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.
- Assessment is acknowledged to have many different purposes and
audiences. For example, assessments are used to qualify students for
special services; to report to school boards, states, and parents;
to evaluate program effectiveness; to monitor student learning and
adjust teaching strategies; to evaluate students' growth over time;
to engage students in self-evaluation; and to understand students'
strengths and needs. Each of these different purposes and audiences
may require different kinds of assessment and different types of
information (Farr, 1992; Haney, 1991; Office of Technology
Assessment, 1992; Pearson & Valencia, 1987). One type of assessment
cannot meet the needs of all audiences. Administrators, for example,
want to know about school programs or large groups of students.
They might need that information only once or a couple of times a year
and might not be concerned with individual students' strengths and
needs. Teachers, parents, and students need more specific information
and need it more often. By understanding different purposes and
choosing different assessments to fit these purposes, we are more
likely to discover information that will enhance teaching and learning
(Hiebert & Calfee, 1989; Linn, Baker & Dunbar, 1991; Pearson &
- The importance of classroom-based assessment has been recognized,
giving it a central position in all assessment discussions (Hiebert &
Calfee, 1989). Classroom-based assessment is closest to actual learning
and to children; therefore, it is most likely to influence instructional
decisions and to engage children in evaluation of their own work. It is
more specific to individual children and to instruction, and it occurs
more frequently than formal norm-referenced testing. When assessment and
instruction are melded, both teachers and students become learners.
Teachers become more focused on what and how to teach, and students
become more self-directed, motivated, and focused on learning (Graue,
1993; Wolf, 1989). Classroom assessment puts teachers and children in
charge of assessment. Consequently, it is our responsibility to
understand the elements of good classroom-based assessment and how to
put them into action.
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