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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Marc Severson (not verified)

Assessments

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It is not just that we are teaching to the tests - we are fostering mediocrity. We say that you need only do this to pass and make it accessible to all. Then you are done. That is not learning. Teaching used to be creative and open ended. We have lost that spark – we can no longer make fire and if the embers we now have are extinguished how do we warm ourselves? If the ashes are cold, from where will the burning desire to learn arise?

Paul (not verified)

Thanks

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Heidi,

Thank you for your input on my question. I agree that students should be focusing on skills, and not tests.

Laurie D (not verified)

I Agree Heidi

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I agree with you Heidi. I struggle to teach the curriculum not the test. I believe that if the children can model the content in many different ways, then they will be successful on the any test.

Heidi (not verified)

Teaching to the Tests

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I wanted to say that I believe that all children deserve the chance to learn. That being said, I feel teachers should focus more on the skills for the test rather than the test itself. After all, the tests are on skills the students should know right? If children are all different, how can we judget them all the same? More teachers should modify lessons to reach all their students.

I have taught for three years and differentiated my curriculum to allow all of us to be successful. I know that a lot of schools base jobs on the test scores, but I really believe they should look at all factors for consideration.

Education is about reaching and teaching children. That should be our focus so we can all be successful.

Heidi (not verified)

Teaching to the Tests

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I wanted to say that I have always believed that every student deserves the chance to learn. That being said, I would like to see more teachers focus on the skills on the test instead of the test itself. The tests the students take are on the skills they should have been taught right? Not every child learns the same so how can we judge them all the same? If we all taught the children in the classrooms we teach based on their abilities they would be more successful and we would reach more children that way.

I know that a lot of schools base jobs on test scores, but I believe other factors should be taken into consideration. I have grouped children based on abilities for three years now and all of us have been more successful that way because I am not forcing a child to accomplish a task he is not ready to complete. I reach the children in my classroom where they are and bring them up as high as I can.

Beth (not verified)

Assessment

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This past year in my district, we implemented a weekly Open Response and practice Reading test to help prepare our students for the state test. Each week our Open Response test had two parts. Generally part A would be a topic that the student had to name or list items that belonged in a particular category, etc (for example, name each type of animal habitat). Part B would then ask the student to either compare and contrast two items from part A or ask the student to fully explain or provide details of one item in part A.

We went over these Open Response tests after and each child who did not get a grade of at least 3/4 had a chance to re-do the assessment until they reached the higher grade.

Beth (not verified)

Assessment

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This past year in my district, we implemented a weekly Open Response and practice Reading test to help prepare our students for the state test. Each week our Open Response test had two parts. Generally part A would be a topic that the student had to name or list items that belonged in a particular category, etc (for example, name each type of animal habitat). Part B would then ask the student to either compare and contrast two items from part A or ask the student to fully explain or provide details of one item in part A.

We went over these Open Response tests after and each child who did not get a grade of at least 3/4 had a chance to re-do the assessment until they reached the higher grade.

Paul Zellem (not verified)

Alternate Assessments

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With so much of today's schools focused on state achievement tests, many teachers are "teaching to the test". However, this does not adequately prepare students for life outside of school. Does anyone have any suggestions for the alternate assessment that this article was describing? I am looking for some way to increase student learning, and maintain state standards at the same time.

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