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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

How Should We Measure Student Learning? The Many Forms of Assessment

There is more than one way to measure a student's abilities.
By Edutopia
Edutopia Team
Related Tags: Assessment,All Grades
VIDEO: Assessment Overview: Beyond Standardized Testing
Assessment is at the heart of education: Teachers and parents use test scores to gauge a student's academic strengths and weaknesses, communities rely on these scores to judge the quality of their educational system, and state and federal lawmakers use these same metrics to determine whether public schools are up to scratch.


Testing forms the bedrock of educational assessment and represents a commitment to high academic standards and school accountability. You can't know where you're going unless you know where you are. But when the financial and emotional stakes associated with standardized tests are disproportionately high, this laudable goal gets distorted. Teachers begin teaching to the test simply to raise scores, often at the expense of more meaningful learning activities. And when the tests are too narrow a measure or aren't properly aligned to standards, they provide little concrete information that teachers and schools can use to improve teaching and learning for individual students.

Twenty-First-Century Assessment

The demands of the today's world require students learn many skills. A knowledge-based, highly technological economy requires that students master higher-order thinking skills and that they are able to see the relationships among seemingly diverse concepts. These abilities -- recall, analysis, comparison, inference, and evaluation -- will be the skills of a literate twenty-first-century citizen. And they are the kinds of skills that aren't measured by our current high-stakes tests.

In addition, skills such as teamwork, collaboration, and moral character -- traits that aren't measured in a typical standardized tests -- are increasingly important. Businesses are always looking for employees with people skills and the ability to get along well with coworkers.

Multiple Forms of Assessment

We know that the typical multiple-choice and short-answer tests aren't the only way, or necessarily the best way, to gauge a student's knowledge and abilities. Many states are incorporating performance-based assessments into their standardized tests or adding assessment vehicles such as student portfolios and presentations as additional measures of student understanding.

These rigorous, multiple forms of assessment require students to apply what they're learning to real world tasks. These include standards-based projects and assignments that require students to apply their knowledge and skills, such as designing a building or investigating the water quality of a nearby pond; clearly defined rubrics (or criteria) to facilitate a fair and consistent evaluation of student work; and opportunities for students to benefit from the feedback of teachers, peers, and outside experts.

With these formative and summative types of assessment come the ability to give students immediate feedback. They also allow a teacher to immediately intervene, to change course when assessments show that a particular lesson or strategy isn't working for a student, or to offer new challenges for students who've mastered a concept or skill. Return to our Assessment page to learn more.


Comprehensive Assessment Overview

Comments (46)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

bamedbery's picture

I agree with this article. Miltiple forms of assessment do make students apply what they are learning to real world situations. I feel a very important aspect after assessment is the feedback after a student has demonstrated their knowledge. I have learned it needs to be immediate, consistent, specific, and fair. I try to let my students know why something is wrong and differentiate my feedback for different students. I think differentiated feedback is the best way to improve student learning.

Lauren Rekonen's picture
Lauren Rekonen
High School social studies teacher from St. Paul, MN

These high-stakes tests have really taken a toll at our school. We have dedicated our advisory time, which used to be time for Sustained Silent Reading, to teaching test-taking strategies. It is frustrating that these tests are overtaking our curriculum. Many times we have identified a need that the students have, but we cannot address them because we have to place such a high priority on the state tests.

Ezequiela Nieves's picture

There are so many wonderful ideas within this Edutopia system. Can you recommend any PBL list of ideas,and or resources for primary grades K-2?

