The Changing Picture of Assessment

Assessment used to be viewed as formal tests, usually multiple-choice, selected by school districts or state administrators, and given to students once or several times a year. The purpose was to obtain information that could be easily reported to the public, school boards, administrators, and parents. Obviously, such assessment had limited potential to influence teaching and learning in a positive way. It was something separate and different from normal classroom life, and it often tested lower-level skills and concepts that were easy to test, rather than more complex, and often more significant, aspects of the curriculum. In addition, the information from these traditional assessments was most often reported as a number, which was not useful for determining what students knew or what teachers needed to do to help them learn. Other information gathered by teachers was not considered valid assessment; it was thought of as the teachers' anecdotal observations or the students' papers or classroom work. Students were the object of assessment, the people who were tested, rather than collaborators -- or even recipients of the information.

Fortunately, in the past ten years we have witnessed a revolution in assessment, one that has finally taken hold in classrooms, schools, districts, states, and the nation (Office of Technology Assessment, 1992; Pelavin, 1991). As a result, the definition of assessment has been expanded in two important ways:

A complete assessment system is responsive to these audiences and purposes, and it values classroom-based assessment as a major component of the system. It includes a balance of formal normative tests that help teachers and administrators know how students are performing compared to other students across the nation or the state; formal assessments published in conjunction with instructional programs that help teachers and students know how well students are learning; informal classroom work samples, performances, and observations that help teachers and students evaluate the application of skills to everyday learning; and student self-assessment that helps students become self-directed learners.

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