappuis (2006), (e.g., Niemi, 1996; Phelan et al., 2009). While there is no clearly
formative assessment is assessment for learning. Studies such agreed upon definition of authentic assessment, the major
as one conducted by Kerr, Marsh, Ikeomota, Darilek, and
Barney (2006) noted many favorable outcomes attributed to
formative assessment. Teachers increase their regard for data,
Association for Middle Level Education
and the alignment between the curriculum and instruction formerly National Middle School Association
improves. Their initial use of formative assessment provides a 4151 Executive Parkway, Suite 300, Westerville, Ohio 43081
window into students achievement and indicates strengths tel: 800.528.6672 fax: 614.895.4750
and impediments to future learning. As the school year
focus is that the product is relevant to the learner. Authentic Wright (2002), some summative and high-stakes assessments
assessment matches the content being learned, is produced resulted in new district standards and assessments, the
in conjunction with student interests, and is guided by clearly adoption of new curricular materials in mathematics and
defined outcomes. Simply stated, authentic and formative language arts, and the de-emphasis or elimination of content
assessments must coincide with the discipline under areas such as art-based education, social studies, the sciences,
consideration by aligning with what experts in the field engineering, and business options.
(e.g., historians, scientists, mathematicians, or authors) actually
do. Examples include sketching a science report, listing Wright (2002) also found that high-stakes summative
historical events, and noting the qualities of good writing. assessments affected the school environment. For example,
Authentic assessment can take many more forms, but central teachers of tested content were perceived to be more
is its link to real world applications (e.g., Darling-Hammond, valuable and received a greater proportion of school
Ancess, & Falk, 1995) including 21st century skills (Partnership resources. Those who taught outside of the tested content
for 21st Century Skills, 2007). less often collaborated with peers, were less involved in school
decision making, and were less inclined to critically examine
their teaching practices. According to Wright, this dichotomy
Summative Assessment
can lead to schools where teachers fail to form close
Summative assessment attempts to capture the culmination connections to their peers and consequently foster unhealthy
of students achievements within a specified time frame; competition and increase discontentedness.
summative assessment is assessment of learning (Stiggins &
In a final example, Valli, Croninger, Chambliss, Graeber, and
Chappuis, 2006). This often occurs at the end of an academic
Buese (2008) found that these high-stakes summative tests led
year as schools and districts administer mandated and
the teachers whom they studied to stray from the qualities of
standardized tests to determine annual yearly progress. The
good teaching. This included setting aside learner-sensitive
purpose of this end-of-the-year testing involves documenting
responses in favor of moving lessons forward and covering
what students have learned. Summative assessment can also
the identified content, reducing the cognitive challenge of the
occur at the end of an academic unit to identify the overall
lessons they designed, and posing lower level questions.
success of a program of study with students. In contrast to
formative assessment, summative assessments do little or Nevertheless, summative assessment remains an important
nothing to shape future instruction. Instead, summative inclusion in an assessment package (American Psychological
assessment captures a moment in time that represents Association, 2010). Citing unintended consequences to set
students achievements within the parameters of the test and aside summative assessments would be ill advised. Instead,
testing environment. Some scholars (e.g., Afflerbach, 2008) and as Wiggins (1998) suggested, a willingness to consider
asserted that the central role of summative assessment in the downside of assessmentits consequential validity
the lives of teachers and students introduces an imbalance (Madaus, Russell, & Higgins, 2009)can be used to leverage
into a schools assessment program that minimizes the more the improvement of the tools that teachers use for summative
pertinent contribution of formative assessment tools. assessments. For example, teachers can use results of a
summative assessment alongside other relevant and
Empirical work regarding high-stakes summative assessment
valid information (e.g., documentation of students learning)
points to many unintended consequences including
to make decisions about students achievement and
increases in school drop-out rates, cheating on exams at the
instructional needs.
