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Principles of Assessment

By Marlene Gundlach

As we give assessments for learning, we must ask ourselves many important questions about the process. Why are we assessing the student and what do we hope to achieve with the results? We as teachers need to be more accountable and educate ourselves on the principles of assessment.

Testing vs. Assessing

Teachers and administrators are responsible for being aware of the principles of assessment. This will lead to more authentic assessments and results. Students deserve to be evaluated with authentic, reliable tests and assessments.

Testing can become a dreaded word for any student. What is the difference between testing and an assessment? The term testing refers to a traditional paper and pencil task. You give a student a multiple-choice test and they fill in the answers. They have one shot to show you what they learned. Assessment is a much broader term. When performing an assessment, teachers use other methods to evaluate student performance. Assessments can include:

  • observations
  • interviews
  • daily work samples
  • rating scales or rubrics

The idea here is that a single test only gives you a small snapshot of what the student knows. The student might have had a bad day or were not feeling well. Some students just do not do well taking tests. By using assessments, you have a better chance of identifying if a student did not test well, or if they actually struggle with the concepts presented. If they performed well on daily tasks and you observe that they participated in class and knew the answers during group discussions, you can better judge their performance on a pencil-paper test.

Teacher Competence and Accountability

studying Teachers should be competent when administering student assessments. In addition, teachers should be given the time, along with the resources, needed to complete these assessments professionally. When it comes to assessing students properly and accurately, these activities must be followed:

Activities prior to Instruction

  • Understand the students you are servicing. This includes cultural backgrounds, interests, skills, and abilities
  • Understand students' motivations and interests in the content you are presenting
  • Clarify the expected outcomes
  • Plan instruction for individuals or groups

Activities during Instruction

  • Monitor student progress toward your instructional goals
  • Identify gains and difficulties the students are experiencing
  • Adjust instruction
  • Give contingent, specific, and credible praise and feedback
  • Motivate your students to learn
  • Evaluate the extent of student achievement

Activities after Appropriate Instruction

  • Describe the extent to which each pupil has attained short- and long-term goals
  • Communicate strengths and weaknesses based on your assessment results
  • Record and report assessment results
  • Analyze assessment information gathered before and during instruction so that you can better understand students' progress and use it to develop future instructional planning
  • Evaluate effectiveness of instruction
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of the curriculum and any materials you use

Resources: Information disseminated with permission from The American Federation of Teachers National Council on Measurement in Education National Education Association.

Assess, Don't Test

Lesson Plan In summary, teachers need to be skilled in choosing and developing assessment methods that are appropriate for the instructional decisions being made. In addition, teachers need to know how to score an assessment, and then interpret the data so that further decisions can be made regarding instruction. We need to look at assessment results in a different light.

Change our focus from the student's inabilities and look inward. If a student does not perform well on a test or assessment, our first reaction should not be "This student did not learn what they were supposed to learn." Instead, let us first ask, "How could I have changed my instruction so that the student could better understand the concepts I was presenting?"

Let assessments and tests drive and transform your instruction. Take the time to look at your instructional goals before you teach and then drive instruction to help students meet these goals. Don't let one test determine whether a student is meeting the goals you set forth for them. Assess; don't just test.

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