What do you think of when someone says, “ASSESSMENTS”? This is the first question I asked at the recent PS Parent Coffee on November 15th. Parents responded with the words: test, anxiety, grading, fear, stress, judgment. And yes, when most people think of assessment, they typically think of tests, grading, numbers, a bit of stress and anxiety, but also some may come away from assessment with a sense of accomplishment and pride. Indeed true innovative assessment sparks these concepts: feedback, information, adjusting, learning/teaching, change.
Many people think of tests and assessment as the same thing, but tests and quizzes are just two types of assessments. We employ many kinds of assessment in order to obtain a complete picture of your child as a learner. Assessment is more than a number, a grade. Assessment and instruction are inseparable. We build instruction that meets high standards and is developmentally appropriate. We know that a number is going to give us finite information. What we are looking for is instruction and assessment that moves the student forward and meets both curriculum standards and students’ needs.
We use assessment to know if students can apply what they have learned in an authentic situation. In this way, we can pinpoint specific strengths and weaknesses, and adjust our teaching to best meet our students’ needs. There are 5 basic types of assessments and we use all of them to gain an accurate and informative picture of your child’s learning:
Diagnostic: Tells us what the student needs to learn. Given at the beginning of the school year, or the beginning of a new unit of study, a diagnostic test attempts to quantify what students already know about a topic.
Formative: Tells us how well the student is doing as work progresses. Given throughout the learning process, formative assessments seek to determine how students are progressing through a certain learning goal. Based on teacher observation: simply observing the actions, behaviors, and words of students can provide a wealth of valuable data.
Summative: Tells us how well the student did at the end of a unit/task. Given at the end of the year or unit, summative assessments assess a student’s mastery of a topic after instruction.
Norm-referenced: Tells us how well the student did in comparison to other students. These tests measure students against a national “norm” or average in order to rank students against each other. The CPT IV, SAT, ACT, Iowa Basic Skills Test, and other major state standardized tests are norm-referenced.
Criterion-referenced: Tells us how well the student has learned a specific body of knowledge or acquired a specific skill set. These tests measure student performance against a standard or specific goal. Unit and chapter tests, writing assessments with rubrics, and the PARCC Common Core tests are examples of criterion-referenced tests.
Although we use many different types of assessments, formative assessment is our mainstay; it is central to our instruction. Using innovative formative assessment consistently and effectively allows the integration of teaching and learning on an ongoing basis, students can constantly improve and excel. Formative assessment is “assessment as learning,” the feedback is used to improve the learning. As Lee Crockett and Andrew Churches state in their book, Mindful Assessment, “… a parent teaching a child to cook would never say, “That was 74 percent.” Instead, the parent would watch, demonstrate, and allow the child a chance to get better. These acts of mindful nurturing and guidance are examples of natural learning, and we perform them instinctively.” Teachers consistently model skills, practice the skill with the whole group, and then set students off to practice the skill independently always with an observant instructional eye. Our goal with formative assessment is to allow children to have more and more autonomy and control so that they become architects of their own learning.