teacher and school level, and teacher departure from the
profession (Amrein & Berliner, 2002). Further, the extent to
which states with high-stakes tests outperform states without Conclusion
high-stakes tests is, at best, indeterminable (Amrein-Beardsley In the end, good assessment practices include both formative
& Berliner, 2003, p. 1). and summative assessments. In concert, they offer local and
Because of the high stakes status of many of todays global evidence that teaching and learning are progressing.
summative assessments, teachers often engage in an array of Formative assessments direct teachers day-to-day decisions
activities to prepare students for them. This decision diverts while summative assessments assuage a broader base of
time from other important instructional tasks; and yet, the educational stakeholders that the attainments of our nations
positive effects of such test preparation practice have not youth meet local, national, and global expectations. Attaining
been verified (Valli & Chambliss, 2007). a strong and coherent relationship between verifying local
gains and confirming national competitiveness demands
Other scholars document the narrowing of the curriculum careful attention to the data obtained from formative and
that often becomes a by-product of summative assessment summative options to attain a comprehensive and thoughtful
(Grant, 2004: Huber & Moore, 2000). For example, according to combination of assessments.
Afflerbach, P. (2008). Meaningful assessment for struggling adolescent readers. In S. Lenski & J. Lewis (Eds.),
Reading success for struggling adolescent learners (pp. 249264). New York, NY: Guilford.
American Psychological Association. (2010). Appropriate use of high-stakes testing in our nations schools.
Retrieved from
Amrein, A. L., & Berliner, D. C. (2002). High-stakes testing, uncertainty, and student learning. Educational Policy
Analysis Archives, 10(8). Retrieved from
Amrein-Beardsley, A. A., & Berliner, D. C. (2003). Re-analysis of NAEP math and reading scores in states with
and without high-stakes tests: Response to Rosenshine. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 11(25).
Retrieved from
Black, P., Harrison, C., Lee, C., Marshall, B., & Wiliam, D. (2004).Working inside the black box: Assessment for learning
in the classroom. Phi Delta Kappan, 86(1), 921.
Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (1998). Assessment and classroom learning. Assessment in Education, 5(1), 774.
Bryk, A. S., Sebring, P. B., Allensworth, E., Luppescu, S., & Easton, J. Q. (2010). Organizing schools for improvement:
Lessons from Chicago. Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press.
Darling-Hammond, L., Ancess, J., & Falk, B. (1995). Authentic assessment in action: Studies of schools and students at work.
New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Delclos, V. R., Vye, N., Burns, M. S., Bransford, J. D., & Hasselbring, T. S. (1992). Improving the quality of instruction: Roles for
dynamic assessment. In H. C. Haywood & D. Tzuriel (Eds.), Interactive assessment (pp. 317331). New York, NY: Spinger-Verlag.
Grant, C. A. (2004). Oppression, privilege, and high-stakes testing. Multicultural Perspectives, 6, 311.
DOI: 10.1207/S15327892mcp0601_2
Guthrie, J., & Wigfield, A. (1997) Reading engagement: Motivating readers through integrated instruction.
Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Hall, K. (2010). Listening to Stephen read. New York, NY: Open University Press.
Huber, R. A., & Moore, C. J. (2000). Educational reform through high stakes testingdont go there. Science Educator, 9, 713.
Kerr, K. A., Marsh, J. A., Ikeomota, G. S., Darilek, H., & Barney, H. (2006). Strategies to promote data use for instructional
improvement. American Journal of Education, 112(4), 496520.
Madaus, G., Russell, M., & Higgins, J. (2009). The paradoxes of high stakes testing: How they affect students, their parents, teachers,
principals, schools, and society. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.
National Middle School Association. (2010). This we believe: Keys to educating young adolescents. Westerville, OH: Author.
Niemi, D. N. (1996). Instructional influences on content area explanations and representational knowledge: Evidence for the construct
validity of measures of principled understanding. (CRESST Tech. Rep. No. 403). Los Angeles: University of California, National Center
for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing (CRESST).
Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2007). 21st century skills assessment. [White paper].
