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

There is more than one way to measure a student's abilities.

There is more than one way to measure a student's abilities.

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.

VIDEO: Assessment Overview: Beyond Standardized Testing

Running Time: 9 min.

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.

This article originally published on 3/16/2008

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Comments (48)

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High School social studies teacher from St. Paul, MN

These high-stakes tests have

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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.

I agree with this article.

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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.

Elementary Music Teacher, Professional Clarinetist, Technology in the Class

Interesting

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This article was originally posted Match of 2008. Here in Virginia, things have only continued to worsen. I predict no significant change in this national approach until the inevitable crash as schools fail to meet the nearing 100% pass rates mandated by federal authorities.

I agree with this article, btw. Assessment is an integral part of any successful teacher or teaching experience. It is when the method of assessment is deified and mandated that true educators and bureaucrats are distinguished from on another.

Just my opinion, of course.

I think all teachers feel the

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I think all teachers feel the pressure of standardized tests and we all want our students to do well. Pressures from districts and administrators can be very stressful. I personally decided to rather than teach to the test that I will teach test taking skills. I feel that test taking skills are lifelong skills that students will need any way. I do however a month before our state standardized reading and math tests give my students a few practices exams so they can get a feel for the layout of the tests. I teach 3rd grade and this is their first time taking state tests so I feel this is important. I always feel relieved after I look at their practice tests and realize that the teachingI have been doing all year long has been enough to prepare them for the actual exam.

It feels like so many of us

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It feels like so many of us have felt the pressure to teach to the test by administration to raise the test scores. In my previous school, test scores were the main focus ALL year long. It was to the point where I was more stressed about the test than the students. I really like the idea of a project based assessment. This is a great way for the students to demonstrate what they have learned throughout the year without taking an 80 question multiple choice test. Students would be more proud of their work on a project than just scores on a test. I believe high stakes testing is the worst way to assess a child and label them by their performance on ONE test. Portfolios are also a much better assessment of what the child has learned throughout the school year. Collecting this evidence and analyzing it at the end of the year is a much better assessment of their true skills than the scores again of just one test.

Performance Based Assessments

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As I read this article I am in full agreement that things must change for the better. Our students 21st century learning skills are much different from those of the yester-years. While there are continued concerns about how we handle standardized tests I see the need for more than just multiple choice questions. It becomes a huge detriment to our students when out schools primary concerns revolve around beating the test and improving test scores. The system was put in place to improve student achievement, yet all we see is test score inflation. The scores we are seeing are not directly correlated to what students are actually learning in the classroom. That is why I see performance based assessment included in high stakes testing is important. However, I worry that our educational system will begin teaching to the performance test just as we have been teaching to the multiple choice test.

What can our educational society as a whole do to ensure this does not happen? Do you see this being an issue if we were to change the type of testing that high stakes requires?

authentic assessments

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I think it is important not to "teach the test" but to teach the children test taking strategies. These strategies should include problem solving strategies that they can use throughout their lives. Teaching the test is a huge disservice to the children. However, explicitly teaching problem solving skills will benefit the students in all areas of school and their lives.

In addition, I think as teachers we need to focus on authentic assessments that are standards based and encourage the children to use the skills they have learned; not to just fill in a bubble. We should be challenging students to think outside the box using the skills and knowledge that we have taught them.

High school physical science teacher, retired, from Grant Nebraska

I spent many years working on

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I spent many years working on committees to develop standardized assessments. It was a very frustrating endeavor. We teachers were often not on the same page, and I did not feel qualified for this difficult undertaking. I would have much rather spent my time and energy with my students, serving their needs in the class room. I realize the need for these assessments, but feel that they are often not authentic in measuring individual students' personal skills and aptitudes. They also need to better reflect skills that serve students in the world after school.

Alternative Assessment

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Use a project-based lesson/assessment. Let the students choose a topic in the subject area and have them write a paper, give an oral presentation using presentation software like PowerPoint, and have them create a visual aide (model). In the paper have them give the significant facts as well as how the topic made an impact in the past and how they believe the topic will have an impact in the future.
If you have the students work in teams, make sure to assign specific jobs to each student to avoid having only one or two students in the group do most of the work.

Alternate Assessment

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Project based learning/assessment works well. Have students pick a topic to research. Have them write a paper, give an oral presentation using powerpoint or other presentation software, and have the students create a visual aide. In the paper have the students report significant facts but more importantly what is the impact of the topic in the past and how will it impact the future. You can have students work in teams but unless you monitor very closely, there are always those that will let others do the majority of the work.

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