Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Assessment (Also Known As "Testing")

My current master's class is about measurement and assessment.  I admit that this class is far more interesting than I thought it was going to be, in part because the text is exceptional.  (It's an online course so there's little interaction with the instructor except via email.)

I'm going to ask a question that motivates the textbook author's thesis.  I'd like you to answer the question in the comments, and if you're a teacher/professor, identify yourself as such if you're comfortable doing so.  I don't want you to give me what you think is the "correct" answer, or what you think the author would say is the "correct" answer, but instead just answer honestly.  I have hopes that this will lead to an interesting conversation.  After there have been some responses, I'll post the author's ideal answer (which I kinda like, but wouldn't have been my original answer).

First, a lead-in question for teachers and professors:  For what reasons do you assess student learning?

And the biggie:  What is the most important reason teachers should assess student learning?


mmazenko said...

As a teacher and administrator, I think about assessment quite a bit - both formative and summative - and our new evaluation process makes "Student Learning Outcomes" a signficant part of teacher evals.

1. For what reasons do you assess student learning?

- as reflection on knowledge/skill acquisition
- to asign grades as accountability (key for AP class)
- to provide feedback & justification
- to inform and adjust instruction

2. What is the most important reason teachers should assess student learning?

- to inform and adjust instruction
- to allow & encourage students to reach their potential

Pseudotsuga said...

English teacher:
1) We assess student learning to ascertain competence and comprehension. Or because it means more school funding!
2) Teachers should assess student learning in order to check themselves: are they actually doing their job of teaching?

Anonymous said...

Middle School History Teacher here.

I assess student learning because 1) the district makes me 2) it gets the kids to actually do the work because some won't because there is no grade 3) to see if the kids learned the material in an unbiased way.

The most important reason is to see if the students learned the material in an unbiased way. I know if the students learned the material just by class discussions or through their writing. However, I cannot tell a parent or a student or the principal about why they earned a fail or C or A without some written proof.

Steve USMA '85 said...

Interesting question. I'm answering as a former adjunct faculty at West Point & current at U of MD, Baltimore County.

I assess student learning for two main reasons. 1) To see if the student has mastered the material to the point that I can give them credit for passing the requirements of the course I am teaching. 2) To see whether the class as a whole has mastered the material and if not, is there a particular concept(s) a large proportion of the students did not master? If so, then perhaps I did not teach it well and will either re-teach if time allows or modify my instruction for the next time I teach that concept to attempt to improve student comprehension.

As to the most important? I'm kinda torn on that one. If you don't assess the students on the material, how can you justify giving them credit for the course? If you don't give credit for the course, no one will take the class in the first place. However, my goal is to teach in a manner that allows every capable student to pass & get credit for the course. If a student does not succeed and it is due to my teaching style/ability, I feel I have failed in my task. Long term, my goal to teach in the manner to maximize student comprehension and meet the requirements of the course, I would have to go with my #2 reason listed above.

That said, I also believe in the Thayer Method which calls for frequent testing of student's mastery of the material. Knowing they will be tested, the student has motivation to study and ask questions when in doubt. The instructor will also be warned early on if a student is in trouble rather than waiting for a mid-term or final exam to expose lack of mastery.

LeftCoastRef said...

Science Teacher -
Honestly, at the HS level, it is to assign a grade. Students do not have an intrinsic desire to "learn for learning's sake". And in some courses, they have no incentive to learn other than that grade. Without a grade, who decides if the student gets credit for the class?
As such, most often assessment is to identify the mistakes and misapplications that students have so they can re-learn those concepts.

To me, the number one reason we should assess is to drive instruction. If they are not learning, are we truly teaching? And what can I do to make sure they ARE learning?

I'm interested in the authors stance.

Darren said...

The author's belief, acknowledging that we live in the real world and must assign grades, is this: "[T]eachers should use the results of assessments to make better decisions. That's really the only excuse for taking up students' time with assessment" (p. 24).

To clarify what he means, let's look back to p. 12: "[S]tudents' end-of-instruction performances on assessment devices constitute a particularly compelling indication of whether teachers should retain, alter, or jettison their current instructional procedures."

In other words, we should use assessment to make better educational decisions about our teaching in order to improve student achievement.

It's a good ideal to which to strive.

Ellen K said...

In a perfect world, you test Day One and then test again at the end of the course to measure increase. We do not live in a perfect world. Testing as it exists now is a method of aggregating data based on various demographic expectations. In short, it is an actuarial accounting of learning which is somewhat of a joke. It is a joke because nobody learns everything at the same rate. So much of the acquisition of knowledge has to do with age, maturity, exposure and background that if they really wanted to do a fair accounting each child would have their own little demographic niche (which may be where we are heading....)

Why do assessments? To see if students have even begun to learn the concepts involved. Many of my assessments are portfolio based and you can see improvement over time. Just recently my district has begun requiring each student to establish a personal portfolio-the ultimate goal being to demonstrate knowledge history over time and circumvent standardized testing.

The problem with standardized testing is that students, and too many teachers, treat testing like a game. They look for the clues and ignore the answers, they use tricks over reason. I know the core teachers are trying to help, because their own jobs depend on success, but it's gotten to the point that in AP level classes students have problems trying to discern what information is critical and what information is fluff. They cry plaintively "will this be on the test?" And my answer is "Yes, all of it." I know that doesn't help them in the short run, but I'm hoping after having given them reading lists, powerpoint presentations, handouts, lectures and such that they will start to see what themes recur. I may be expecting too much.