Retrieved from
Phelan, J., Kang, T., Niemi, D. N., Vendlinski, T., Choi, K., & National Center for Research on Evaluation, S. (2009).
Some aspects of the technical quality of formative assessments in middle school mathematics. CRESST Report 750.
National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST).
Poehner, M. E. (2007). Beyond the test: L2 Dynamic assessment and the transcendence of mediated learning.
The Modern Language Journal, 91, 323340.
Serafini, F. (2010). Classroom reading assessments. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Stiggins, R., & Chappuis, J. (2006). What a difference a word makes: Assessment for learning rather than assessment of
learning helps students succeed. Journal of Staff Development, 27(1), 1014.
Valli, L., & Chambliss, M. (2007). Creating classroom cultures: One culture, two lessons, and a high stakes test.
Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 38(1), 4260.
Valli, L., Croninger, R. G., Chambliss, M., Graeber, A. O., & Buese, D. (2008). High-stakes accountability in elementary schools.
New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Wiggins, G. (1998). Educative assessment: Designing assessments to inform and improve student performance.
San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Wright, W. E. (2002). The effects of high stakes testing in an inner-city elementary school: The curriculum, the teachers, and the
English language learners. Current Issues in Education [On-line], 5(5). Retrieved from

American Psychological Association. (2010). Appropriate use of high-stakes testing in our nations schools.
Retrieved from
In this brochure, the American Psychological Association (APA) emphasized that large-scale tests need to well developed,
properly scored, and used appropriately. APA provided a succinct explanation of a critical issue of assessmentmeasurement
validitywhether a test accurately measures the test takers knowledge of the subject being tested. Next, the authors
highlighted the appropriate use high-stakes testing and identified a set of principles designed to advance fairness in testing
and avoid unintended consequences. Subsequently, they provided information about gaps between these testing principles
and current realities in education. After noting that large-scale testing is only part of a quality assessment system, the authors
recommended that future research examine the long-term effect of high-stakes testing on student achievement.
Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (1998). Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment. Phi Delta Kappan, 139148.
Black and Wiliam conducted an extensive review of the research literature to examine the effects of formative assessment in
the classroom. Their study included the review of numerous books and nine years worth of more than 160 journals as well as
previous reviews of research. Of the approximately 580 articles and chapters, they selected 250 for analysis. (For the full research
report, see Black, P., & Wiliam, D. [1998]. Assessment and classroom learning. Assessment in Education, 5[1], 774.) Black and Wiliam
found evidence that improving formative assessment in the classroom led to significant gains in student achievement (effect
size 0.4-0.7). They noted that improvement in formative assessment made a greater difference for low achieving students,
which narrows the achievement gap and raises overall student achievement. Black and Wiliam also highlighted the need for
improvement with regard to assessment practice and specified three issues: (a) self-esteem of student, (b) self-assessment by
students, and (c) effective teaching practice. Following specific recommendations for improving formative assessment
(e.g., self-esteem of pupils, self-assessment by pupils, and effective teaching), the authors offered their ideas for changing
policy and suggested four-point proposal for teacher development that includes (a) learning from development, (b) broadening
dissemination efforts, (c) reducing obstacles, and (d) research.
Heritage, M. (2007). Formative assessment: What do teachers need to know and do? Phi Delta Kappan, 89(2), 140145.
In this brief, Heritage noted that formative assessment could be used as a means to inform effective instruction because it
provides information on student needs and progress. She described succinctly what teachers need to know about formative
assessment and how they should use formative assessment. After characterizing formative assessment as a way to enlighten
teaching and learning in schools, she discussed the accountability environment that relies on summative assessment. She
detailed the four core elements of formative assessment: (a) identifying the gap, (b) feedback, (c) student involvement, and
(d) learning progressions. Additionally, Heritage highlighted critical elements of teacher knowledge including: (a) domain
knowledge, (b) pedagogical content knowledge, (c) knowledge of students previous learning, and (d) assessment knowledge;
she also identified the skills teachers need including (a) creating classroom conditions for successful assessment, (b) teaching
students to self-assess, (c) interpreting the evidence, and (d) matching instruction to the gaps. Heritage concluded by calling
for a focus on assessment in preservice and inservice teacher education programs.
