Chapter 1 Modern Classroom Assessment
Looking Ahead in this Chapter
The world of classroom assessment is different now than in the old days. Modern classrooms use a wide variety of assessment approaches depending on the purpose of the assessment and the teacher's philosophy.
After studying this chapter, you should be able to define the five approaches to modern classroom assessment:
- Traditional paper-and-pencil assessment
- Performance-based assessment
- Formative assessment
- Authentic assessment
- Universal test design
“Then Miss Wilder closed her speller and said sadly that she was disappointed and grieved…. ‘Carrie, you may go to the blackboard. I want to see you write, “cataract,” “separate,” and “exasperate,” on the board, correctly, fifty times each.’ She said it with a kind of triumph in her voice. Laura tried to control her temper, but she could not. She was furious. It was meant as a punishment for poor little Carrie, to make her stand ashamed before the whole school. It was not fair … ! Carrie went miserably but bravely to the blackboard. She was trembling and she had to wink back tears but she would not cry.”
Laura Ingalls Wilder describing an 1880s South Dakota classroom Little Town on the Prairie (1941)
In the last 20 years (which is only last week in terms of how slowly things have progressed in the centuries-long history of public education), big changes have occurred in classrooms across the United States. As the Little House excerpt that opened this chapter illustrates, assessment has always been a part of school life (and not always used in positive ways), but the amount of assessment and, more important, the variety of different forms and purposes of assessment have increased dramatically. As research from the last two decades describes, there has been a virtual explosion of assessment in modern classrooms for a while now. Here are some typical findings from across the last 25 years or so:
- 54 teacher-made tests are used in a typical classroom per year (Marso & Pigge, 1988).
- Many millions of unique assessments are created yearly nationwide (Worthen, Borg, & White, 1993).
- Assessment in one form or another can take up more than 25% of a teacher's day (Stiggins, 2007).
- Assessment has become an integral part of teachers' identities, and there is a worldwide call also to make assessment training integral to teacher training, as well (Pope, Green, Johnson, & Mitchell, 2009).
Consequently, researchers beginning in the late 1980s and early 1990s have called for more explicit training of classroom teachers in the areas of classroom assessment.
Like many aspects of teaching, quality classroom assessment plays a critical role in affecting student learning and has a research-based set of best practices.
This skill, like one or two other important teaching skills, is sometimes treated as one of those important things that teachers are all magically able to do as soon as they are hired (Bennett & Gitomer, 2009; Stiggins & Chappuis, 2005; Wang, Wang, & Huang, 2008). Of course, as is true with other practices central to any professional and intellectual work, there are theories and empirical scholarship that inform modern classroom assessment. However, even into this decade, the typical teacher education program has no assessment course requirement, and many states do not mandate that teachers receive training in assessment. Teachers have historically received little or no training or support after certification. The formal assessment training teachers do receive tends to focus on large-scale test administration and standardized test score interpretation rather than on philosophies of assessment, the large variety of assessment formats available, assessment design strategies, or item-writing guidelines.
Little has changed even in the last few years in the assessment-heavy nature of the classroom environment (Callahan, Griffo, & Pearson, 2009; Müller & Burdette, 2007) or the level of classroom teachers' assessment knowledge (Stiggins & Chappuis, 2005). Unfortunately, there still is a lack of agreement on the importance of classroom assessment training for teachers, and teacher educators tend to focus too much on standardized tests regarding training teachers, and neglect the teacher-made test (Stiggins, 2007). Teachers report that they need more training in assessment (Stiggins & Duke, 2008), but the majority of teacher educators do not believe it is essential to train teachers in modern assessment methods such as authentic assessment and portfolio assessment (Farkas & Duffett, 2008). Finally, and perhaps most ironically, considering the impact of the federal No Child Left Behind legislation on the increase in testing, the recently enacted U.S. definition of a “highly qualified teacher” does not require any training in assessment (Müller & Burdette, 2007).
The classroom assessment of today is not the common image of the anxiety-causing multiple-choice tests as popularized by media of today and yesterday and the center of nightmarish memories for some of your parents and grandparents and maybe for you, too, though, to be honest, that occasionally frightening format is still a part of classroom assessment and, if we are still being honest, a big part. Fortunately there are ways to make multiple-choice tests, and similar formats, more useful and less frightening. We know so much more now about the tried-and-true paper-and-pencil test that even that old-timey tool can be used more fairly and powerfully. Also, there are many other ways of assessing knowledge and skills, and many modern uses of assessment for purposes beyond simply assigning a class grade. To paraphrase an Oldsmobile car commercial from a while back, this is not your father's classroom assessment.
In today's classrooms, teachers still wish to assess knowledge and skill. That has not changed much in the last couple hundred years. Some of the methods for doing that well are new, but they do not represent dramatic paradigm shifts or important new ways of thinking about classroom assessment. There are
some changes afoot, however; there are
new goals, new purposes, new roles, and new perspectives for classroom assessment.
The perspectives of what a test was and why it should be used were fairly limited for most of our history. Within a stack of real, but old, textbooks, these examples of the past's narrow range of classroom assessment perspectives can be found:
Fortunately, the modern teacher can choose from an array of broad theoretical approaches to classroom assessment, a variety of frameworks depending on the purpose of the assessment. The most exciting part of the modern classroom regarding assessment is that the different purposes for assessment that teachers of today consider before choosing an assessment approach include purposes of assessment that might not even have entered the mind of most of the teachers of just a few years ago! Not to give away too much of what is inside the chapters ahead, but:
- Assessment can be used for learning, to actually increase learning,
- Assessment can be used to improve instruction...