What is the range of assessments and
evaluations that students and teachers face?
Let's look at four main levels where assessments and evaluations are generated: national, state, local district, and the school/classroom.
||National -- Scholastic Aptitude Test; standards developed by national professional
organizations (e.g., the National Council of Teaching Mathematics)
|.||State -- state mastery tests; Regents exams; state portfolio initiatives
|.||Local District -- standardized tests subscribed to by schools or districts; system-wide or
multischool portfolio initiatives
|.||School/Classroom -- informal checks for understanding; observation; dialogues; quizzes; tests;
Public school teachers must redesign assessment criteria and incorporate them into their classrooms so that they align with the various state standards. Teachers must also balance the standards suggested by professional organizations with those mandated at the state level. Educators in private and parochial schools also may need to meet the same state standards. As the subject of school vouchers plays itself out across the country, these issues have become increasingly important.
For a comprehensive look at academic standards, see the Teaching to Academic Standards Workshop. See our Resources page for a larger review of standardized testing and links to Web sites on individual state standards and assessments.
State departments of education have increasingly become involved in these issues during the past few
decades. The following is a list of several trends that seem to be emerging at the state level:
- Standards/Assessment -- Most states are attempting to use assessment and evaluation criteria to measure how schools
and students meet their standards.
- Promotion -- In many states, how students fare when taking state-mandated assessments determines promotion from grade to grade. These scores are also a major factor in high school graduation
- Funds -- Funding, in many states, is tied to student achievement.
- Publicity -- Schools' report cards frequently include a record of how each school's students scored
compared with other scores from across the state.
Many states have produced assessment tools designed to measure how well students are meeting their standards. Frequently known as "mastery tests," these are norm-referenced tests
ascertain the rank of students across the state. Visit our Resources page to see how a norm-referenced test result is analyzed.
The results of these state exams are often widely disseminated, and they can have dynamic consequences. Some groups issue "school report cards," which provide a school-by-school comparison of students' test performances, as well as comparisons with schools in other districts around the state. These "report cards" are often published in local newspapers and can have quite an impact on public perceptions of individual schools.
Teachers, as well as students, are often demoralized by low scores, even after efforts to improve on performance. Parents also become concerned about students' promotion and graduation, and individual schools may offer after-hours practice courses to improve scores. The funding for charter schools often depends on students' scores on standardized tests . . . thus limiting curricular choices.
Criterion-referenced tests (CRT)
2 are another kind of test that have been in use longer than mastery tests. These tests are judged by comparing performance to predetermined levels of educational goals set in the curriculum. CRTs can be based on standards set by the school, district, or state. The New York State Regents exams is an example of a CRT designed to evaluate students' performance.
Eileen Bendixsen is a middle school teacher at Beers Street Middle School in Hazlet, New Jersey. In this clip she discusses several methods she uses to assess student learning.
There are two general types of assessment tools, which can be applied to the various methods of assessment that are discussed below.
1. Choose-a-response assessments
ask students to pick a response from a given list. Examples include: multiple-choice, true/false, or
2. Alternative asessments generally involve students creating a response to a question. Some examples are: short-answer questions, essays, performance tasks,
oral presentations, demonstrations, projects, exhibitions, role plays, research papers, poetry,
historical fiction, group work, and portfolios.
Many state or national tests include both choose-a-response questions and alternative assessment
questions. The same holds true at the local and classroom levels. Each kind
of assessment has its function and place. Both are necessary to assess a student's level of
understanding. Both are necessary to inform instruction. And both are necessary elements of student
Three Methods of Assessment
A. Performance Assessment
Performance assessment is a way to document and evaluate the work that students have accomplished during some fixed period of time.
It tends to take the form of lengthy, multidisciplinary problem-solving
activities. Panels of experts frequently judge the results, which are often used for promotion, distinctions, and graduation.
The Coalition of Essential Schools (which has more
than 1000 member schools) offers this view of performance assessment:
Teaching and learning should be documented and assessed with tools based on student
performance of real tasks. Multiple forms of evidence, ranging from ongoing observation of the learner
to completion of specific projects, should be used to better understand the learner's strengths and
needs and to plan for further assistance. Students should have opportunities to exhibit their
expertise before family and community. The final diploma should be awarded upon a successful final
demonstration of mastery for graduation -- an "exhibition." As the diploma is awarded when earned, the
school's program proceeds with no strict age grading and with no system of credits "earned" by "time
spent" in class. The emphasis is on the students' demonstration that they can do important things.
Performance assessments may be short-answer or extended responses. Examples include oral questions, traditional quizzes, tests, and open-ended prompts.
- What are the beginning and ending dates of the American Revolution?
- 232 + 50 + 4031 + 22 = ______
- Who wrote ROMEO AND JULIET?
- Estimate the number of candies you will collect on Halloween.
- What is the optimum ratio of salt to ice needed to make ice cream? (Students are provided with
experimental equipment and materials in a lab situation.)
- Develop and write a story for children based on the theme of immigration.
Projects are designed to draw upon a range of skills from the student, who may work individually or in groups to accomplish the goals that have been set. Projects can be as creative and varied as the teachers who assign them. Here are a few examples:
- Create a computer game that teaches math facts.
- Research the topic of animal rights, take a position on it, and defend your position in a paper
and a class debate.
- Design and build a working prototype of a non-fossil-fuel vehicle.
- Make a map of your neighborhood, noting your favorite places.
Portfolios are collections of student work. The teacher and student usually work together to determine the purpose of the portfolio, and it may be used to assess effort, progress, proficiency, or some combination and special application of these skills.
Students usually select the work that is included in portfolios. Teachers can achieve a general standardization by selecting the categories and the criteria used to evaluate quality.
Vermont has adopted portfolio assessments statewide. Students in elementary, middle, and high school
all compile and submit portfolios for evaluation. Each year, a group of educators from around the
state gather at a central location for four or five days for a portfolio assessment workshop in which
standards are agreed upon. Mathematics and writing portfolios collected from schools around the state
are sampled and scored. Local scoring is then based on the annual statewide results.
Visit the Resources page for a link to Vermont's School report
with more details.
Here are a few examples of portfolio assignments:
- Collect five pieces of your writing with examples of prewriting/brainstorming, drafts, peer-editing notes, and final copies.
- Write and collect responses to a fiction
piece, a factual or information piece (e.g., a textbook), a primary resource piece, and an article about current events. This would show the student's understanding and ability to respond to different
kinds of writing. Be sure to have at least one narrative and one expository piece.
- Tape, scan, or otherwise digitize your best work from this year in each area of study. Use the
program HyperStudio to make a digital portfolio.
- Create an art portfolio of at least eight pieces. It should be suitable to support application to
an undergraduate school of fine arts.