Classroom Assessment
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Classroom Assessment

A Practical Guide for Educators

Dr Craig A Mertler

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eBook - ePub

Classroom Assessment

A Practical Guide for Educators

Dr Craig A Mertler

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About This Book

• Provides detailed information on

· the functions of assessment;

· how to construct, administer, and interpret the results of teacher-developed assessment techniques; and

· how to interpret the results of externally developed instruments such as standardized tests.

• Both traditional and newer, alternative assessment techniques are covered.

• Advantages and disadvantages of each assessment technique are discussed.

• A companion website helps both instructors and students obtain additional information on topics of special interest to them.

• Numerous examples of the principles and procedures make it easy for students to understand the material.

• The highly practical nature of this book stems from the focus on how assessment intertwines with other everyday activities in classrooms.

• Measurement theory and computational procedures that are unlikely to be used by classroom teachers are de-emphasized, producing a textbook that provides comprehensive coverage without being unnecessarily technical.

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Part I:
Introduction to Classroom Assessment

Chapter 1 Assessment in Elementary and Secondary Classrooms

Overview of Chapter 1


The day-to-day work undertaken by classroom teachers is multifaceted. From "minor" aspects of the job (such as taking morning attendance, supervising a kickball game on the playground, or chaperoning a dance) to much more "important" components (such as planning the instructional activities for a month-long unit, determining which students will move on to the next grade level, or developing a new curriculum), teachers are inundated with a wide variety of professional responsibilities.
None of these responsibilities is more important–or more central – to the work of teachers than that of assessing student performance. You can be one of the most energetic, interesting, and knowledgeable teachers in the world, but if you are unable to accurately and consistently assess and evaluate the performance of your students, you are not doing justice to your students.
One of the major responsibilities placed on teachers is the communication of academic and social performance and progress to a variety of audiences. These audiences include parents, administrators, the general public, and other teachers in the district, as well as individual students. If the results of assessment and evaluative judgments made about students' performances are not accurate, you will be providing misinformation to the various recipients of your communications. In doing so, you may be harming your students instead of helping them. For example, imagine the possible ramifications if you were to inform parents that their child was better in academic performance than was actually the case.
The purpose of this book is to assist future teachers – and perhaps, inservice teachers as well – in developing and refining their skills in student assessment, I have tried to take a very practical approach to my discussions of topics, issues, and techniques related to classroom assessment. I hope that you find the discussions, examples, and activities beneficial to your future careers as classroom teachers.
In this chapter, several important terms related to classroom assessment are defined. Next, the various purposes of assessment are described. Finally, ethical issues and standards related to classroom assessment are explained.

