Be test smart
Like it or not, standardized tests are a fact of life for K-12 students and educators. The more you know about standardized tests and -- most importantly, the role they play in your district and state -- the more able you'll be to put test scores into perspective for students and parents. The National Education Association (NEA) has crafted an excellent primer on standardized tests, including a thoughtful position paper on accountability.
Think like an assessor, not like an activity designer
In an interview with GLEF, assessment guru Grant Wiggins identifies assessment design as one of the critical components of project-based learning. "Thinking like a teacher," says Wiggins, "you have kids do interesting projects. Thinking like an assessor, you say, 'What's the evidence I need, and how do I alert kids to the fact that that's what I'm going to evaluate them on?'"
Engage in constant assessment
In Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers, Thomas A. Angelo and K. Patricia Cross identify the seven principles of good classroom assessment as learner-centered, teacher-directed, mutually beneficial, formative, context-specific, ongoing, and rooted in good teaching practice.
Discuss assessments in terms that students can understand
When using rubrics to evaluate a writing assignment, for example, provide students with a copy of the rubric (written in kid-friendly terms), along with a sample of exemplary work. The Chicago Public Schools has developed a teacher resource on the use, design, and implementation of rubrics, including strategies for communicating grading criteria to students.
Implement classroom-based performance assessment.
Among the many benefits of performance assessments is the opportunity they provide to gauge how well your students understand and can apply knowledge or skills. "Implementing Performance Assessment in the Classroom," by Amy Brualdi, provides a step-by-step guide for teachers, from help with choosing an activity to defining criteria, creating a rubric, and assessing performance.
Share your assessment goals and strategies with parents and students
Back-to-school nights and parent-student-teacher conferences are both excellent opportunities to share assessment information with parents. Take care to discuss all types of assessment -- your own classroom assessment, district-level assessment, and state-mandated standardized tests. Public Engagement's Achieving Standards Toolkit includes free, downloadable materials designed to help parents understand standards and how they are assessed.
Provide your students with opportunities to assess their own and one another's work
Self-assessment and peer review can play a critical role in helping to develop students' understanding of concepts and mastery of skills. "Using Self-Evaluation With Fourth Graders," by Leah Poynter, provides insight into the self-assessment practices of one classroom teacher, including sample self-evaluation forms.
Don't teach to the test
Given the high-stakes nature of today's standardized tests, it's not surprising that test preparation has become commonplace in many K-12 classrooms. In his Educational Leadership article "Teaching to the Test?" UCLA Professor James Popham identifies the harmful consequences of teaching to the test, not the least of which is the invalidation of test results.
Demand professional development opportunities
Standards-based instruction and alternative assessments are new for many teachers and require the development of new skills and strategies. Advocate both school and districtwide workshops and in-service opportunities for teachers to learn more about these critical areas. In "Making Sure That Assessment Improves Instruction," Kate Jamentz, former director of the California Assessment Collaborative, emphasizes the importance of providing teachers with ongoing opportunities to "develop the capacity to analyze student work." "Schools can convey the importance of this work," says Jamentz, "by providing time for it as an integral part of teachers' responsibilities."
Chicago Public Schools' Introduction to Scoring Rubrics. Offers an excellent overview on the use of rubrics to evaluate performance assessments and projects.
Dr. Helen Barrett's Electronic Portfolios Web site. Visit this website for information on electronic portfolios, including informative articles on creating student portfolios, appropriate software tools, planning considerations, and more.
North Central Regional Educational Laboratory's Pathways to School Improvement initiative features several articles and issue briefs on assessment, particularly the use of performance assessments in K-12 classrooms.
Relearning By Design. This nonprofit organization headed by assessment expert Grant Wiggins provides consultations, in-service workshops, professional development seminars, and national conferences to improve the ways that educational goals and means are organized and assessed.