If assessment is authentic, ongoing, and integrated with classroom instruction, then it is easy to see that it will take many different forms (Stiggins, 1994; Valencia, 1990). Some assessments are more formal, others more informal.
Some formal assessments provide teachers with a systematic way to evaluate how well students are progressing in a particular instructional program. For example, after completing a four- to six-week theme, teachers will want to know how well students have learned the theme skills and concepts. They may give all the students a theme test in which students read, answer questions, and write about a similar theme concept. This type of assessment allows the teacher to evaluate all the students systematically on the important skills and concepts in the theme by using real reading and writing experiences that fit with the instruction. In other situations, or for certain students, teachers might use a skills test to examine specific skills or strategies taught in a theme.
Teachers, parents, and administrators might want to know how well students are reading and writing in general, independent of the specific instructional program. This requires a different type of formal assessment. Sometimes, school districts use a standardized norm-reference test or a state test that is administered to only certain grade levels or only once a year. Other times, teachers want similar information, but would like some flexibility in when and how often they conduct the assessment. For example, they might want to know how well students are reading and writing at the beginning, middle, and end of the year compared with other children at the same grade level. This type of benchmark or anchor test helps teachers determine how well students are progressing over the entire year, and it provides useful information to parents and administrators. Two points of comparison are available, the student's growth over time, and the student's performance as compared with his or her grade-level peers.
Because this type of formal classroom assessment is more flexible than traditional norm-referenced tests, teachers can use out-of-level tests to determine student progress. If specific students are performing far below or above grade level, the teacher can give the assessment that best fits with students' needs. In addition, the flexibility allows the teacher to observe students closely as they work and to modify the assessment as needed.
Other forms of authentic assessment are more informal, including special activities such as group or individual projects, experiments, oral presentations, demonstrations, or performances. Some informal assessments may be drawn from typical classroom activities such as assignments, journals, essays, reports, literature discussion groups, or reading logs. Other times, it will be difficult to show student progress using actual work, so teachers will need to keep notes or checklists to record their observations from student-teacher conferences or informal classroom interactions. Sometimes informal assessment is as simple as stopping during instruction to observe or to discuss with the students how learning is progressing. Any of these types of assessment can be made more formal by specifying guidelines for what and how to do them, or they can be quite informal, letting students and teachers adjust to individual needs. In some situations, the teacher will want all students to complete the same assessments; in others, assessments will be tailored to individual needs. All present good assessment opportunities.
It is important to use a variety of forms of assessment. For some students, written work is difficult, so too much reliance on it will put them at a disadvantage. Similarly, particular activities or topics will inspire excellent performance in some students and frustrate others. Including a variety of types of assessments will ensure that students are provided with ample opportunities to demonstrate their abilities and that teachers have the information they need to construct a complete, balanced assessment of each student.
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