When teachers think about assessment, they tend to envision the dreaded end-of-year standardized tests, yet assessment is so much more than high-stakes testing. Teachers have traditionally assessed students’ work to diagnose strengths and weaknesses, to monitor their progress, and to assign grades. Now, schoolwide assessments may provide data for parental and public perceptions of teacher and school effectiveness. Let’s look at different types of assessments, how they work, and what teachers need to know about each.
Monitor students’ progress quickly and efficiently with informal, formative assessments. Veteran teachers may assess students’ understanding constantly, since it is automatic to watch for body language, facial expressions, and engagement clues.
Ask students to write answers and show them on individual whiteboards, have think-pair-share discussions, or use a ticket-out-the-door activity at the end of a lesson. Asking “Do you understand?” gives little information to the teacher, because students may all just nod their heads. Rather, ask a specific question, or give students a problem to solve to yield better feedback about their grasp of the lesson. When you know what the students know, you can plan your next step in teaching.
A teacher walks into a classroom with goals and objectives for each individual lesson, as well as longer-term ones for days, units, and semesters. Generally, the teacher’s goal is to preview, present, share, inform, or review. Your goals jumpstart lessons, since students don’t just walk in, sit down, and start learning. The objectives are what the students will know or be able to do at the end of the time frame. When each lesson has a measurable, observable objective, assessment becomes simplified. If the objective is for students to learn how to find directions on a map, and how to find distances, the assessment is the same—to find directions and distances on a map. Students practice and get plenty of feedback before a final assessment of the objectives.
Of course, the objectives align with the curriculum. Today’s teachers work with Common Core and/or state-level curriculum guidelines to organize each lesson objective. It would be counterproductive to assess students on material not covered, or to use a graded test to see if students can go further with the material on their own. (Most of us remember college professors who did not follow this rule! Do you remember the frustration of items on tests that were never discussed in lectures or readings? Don’t frustrate your students this way.)
Just as alignment of curriculum and testing is critically important, so too is the alignment of assessment and instruction—that is, how material is taught. If a foreign language teacher has students use only spoken language for the first few weeks of a semester—teaching numbers, greetings, and conversational phrases by oral repetition only—a written test is NOT a valid assessment of those weeks of teaching. A student may certainly know that hola
means hello, but if the student never saw the word, or had to write and spell it, he or she can’t be expected to spell hola
on a test. A performance assessment would be a better indicator of the student’s knowledge. In this case, speaking with a student in the language, and using a checklist for what the student can and cannot say is a better assessment.
Do you want new books for your reading program? Or more time for math instruction? Decisions about programs are based on data, and data most generally come from assessments. Teachers need to know that their students’ assessment data lead to program and school decisions. Program and school assessments also provide parents and the public with feedback about school performance. Stay aware of what is being published about your school and how that assessment data is shared.
Share assessments when they are most helpful to all involved. Students need feedback on what they know and what they need to learn. Parents want easy-to-read, understandable summaries of the students’ progress. Administrators use data for public relations and accreditation reports. Always follow district and school guidelines for sharing assessments.
Teachers can assess what a student says, does, writes, and solves. Informal, ongoing assessments help teachers know what to do next. By aligning assessments to curriculum and instruction, more validity is achieved, and then data can be shared to improve communication at the classroom, program, and school levels.
Dr. Clement is a Professor of Teacher Education at Berry College, in north Georgia, where she teaches Secondary Curriculum and Methods and Instructional Management. Her primary research area is the hiring of Pre-K–12 teachers.