Some Basic Definitions

Assessment System, Evaluation, Measurement, Assessment, and Test

Five terms very important in classroom assessment are assessment system, evaluation, measurement, assessment, and test. There are some similarities, but also very distinct differences, among them. Airasian (2000) defines an assessment system as the process of collecting, synthesizing, and interpreting information to aid in educational decision making. It is important to note that this system of assessment is a process; it is not a single entity. Many people mistakenly envision a standardized test when someone refers to "assessment." Standardized tests certainly contribute to a system of assessment, but an assessment system is a much broader concept. It refers to a related series of measures used to determine attributes of individuals or groups of individuals (Oosterhof, 1999). The results of these related measurements – perhaps consisting of tests, homework assignments, group projects, and/or informal observations – might be used to determine a student's status on some complex cognitive characteristic. For our purposes, an assessment system will be defined as "all the systematic methods and procedures that are used to obtain information about behaviors and upon which educational decisions are based."
Evaluation is often described as the process of making a value judgment about student skills or capabilities. Evaluation goes beyond measurement not only to quantify performance, but also to judge the merits of that performance. Evaluation typically follows measurement and other assessment-related activities conducted by teachers. Additionally, evaluation often requires a substantial degree of professional decision making by classroom teachers. Since this type of decision making has the potential for very important repercussions, it should occur only after adequate samples of assessment information have been collected, analyzed, and synthesized. Only then can teachers make truly informed decisions and judgments. Examples of evaluative judgments made about students can range from determining if a third-grade student is prepared to advance to the next independent reading unit to whether a student has qualified for graduation from high school. It should be noted that evaluations are not limited to judgments about students; teachers, curriculum, administrators, and others are also subject to evaluative decisions. Thus, evaluation will be defined as "the use of assessment information to make judgments about students, teachers, or educational programs."
Since the term "measurement" was used earlier, let us now define it, as well as a couple of closely related terms. Generally speaking, measurement is the process of quantifying, or assigning a numerical value, to some performance. Measurement is a term synonymous with assessment (not to be confused with assessment system). Probably the most common example of a measurement is the development (or selection) and administration of a written test or quiz. Scoring a test usually results in a numerical description of student performance. For example, Kathleen correctly answered 45 out of 50 items on the math test; Charles correctly answered 42 out of 50. Kathleen's score is equivalent to 90% of the items answered correctly and Charles's score is equivalent to 84% correct. The math test itself is referred to as a measure or assessment method; the scores of 90% and 84% are measurements.
Some educators do not believe that a definition of measurement should be limited only to quantitative (numerical) descriptions (Oosterhof, 1999). They believe that measurement should also include qualitative (verbal or narrative) forms of descriptions. For example, student responses to an extended essay question might be scored as "excellent," "average," or "poor." This is an example of an alternative method of assigning a score or value to student work. For our purposes in this book, measure (and therefore, assessment method) will be defined as "a process involving a structured situation that includes samples of particular characteristics or behaviors that results in a numerical or narrative score."
Finally, a test is a question or task, or perhaps a series of either, designed to elicit some predetermined behavior (Gallagher, 1998). Tests are very systematic, formal procedures for gathering information about students' performance. They are one specific type of assessment method. Although not limited to this format, tests usually take the form of a pencil-and-paper activity. In sum, a test is "a formal set of questions or tasks, often administered to a group of students, that address particular cognitive capabilities learned in a specific course or subject area."
As you know, tests are widely used in educational settings. However, in almost all assessment systems, teachers should supplement test scores with other types of information such as samples of student work (e.g., drawings in an art class), the quality of projects developed over a span of time (such as a science project), term papers, book reports, and so on. Thus, while this book covers tests in detail, considerable attention is also given to a wide variety of other ways to gather important information to include in a comprehensive assessment system.
Figure 1.1 summarizes the definitions of these important assessment-related terms, and Figure 1.2 shows the relationships among them.

Formal versus Informal Assessment

Classroom assessment methods can vary from extremely formal to extremely informal. This distinction is based on the level of spontaneity for each type (Oosterhof, 1999). Formal assessment methods are planned in advance of their administration; in other words, they lack spontaneity. These include chapter tests, unit examinations, final course examinations, graded homework, term papers, etc. Not only are the students aware of how each formal assessment method will be implemented prior to its use, but also how the teacher will utilize the results. In contrast, informal assessment methods are much more spontaneous and, often, less obvious. Classroom teachers conduct informal assessments when they observe a student misbehaving in class, when they pause after working a math problem on the board in order to watch the facial expressions of their students as a means of checking for the level of comprehension, or when they watch a new student to see who he or she befriends.
Figure 1.1 Summary of definitions of assessment system, evaluation, measurement, assessment, and test
Figure 1.1 Summary of definitions of assessment system, evaluation, measurement, assessment, and test
Figure 1.2 Relationships among assessment system, evaluation, measurement, assessment, and test
Figure 1.2 Relationships among assessment system, evaluation, measurement, assessment, and test
Formal assessment methods require a "break" in the instructional process (you are unable to continue teaching while your students are taking a test!); whereas, informal assessment methods often are used during instruction. Additionally, formal assessment methods are used when fewer, but more controlled, measures are required; informal assessment methods are used when you need to collect information more frequently. As with other ways of classifying assessment methods, it is typically best to utilize a balanced approach when deciding on formal or informal assessment approaches.

Quantitative versus Qualitative Assessment

There is a basic, important distinction between quantitative and qualitative assessment methods. Quantitative assessment methods yield numerical scores that serve as estimates of a student characteristic or behavior (e.g., 93% correct on a written test), whereas qualitative assessment methods result in verbal descriptions of the characteristic (Gredler, 1999). The major types of quantitative methods include teacher-constructed tests, standardized tests, checklists, and rating scales. The main types of qualitative assessments include teacher observations, anecdotal records, and informal questioning. You will learn more about both of these types in Chapter 4.

Formative versus Summative Evaluation

Often, units of instruction may span several weeks, or even months. Typically, classroom teachers will not want to wait until the unit has been completed before attempti...

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