Stacey's picture
Middle School Social Studies teacher, Bismarck, ND

I completely agree with your staff in that there needs to be a variety of assessments given to students to determine if they are developing skills such as reasoning, analysis, and evaluation. I am a social studies teacher and I would love to find some content specific articles, blogs, or other resources on how best to assess for higher-order thinking, such as reasoning and comprehension. Are there any specific resources that your staff can recommend so that I can better assess my students?
Thanks for you help! I love this site it is so helpful and really gets me excited about developing new strategies in my classroom.

melinstaedt's picture
Kindergarten Teacher from ND

Unfortunately our country requires us to use high stakes testing so students need practice taking these types of tests so those teachers that are teaching their students how to take a test and test taking strategies are setting their students up for future success. And you are right that parents and community members look at the test scores to see how a school or district is performing. I think that is sad because these tests do not demonstrate all of the learning that is taking place in a classroom because the high stakes tests don't measure everything.

I wonder though what I can do as a kindergarten teacher to prepare my students for testing in the future. My district requires all grades K-5 to take summative language art tests at the end of every unit. Unfortunately, these tests are a huge waste of time for my kids and myself because it shows me nothing that I don't already know and my kids sometimes 'bomb' the tests because they don't feel like taking the test that day, when really they know all of the information they are being tested on. So as a kindergarten teacher I am curious where I can look to find different forms of assessment that I can use with my students to measure their understanding of the material that is a better use of mine and the children's time?

Megan's picture

I am moving into a middle school teaching position this year, from third grade, and I am a bit nervous as to how to keep my students "excited" about learning. As students get older, I keep reading how they begin to dislike school in the middle level. What can I do to prevent this from happening? Part of me firmly believes that these are the grades where the bar is raised disproportionately high, and students are forced into failure, but I also feel that the pressure of standardized tests and regular assessment is a factor. Does anyone have any ideas how to balance the real importance of testing, without giving up on our students' success?

Chad Powers's picture

In trying to make my assessments more technology oriented, realistic, and modern, I am using more collaborative and project-based assessment. I am encountering resistance in my required courses, and even in some electives. I find that most students are willing to scratch pencil to paper for a test or quiz, however many refuse to collaborate or actually DO anything. They'd prefer a lower grade to performing tasks, and their effort level drops with every conflict. Do you have any suggestions for addressing this pervasive laziness which seems to grow yearly-in middle and high schoolers? We know these forms of assessment are not only more effective in promoting student learning, but also prepare them for high-stakes testing. That's all well and good, but what about those who don't want to work beyond the bare minimum paper and pencil exam??

Victor Concepcion's picture
Victor Concepcion
Graduate School University Professor

It is important to share these problems with other teachers of the school. In other words, to create in the school a culture of assessment and the use of such innovative teaching and leaning techniques. Otherwise, students' will confront ambiguity in the process learning and most of all evaluating procedures. I recomend the book Habits of Mind (Costa & Kallick,2008) to have a better undestanding on this interesting issue. Motivaton=Motor; Motor=Energy; Energy=Feed..... What are we feeding (cognitive speaking) students' with?

Kim M's picture
Kim M
K-5 Visual Art Teacher

There is lots of skills that students learn in art that are hard to assess by testing. Many students are learning new skills, processes and problem solving by using skills we have talked about in class to create their artwork. There is many times that a students trys something new or different then the way the teacher has done it and that is where we develope our own styles of art. Many of they skills students will use later on in their own life but there is no one test that can show actually what students are understanding what they are creating and doing in art class. Even with clearly defined rubrics help to assess a fair and consistent evaluation of student artworks but are not prefect. Students benefit more in art class by talking about their artwork, how they create it or what they use to create their artwork and why they used they materials then they do by taking a test about these same questions.
As a teacher I walk around my classroom, writing down small note and assessing my students and my project each day. I give students feed back immediately, this help them know that I am paying attention and caring about what they are doing and learning about.

Is there any other art teacher that have founded a better way of assessing their students artworks? If so I looking foreward to hearing from you.

Sonja's picture

I think that it is important for teachers to take a look at the types of assessments given. I think that project-based assessments are great and a lot of students would benefit from them. I teach students who are ELL and one of the down sides to this is the length of time it takes for them to complete the projects. I woud like to do more project based assessments, but I feel to rushed to meet all the standards.

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