Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Feedback/Effective Assessments
|“||The purpose of implementing an assessment and accountability program is to improve student learning of worthwhile content.||”|
—Educational Testing Service (Bascia)
When you think of the term “assessment” you probably immediately think “test.” While testing is an important part of effective assessment, there are several other key components.
In order for students to succeed both the students and the schools must receive the right resources and be held to the appropriate standards. While these guidelines may seem to be little more than common sense, they are not always so simple to implement. The American Educational Research Association outlined the following three criteria necessary for an effective assessment program:
- The assessment and accountability program should provide a good target for student and school effort.
- The assessment and accountability program should be symmetrical.
- The assessment and accountability program should be fair.
Providing a Good Target
Standards that are well planned and evenly applied are the first step. These standards should include a broad curriculum. Students should be proficient in foundation skills (like multiplication tables or verb declension). Students however should also be able to use ideas they are taught to solve problems and communicate those ideas to others. In other words, “Assessment tasks assess the capacity to analyze and synthesis new information and concepts rather than simply recall information previously presented.” (CSHE, 2002) When setting appropriate targets there are several factors to consider, including:
- A range of subjects should be tested.
- The whole school should accept appropriate responsibility for students’ success or failure.
- A good assessment program focuses attention on the domain of content desired, as opposed to the specific sample tested.
- Hold schools and students accountable require specifying standards for performance.
- The goal is to set rewards and sanctions that are sufficient to focus attention on desired content and increase effort. (Porter, 2004)
For those of you who took geometry a life time ago, symmetrical means to be equal on each side. When applied to an educational assessment program that means that both the students and the schools are equally held responsible in obtaining goals. Questions that must be asked when creating a symmetrical program include:
- To what degree will teachers at untested grades share the responsibility for student’s success/failure in high stakes testing?
- How much are the schools, teachers, and students held responsible for their own performance?
- Are the students and teachers held to same set of data for their evaluations? (Porter 2004)
It is important that the notion of equal responsibility should not end within the schools. If the state holds the schools to a standard, the state should also be accountable in helping the schools meet that standard. Alexander Astin highlights this concept in his article “9 Principles of Assessing Student Learning” stating, “Assessment alone changes very little. . . . The push to improve educational performance is a visible and primary goal of leadership; improving the quality of [education] is central to the institution’s planning, budgeting and personnel decisions.
Fairness in Assessment
This concept of fairness goes hand in hand with the previous idea of equal responsibility. “The key ideas behind a fair assessment and accountability program are opportunity to learn, adequate resources, and the reliability and validity of measures on which inferences are made.” (Heubert & Hauser 1999) In other words, if a school is going to hold a student to a standard, the school must adequately teach that standard. Likewise if a state is going to hold the schools accountable, then the state must provide the proper funds and resources needed.
But holding each level accountable is one thing, knowing where to start that accountability is something quite different. Can you hold the student accountable before they receive instruction? Do you hold the school accountable once the standards are set? Or should there be a more gradual implementation of standards and accountability? One solution is to first hold the schools accountable for a period of time before the students (Foster, 2004) Of course there is much more than simply creating the standards in achieving academic success. The standards must be taught, both efficiently and effectively. To that a school must have “qualified staff, instructional materials including technology, high-quality teacher professional development and reasonable class sizes.” (Foster, 2000)
But how do high-stakes testing factor into fairness in assessment? Fairness would indicate that no single test would determine the academic future of a student. The student must be given multiple tests and multiple opportunities to prove that he/she is proficient. This may create a “bias of success” (Foster, 2004) because it increases the likelihood that a student will succeed. Fairness in assessment supports such a positive leaning bias.
Effective Assessment in the Classroom
The previous sections have concentrated on assessment applied across a school system. However assessment for that system begins in singular classrooms. How can effective assessment be applied in those individual classrooms? Again, there are three basic principles to take into account.
- Create Unambiguous Expectations. Students will do better when they understand what is expected of them. Assignment should be clearly defined and pertain to the lectures and resources they are provided. They should also receive feedback, explanation of their grades, and suggestions for improvement.
- Create Authentic Tasks. Students will do better when they are given assignments that call upon skills that will be valuable in real-life situations.
- Give Choice and Flexibility. Students will work harder if they believe they have a voice in their given assignments. Providing a choice of assignment and different ways to complete those assignments but the responsibility of the students to highlight their individual skills. (Assessing Student Learning)
Other Principles To Consider
- Standards First, Then Testing. Policy makers and educators need to use a progression that begins with setting goals and ends with assessment. Then we can use tests that measure our progress.
- Tests Measure Educational Progress--They Don't Create It. Tests do not make better students; good schools and good teachers do!
- No Single Test Does Everything--The Importance of Multiple Measures. No one test can show whether all standards are being met, nor can it show everything we need to know about one student's progress.
- The Importance of Valid, Fair, and Reliable Assessments. All tests should be created and published using standards developed by the American Educational Research Association and the National Council on Measurement in Education. When creating tests, fairness, validity, reliability, and technical strengths should be reviewed (McGraw-Hill).
Effective assessment is a set of rules, tools, regulations and resources designed to help both students and schools meet the standards necessary to succeed. Effective Assessment both begins and ends with that standard. The schools must create and then teach that standard. Students must learn and apply that standard. When the standard is met, the bar should be raised higher.
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- American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, & National Council on Measurements in Education. (1999) Standards for educational and psychological testing. Washington DC: American Educational Research Association.
- Astin, A. W., et al. 9 Principles of Good Practice for Assessing Student Learning. American Association for Higher Education. Assessment Forum.
- Centre for the Study of Higher Education. Core principles of effective assessment. http://www.cshe.unimelb.edu.au/assessinglearning/05/
- CTB McGraw-Hill. "A Guide For Effective Assessment". 
- Heubert, J.P., & Hauser, R.M. (Eds.) (1999) High Stakes: Testing for tracking, promotion, and graduation. Washington DC: National Academy Press.
- Porter, A.C. (2000). Doing high-stakes assessment right. School Administrator, 11(57, 28-31.
- Porter, A.C., Chester, M. D., & Schlesinger, M.D. (2004) Framework for an Effective Assessment and Accountability Program: The Philadelphia Example. Teachers College Record, vol. 106. 1358-1400.