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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I know that some schools use narrative evaluations, which are completed by the teacher based on each student's mastery level of certain subjects, as well as other skills that are not measurable by tests.

Learning Styles Assessment

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I am entering education from Alternative Licensing processes and am focusing in Middle Grades math. There is no doubt that the processes for relaying match content are the major point of the discussion. My work in my MBA program was Innovation and Business Process Inprovement. When I made the decision to move ahead on this career path (#4 by the way) I began reading at alternative teaching strategies. Readings on Innovation dating back to 1985 describe Math content delivery as a challenge in Process Need. (Drucker, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, 1985).

This book outlines of information for success in Process Innovation, there are several key waypoints identification individual learning styles and real-time student performance evaluation seems to be the

5 criteria were listed

Self-contained process Math content is not self-contained but is dependent on language arts skills linked to comprehending intent and process

One “weak” or missing link Individual students express unique missing links that could be linked to learning styles.

Clear definition of the objective Standardized learning objectives are clear but real-time identification of missing links and intervention strategies should be in place.

Specification for the solution can be clearly defined Solutions would be gauged to learning style missing links
Widespread realization “There ought to be a better way” This is a “given” but few resources dedicated to this type of intervention.

3 constraints were given:

The need must be understood Given
Process is understood but tools for delivery do not exist Given
Process must fit the way people want to do the work Given

I have participated in several certification processes for enhancing performance on standardized testing. Each improvement strategy is designed to diffuse the tension associated with each content area by showing alternative approaches to answering each question type. It does not compromise the underlying concepts for math or language arts but does give students with roadblocks to learning a path to see their way to success.

As I pursue alternative licensure, I am going to serve as Tutor and Intervention support for Middle Grade Math content. These criteria and constraints will be observed in comparison with perceived learning styles.

Tasha

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I like how this article discusses the benefits for the students, including teamwork. In a classroom, this can help create a community of learners and provide the students with real-life experiences. Going along with the video, I like how the students put together a large portfolio to show to colleges and future employers.

I think project based

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I think project based learning is a great tool for teachers to use. It not only allows students to practice and develop real world skills, but it also allows students to show they know the content in a variety of ways. This can help students with learning disabilities because it allows them to focus on their strengths and present the material in ways other than the traditional written test.

I agree with the article and

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I agree with the article and the videos on the point that standardized testing is not the proper form of assessment. It can be a tool to gauge how students are doing but it does not give the whole, complete version of all that a child can do. Project-based learning is a great assessment tool that teaches students valuable skills for their future career while also exploring the standards in more depth. If project-based learning is taught more in elementary school, students will learn how to do a variety of skills instead of the "intellectual bulimia approach to learning" with tests. Students will learn that what they are taught in school actually applies to real-life. Therefore, learning will seem more meaningful to students. If a project is incorporated at the end of every high school class, hopefully there will be less people that drop out and do not graduate from high school. Students want learning to be useful and relate to their lives personally.

Project-based learning is a

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Project-based learning is a great way for a student to explore a topic on their own. It also gives students the opportunities to critically and creatively think about a topic. Assessment is not the answer!

Individual creativity and motivation

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I strongly agree with project-based learning. I think it is a great way for students to think critically and creativity about a topic. I also think it allows a studnent to freely explore a topic the way they wish. A student will feel good about his/her work and will develop a better self-concept. Assessment is not the answer!

Robert Siegel (not verified)

Assessment - a Balanced Approach

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I agree with the Edutopia authors that there are many forms of assessment. Unfortunately, the word has received such bad press and been so misinterpreted that its connotation is negative. As in all good things, a balance is required. As I indicate in my Master's level course on "Using Assessment to Improve Learning" at Oregon State University, student motivation for learning is based a great deal on their motivation and encouragement for learning. This requires "ownership". When we move more towards assessment FOR learning instead of assessment OF learning, we begin to see the great power of the concept. There are many strategies to release this power, and master K-12 teachers know how this works. It is critical to employ these strategies as early on in a child's formal education as possible so that they will not feel "jaded" or have a prejudicial view about assessment. This is why I work mostly with K-8 teachers and administrators.
Robert Siegel, EdM. M.A.

Robert Siegel (not verified)

Assessment - A Balanced Approach

Was this helpful?
0

I agree with the Edutopia authors that there are many forms of assessment. Unfortunately, the word has received such bad press and been so misinterpreted that its connotation is negative. As in all good things, a balance is required. As I indicate in my Master's level course on "Using Assessment to Improve Learning" at Oregon State University, student motivation for learning is based a great deal on their motivation and encouragement for learning. This requires "ownership". When we move more towards assessment FOR learning instead of assessment OF learning, we begin to see the great power of the concept. There are many strategies to release this power, and master K-12 teachers know how this works. It is critical to employ these strategies as early on in a child's formal education as possible so that they will not feel "jaded" or have a prejudicial view about assessment. This is why I work mostly with K-8 teachers and administrators.
Robert Siegel, EdM. M.A.

Jason Sparks (not verified)

Parallel to Test Prep

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Robert, isn't your recommendation parallel to preparing for the standardized tests such as SAT, GMAT, MCAT, etc. Consider the MCAT (Medical Colleges Assessment Test) market. There's an independent testing authority - the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC). Students attend classes through Kaplan, Princeton Review, etc. Others pay for private tutors. Many read books, attend study groups and leverage the Internet using social media and online content.

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