Thursday, April 10, 2008

How can we better assess what students know?

At Inspired Teaching we believe standardized tests alone are not a sufficient measure of what students know, are capable of doing, and still need to learn.

These are a few of the reasons why:
  • These one-day "snapshots" of student knowledge do not take into account the child who suffers from test anxiety, went to school without breakfast, or didn't get any sleep last night.
  • They are not catered to the particular learning styles of individual children and therefore do not allow every child to perform at his or her best.
  • Because of their standardized format they do not include opportunities for students to demonstrate higher-order problem-solving skills.
  • Most of these tests do not address the needs of English language learners.
But don't we need to measure student achievement so we know how to help students improve?


We just need to use a broader approach to make this happen. There many assessment tools out there that paint a more complete picture of student learning than a standardized test can alone.

These are just a few approaches to “authentic assessment” that our Inspired Teachers use:

Performance Tasks
Example: Students have been studying global warming for a unit in science and they are asked to create a presentation for the Environmental Protection Agency responding to the following prompt: What are 5 things people in the DC metro area can do to solve global warming? Include documentation and evidence to support the proposed solution.

In the classroom, performance tasks like this one ask students to craft individual responses to questions and/or create products that demonstrate their understanding of a concept. The final product in a performance task should demonstrate that students are applying what they have learned in class to analyze a particular problem. It is essential when teachers use performance tasks that their expectations are very clear and that students have a full understanding of how their final products will be evaluated.

Another example of a performance task that is familiar to all of us is the road test you take to get your driver’s license. Your mastery of the concept is evaluated based on how well you actually drive the car.

Example: With the support of an advisor or teacher, once a year high school students compile a portfolio of their best work from the school year to demonstrate mastery of a core set of academic standards and skills. Students create written reflections for each piece in the portfolio explaining the strengths and weaknesses of individual “learning artifacts.” They present their portfolios to a panel comprised of teachers, parents or guardians, and peers as part of a comprehensive assessment of their readiness to progress to the next grade level.

Portfolios, like the ones described above, can contain just about anything from rough drafts and final copies of written work, to videotapes of student performances, to teacher recommendations, graded project rubrics, and reviews. The process for creating this type of assessment varies, but it is recommended that students play an active role in determining what the portfolio contains.

An artist’s portfolio is usually a well-presented collection of her finest work. Gallery owners, show jurors, and potential buyers assess her skills based on what they see in this portfolio. A student portfolio serves the same function. Usually compiled over the course of a year or several years – student portfolios offer concrete evidence of student performance, growth, and progress.

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