Student Assessment

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A current policy issue that is plaguing our educational system is the emphasis put on student assessments. Teachers are at odds in their classrooms on whether to teach the necessities that students will need to be productive in our society, to simply teach what will be tested on state and federally mandated assessments, or both. Teachers are forced to find a balance within their instructions due to the time restraints that stand in their way. When teachers are able to find this balance and present all the concepts that are included in assessment, plus all other concepts, the results from the assessments can be very beneficial to their classrooms. Assessment results have important implications for instruction. The primary aim of assessment is to foster learning of worthwhile academic content for all students (Wolf, Bixby, Glenn, & Gardner, 1991). School communities use assessment results in a formative way to determine how well they are meeting instructional goals and how to alter curriculum and instruction so that goals can be better met. But if what schools assess and how schools assess do not match what is taught and how it is taught, then the results are meaningless, if not potentially harmful. There's also potential for harm when decisions affecting students' futures are being made based on results of assessments made with tools that are not appropriate for the purpose. Some schools are attempting to change assessment to match the content and format of instruction, and are therefore relying more upon alternative assessment. Alternative assessments include performance-based assessment, portfolios, student-designed assessments, etc., and are considered by many educators to be more reflective of new curricular goals and methods of instruction. Some educators view alternative assessment as a better way to determine how well students are learning traditional forms of assessment like multiple choice tests. Alternative forms of assessment might best serve some of these purposes while more traditional forms could still serve others. Regardless of the purpose, however, the form of assessment used must reflect a teacher’s instructional goals and must be of high technical quality. (White & Fredericksen, 1994) Alternative forms of assessment require knowledge and skills that most teachers have not had the opportunity to learn, which in fact poses another issue with these types of classroom assessments. Without the knowledge and skills, teachers will be doing their students a disservice by conducting faulty assessments. Providing teachers with the time that is essential for learning is necessary to making changes in assessment practices. Teachers need time to produce and implement the assessments. Teachers also need time to work with one another to share ideas and reach consensus because integrating instruction and assessment requires coordination. Alternative assessment will not be effective if it is added to the list of responsibilities for teachers. (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 1991) When assessment results are used to make important decisions, there is a danger that instruction will narrowly focus on what is assessed while other important curricular goals and content are neglected (Romberg, Zarinnia, & Williams, 1989). All assessments include only a sample of the total content contained within a curriculum. Critics of multiple-choice tests, for example, suggest that the skills usually assessed by multiple-choice testing become the focus of instruction at the expense of more substantial content. Alternative assessment presents a solution to this situation by ensuring that the content of the assessment matches the most important content in the curriculum. However, regardless of how much the content of an assessment is improved, when teachers narrowly focus on what is tested, the assessment results will only reveal the students' learning of the test content, not whether they could perform a...
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