Wiliam, D., Lee, C., Harrison, C., & Black, P. (2004). Teachers developing assessment for learning: Impact on student achievement.
Assessment in Education, 11(1), 4965.
In this research report, Wiliam, Lee, Harrison, and Black described their experimental study of teachers development of
formative assessment and its effect on student achievement. Wiliam and colleagues worked collaboratively with 24 secondary
teachers (two math and two science teachers at each of six schools) to develop aspects of formative assessment for use in their
classrooms. Specific interventions included (a) inservice sessions for teachers to learn about formative assessment and develop
action plans for incorporating formative assessment; and (b) school visits for teaching observations, discussion of teaching,
and planning how to use formative assessment more effectively. During the first six months of the project, the teachers
experimented with formative assessment strategies (e.g., questioning, sharing criteria with students, self- and peer-assessment).
Next, each teacher developed an action plan for implementing formative assessment into his or her own teaching practice.
The subsequent fall term, the teachers put their plans into action. Wiliam and colleagues found firm evidence that improving
formative assessments does produce tangible benefits in terms of externally mandated assessments (p. 63). In other words,
formative assessment has a positive effect on students achievement on standardized tests.


Black, P., Harrison, C., Lee, C., Marshall, B., & Wiliam, D. (2004). Working inside the black box. Phi Delta Kappan, 86(1), 1322.
Chappuis, J. (2009). Seven strategies of assessment for learning. Portland, OR: Educational Testing Service.
Chappuis, S., Stiggins, R.J., Arter, J., & Chappuis, J. (2004). Assessment FOR learning. Portland, OR: Assessment Training Institute.
Stiggins, R. (2004). New assessment beliefs for a new school mission. Phi Delta Kappan, 86(1), 2227.
Stiggins, R., Arter, J. A., Chappuis, J., & Chappuis, S. (2007). Classroom assessment for student learning: Doing it rightusing it well.
Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall.
Stiggins, R. J. (2004). Student-involved assessment for learning (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall.

Robert M. Capraro is a professor of mathematics education in the Department of Teaching, Learning, and Culture at Texas A&M
University and co-director of the Aggie STEM Center. He also is a member of AMLEs Research Advisory Committee, the associate
editor of School Science and Mathematics and Middle Grades Research Journal, and was associate editor of American Educational
Research Journal.
Mary F. Roe is professor in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University. She is a president of the Association
of Literacy Educators and Researchers (formerly the College Reading Association) and a member of the AMLEs Research
Advisory Committee.
Micki M. Caskey is a professor of middle grades education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Portland State
University. She is the chair of AMLEs Research Advisory Committee, past editor of Research in Middle Level Education Online, and
immediate-past chair of the Middle Level Education Research SIG.
David Strahan is the Taft B. Botner Distinguished Professor in the School of Teaching and Learning at Western Carolina
University. He is a member of AMLEs Research Advisory Committee.
Penny A. Bishop is a professor of middle level education at the University of Vermont. She directs the Tarrant Institute for
Innovative Education. She also is the chair of the Middle Level Education Research SIG and a member of AMLEs Research
Advisory Committee.
Christopher C. Weiss is the director of Quantitative Methods in the Social Sciences Seminar, Institute for Social and Economic
Research and Policy. He is a member of AMLEs Research Advisory Committee.
Karen Weller Swanson is associate professor in the Tift College of Education at Mercer University and director of doctoral studies
in curriculum and instruction. She is also editor of Research in Middle Level Education Online and a member of AMLEs
Research Advisory Committee.

Capraro, R. M., Roe, M. F., Caskey, M. M., Strahan, D., Bishop, P.A., Weiss, C. C., & Swanson, K. W. (2011).
Research summary: Assessment. Retrieved from