What Makes a Good Assessment?

by Melissa Ragan

Test…Quiz…Exam…

When I first began my teaching career, one of the things that surprised me most was the variety of methods that could be used to measure student knowledge. And the number of terms used to describe those methods.

Formative…Summative…  

I felt a little overwhelmed initially, but then I realized that what I called it didn’t matter so much as it did to ensure that I was using the correct assessment type, and that the assessment was an accurate way to measure the content or skills I was teaching my students.

data tracking illustration GIF

Informal….Formal…  

Let’s start by answering the basic question: What makes a good assessment? First, you have to know exactly what you’re measuring and make sure your student has been explicitly taught that information.  It’s not enough to pick a standard and develop questions that measure that standard. You have to make sure that the standard skill and content align.

Here’s an example. I was teaching 9th grade English Learners whose language skills weren’t quite on grade level. Vocabulary assessments were important to me because they helped me gauge standard skill mastery and showed me each individual student’s growth toward English language proficiency. I was working with the standard CCSS.ELA.RL.9-10.4 (Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text…) when I realized that all the students in my class gave an incorrect answer for one particular question.  I had given them a text and asked them to define a word they had not been explicitly taught using context.  Normally, this probably would not have been a big deal, but the text contained a multiple meaning word used in a different way than they had learned, and it threw every single student for a loop.  I omitted the question from the test and learned a lesson myself.  

Benchmark…Baseline…

Next, you have to decide when you’re administering the assessment and the purpose of the assessment. Are you assessing your students before teaching the subject to check their background knowledge to find the correct entry point? Are you assessing them while you’re teaching to formatively assess their progress? Or, are you evaluating them at the end of the unit as a summative assessment?

In my classroom, I typically did all three, but tried to do some of my assessment informally to prevent test fatigue.  For example, I’d assess prior or background knowledge using Do Nows or Exit Slips. It was a super quick and easy way to see if a student already knew something about a literary term or a text we were reading. And because the ‘assessment’ was done privately on a sticky note, students felts safe to admit that they did or didn’t know something.

Formative assessments were typically done on an ongoing basis in my classroom. My students did a lot of group work, which gave me the opportunity to walk around the room with a rubric on my clipboard evaluating students discreetly.  I knew if a student was too quiet, they probably were unsure of the subject. Or, perhaps it was a comfort issue. But either way, I could pull them aside later and ask them directly about the subject to delve deeper.

Summative assessments were usually done in a more formal way. Because of the range of learners and language skills in my class, I employed a variety of techniques throughout the year to ensure every student’s strength was able to shine: whether it was in a written assessment, oral presentation, role play, visual production, newsletter, or poster, there was always some way students could show off their mastery of the content.

Report creation illustration

Project-based…Authentic…

Finally, does the assessment you’ve created allow all diverse learners to demonstrate what they’ve learned? We all know about the variety of learning styles and the range of needs in the average classroom. But for most teachers (myself included) the idea of creating 30 different assessments for 30 different students is simply too overwhelming.

This is where technology can help. With products like ONEder, teachers can create ONE assessment and assign it to each student within a class. With the magic of technology, each student gets a different assessment according to how their profile is set up.  That means that the student who needs frequent breaks can get an automatic break during specific parts of the test. The student who needs text to speech will get that feature automatically enabled. Large print? No problem! Need a test read aloud? We can do that one too. Highlighted text? Screen reader? Calculation device? Yes. Yes. Yes.

 

Standardized…Checks for Understanding…

Remember, at the end of the day, all an assessment is, is a way to measure how much the student knows about something. How you do it, what you call it, and the way you do it is up to you – as long as you ensure it’s fair and accurate!

For more about assessment, check out this article on the Five Characteristics of Quality Educational Assessments from NWEA. Also, this chart from Education Week gives you a really nice overview of the different assessment types.

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