Why Does Assessment Need to Be Ongoing?

Most educators would agree that authentic assessment must include more than a "one-shot" evaluation. Important decisions should be based on more than one sample of a student's abilities. Furthermore, complex outcomes often require several assessment tasks so that students can demonstrate their understandings in a variety of contexts (Hiebert & Calfee, 1989).

More important, however, is that ongoing assessment makes visible, and values, growth over time. Instead of focusing solely on achievement, both achievement and growth are considered important. For example, imagine a struggling fourth-grade student. When she entered fourth grade she knew only a few sight words, used consonants and context to decode unknown words, and enjoyed reading predictable first-grade books. At the end of the year, portfolio evidence of running records, audiotapes, book logs, observation checklists, and teacher conferences indicates that she can independently read narrative and informational books at the third-grade level. Her word identification strategies now include word families, word parts, and vowel sounds, as well as context and an expanded repertoire of sight words. She still enjoys reading and has broadened her selections beyond predictable books. Ongoing assessment provides valuable information about the progress of this struggling learner. Although she still is not performing like average fourth-grade students, we have evidence of her growth.

Portfolios are particularly useful for ongoing assessment (Valencia, 1990; Wolf, 1989). They provide concrete evidence to document growth over time. They help students, teachers, and parents celebrate individual students' accomplishments, regardless of how they compare to other children or to grade-level expectations. In addition, using ongoing assessment can improve teaching and learning by providing timely feedback. When students and teachers frequently assess how well they are doing, they can adjust instruction, effort, and practice. The potential to succeed is enhanced.

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