Thursday, June 16, 2011

Student Assessment and Grading

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Student Assessment and Grading

Evaluation is the process through which teachers judge the quality of work, both their own and their students. There are two types of evaluative strategies Formative evaluations, which involve a continual stream of reflection and feedback, and allow the educator or student to continually adjust and improve their work while its ongoing and summative evaluations, where feedback is gathered only after instruction has been completed. Both strategies are necessary to provide for effective curriculum assessment and student education. These days’ teachers are receiving many mixed messages about assessment. For example, teachers are encouraged to use a number of types of alternative assessments to guide instruction and monitor student thinking. Alternative assessments can take many forms, such as collaborative assignments, portfolios, and reflections. It can become very difficult for teachers to transfer all this information into a single letter grade. Today, schools are moving from a testing culture where teachers are the sole authority, students work alone, and learning is done for the test, to an assessment culture where teachers and learners collaborate about learning. Teachers are expected to challenge students to do complex tasks and to communicate effectively.

The most popular form of assessment in today’s schools is the traditional method of multiple-choice and true-false test taking. This form of assessment is used for several reasons, one because it is easy for the teacher to make and easy for the teacher to grade and two because standardized tests are mandated for many states as a requirement for learners passing from one grade to the next. Unfortunately, “standardized tests do not match the emerging content standards, and over-reliance on this type of assessment often leads to instruction that stresses basic knowledge and skills (Corbett & Wilson, 11; Shepard & Smith, 188; Smith & Cohen, 11).” Although basic skills are important goals of education, learning through rote memorization or in preparation for standardized tests, does not prepare the student to engage in critical thinking or on how to be analytical thinkers. In order to be effective, standardized assessments should match the instructional goals of the classroom.

In Texas, the TAAS test is an example of traditional, standardized testing that only measures a small portion of learner’s abilities and knowledge. In public schools, teachers are required to spend a large portion of their class time “teaching to the test.” According to officials who are proponents of standardized testing, this is called curriculum alignment, and they see nothing wrong with it. However, many learners do not test well and their poor results on these tests can mean the difference in their success or failure in school. After interviewing many learners about the TAAS test, the majority opinion was that learners found the test irrelevant and ineffective. Instead of working collaboratively or on projects that had interest for them, most of their time was spent on memorization and recall needed to pass the TAAS. According to the learners we interviewed, most stated that school held little interest for them and that the material being learned was irrelevant to their lives.

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“As society shifts from an industrial age, in which a person could get by with basic reading and arithmetic skills, to an information age, which requires the ability to access, interpret, analyze, and use information for making decisions, the skills and competencies needed to succeed in today’s workplace are changing as well (Bond, 1; National Center on Education and the Economy, 18; and U.S. Department of Labor, 11).” Many people believe that what gets assessed is what gets taught; therefore many teachers and educators are changing their ideas of assessment to encompass more important skills and active knowledge. As increasing researched has proved, learners have multiple intelligences and many different learning styles. In order to accurately assess what has been learned, it only makes sense to employ a variety of assessments as well. Alternative assessments are becoming increasingly popular in the classroom. Alternative assessments are those that measure a student’s performance through real-life tasks. The most common forms of alternative assessments are performance assessments and portfolios.

Using a variety of methods to assess students understanding gives them ample opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge. Performance assessment requires students to actively demonstrate what they know. When using a performance-based assessment, students are required to understand the material rather than memorize it. A major goal of education today is to promote critical thinking skills. Performance-based assessment allows students the opportunity to apply their knowledge in a lifelike situation, which fosters critical thinking skills. Also, students who are weak in an area can demonstrate what they know in a way that is more comfortable to them than taking a traditional test or quiz. Another alternative assessment is the portfolio, which is a collection of students work apprised against a preset rubric. Portfolios are multifaceted and begin to reflect the complex nature of reading and writing. Because they are collected over time, they can serve as a record of growth and progress. What distinguishes some newer assessments from some traditional forms is that assessment, curriculum and instruction are entwined.

Tests can be classified in two different ways norm-referenced and criterion-based. Norm-referenced tests compare a persons score against the scores of a group of people who have already taken the same exam. Most norm-referenced tests are multiple-choice tests. Criterion-based tests are used to see whether students have mastered a body of knowledge. This information can be used to determine the level of mastery of the student and how well the teacher is conveying the information. All of our schools use criterion-based tests to measure the students learning. However, in the Physical Education setting, performance assessment is used often. Students in Physical Education are graded not only by periodic exams, but also by “dressing-out” and participation. In the Spring Branch School District all learners in Health Fitness are required to have a health portfolio. This portfolio teaches the learners about many health-related issues and also allows them to track their progress during the year on their various health fitness goals. In an ideal classroom, all of us would use alternative forms of assessment to ensure encompassing the learning styles of all of our learners. Unfortunately, we are worried that teaching to the TAAS may be our reality.

As a group, we believe that in order to have effective alternative assessment, that is not time consuming and vague, a grading rubric should be developed for each task. Using rubrics is one way that teachers can evaluate or assess student performance or proficiency in any given task. Rubrics use specific criteria as a basis for evaluating the student. Rubrics are separated into levels with each level describing the degree of proficiency required to attain a score. As an assessment tool, rubrics allow for complex critiques of student’s work, they also give the student a clearly defined understanding of what is required. “Rubrics make assessing student work quick and efficient, and they help teachers justify to parents and others the grades that they assign to students. At their very best, rubrics are also teaching tools that support student learning and the development of sophisticated thinking skills. When used correctly, they serve the purposes of learning as well as of evaluation and accountability.” Our entire group agrees that using alternative forms of assessment is more time consuming than traditional assessment methods, but we also agree that the extra effort is well worth it.

As schools are increasingly faced with a high student drop out rate and lower standardized test scores, it becomes apparent that new means of assessment and grading are needed. Standardized testing can affect education, particularly when the test measures lower-level thinking skills, by narrowing the curriculum and limiting learning opportunities available to students. However, when standards of learning are high, and assessments are geared to higher standards, student achievement may improve. Research has indicated that students learn more when they are involved in the learning process. In order to make student’s life-long learners and critical thinkers, educators need to adapt the curriculum to the student’s interests and abilities. Instead of “teaching to the test”, teachers should work collaboratively with their peers to develop a curriculum and assessment structure that meets the needs of all learners and learning styles. What is most crucial about assessment is understanding how good assessment principles can be integrated into the learning process. When the assessment system is applied to the learning process, it will enhance student learning and teacher effectiveness.


1. Bond. Critical Issue Rethinking Assessment and Its Role in Supporting Educational Reform. (1). http//

Carter, Candace; Eggen, Paul; Kauchak, Donald. Introduction to Teaching- Becoming a Professional. Columbus, Ohio Merrill Prentice Hall, 00.

. Corbett & Wilson, 11; Shepard & Smith, 188; Smith & Cohen, 11 Critical Issue Rethinking Assessment and Its Role in Supporting Educational Reform. http//

4. Using Rubrics to Promote Thinking and Learning. (000). Educational Leadership.Vol.57.


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