The Teacher as the Assessor
Teachers draw a distinction between assessment and evaluation. Assessment refers to the tools and resulting measurements. Evaluation is using those assessments to find the value in certain events. Teachers use assessment to determine where the child is in the learning process and what teaching processes have worked. Tests, quizzes, papers, discussion, observation are a few examples of assessments. The assessments are used by teachers to evaluate the pupils with grades and/or parent conferences.
When teachers prepare plans to teach it is important to know where they are going, how they are going to get there and when they have arrived. Learning is like taking a vacation. The travel agent (teacher) designs where the traveler is going, how they will get there and some type of indication to let them know that they have reached their destination. Of course, it is always best if the travel agent and traveler plan the vacation together. The traveler wishes to take a vacation in Hawaii. (Sounds good to me!!) The two sit down and lay out their plans: Means of travel, What islands to visits, what sites to see, what hotel…, etc. (These are the goals.) The flight will be United flight 342 departing and arriving on.., transfer to hotel such-and-such by…, tickets Happy Concert on Tuesday…, etc. (These are are the activities.) You know when you arrive because the humid air caresses your face and the pretty young lady slips a lei around your neck. (This is the assessment.) The assessment is the indication that the journey has reached a particular point safely. (Both the teacher and student need to be aware of arriving at the desired destination.) After the vacation is over, the traveler tells everyone how great the vacation- they found value in the experience.
In education words, teachers develop learning goals that they make known to students. Teachers develop activities (methods) that guide students toward the goal. And teachers inform the students what is expected of them when they have achieved the goal. This is the Teaching Cycle.
TEACHER ASSESSMENT TOOLS
Teachers assess in many ways. Assessments need to be authentic. In other words, the assessment must measure the goal stated and be appropriate for the method employed. Traditional assessments include tests, quizzes, essays, reports and the like. Some educators distinguish between traditional and alternative assessments. Alternative assessments in some circles refer to anything that is not a multiple-choice test. Tests are the most often-used assessment tool. Most experienced teachers use a variety of assessment tools. Teachers should inform students of the type of assessment tool to be used. (“When this exercise is finished, you will be expected to take a test and answer 70% of the informational questions correctly.” “After working on this activity you will be able to build a paper airplane and be able to have it fly 15 feet”).
If an alternative assessment is used, it must be clearly explained. The rubric is a specific diagram of guidelines and how much weight that particular guideline carries. Rubrics are vital to non-test assessments. The rubric should be simple. A written essay might involve a rubric with the following guidelines: Three paragraphs, five to six sentences per paragraph, no more than three spelling or grammar errors, a cohesive topic, etc. This establishes the parameters of the assessment.
Recently a great deal has been said of portfolios. Portfolios are great assessment tools if used properly. They are also very demanding on the teacher and student. Creating a viable portfolio rubric may take several years. There is much published on the use of the portfolio. Before venturing into the portfolio the teacher needs to carefully investigate the available ideas and options. Some schools have demanded portfolio assessment. Guidelines are sometimes vague and misleading. Assessments need to be clear and distinct.
Assessments need to be valid and reliable. Valid refers to assessing what actually has been learned. Reliable assessments are consistent when the same conditions are repeated. Teachers who use the same test year after year need to be careful. The teacher must teach the same material in the same way wit the test being offered at the same time. As a result all variables are controlled. Varying one variable while control all others can then be used to determine the effectiveness of the altered item. Using a different approach to presenting a lesson, can be tested by using the same assessment as long as nothing else varies. Tests constructed by book publishers are great for a appearance but they are rarely valid. Effective teachers use these tests as source material for classroom testing.
Teachers must carefully consider the assessment tool to use in trying to measure the results of learning. These assessments may also be used to measure the effectiveness of a learning method. Assessments result in measurements. A student may score an 8 out 10 on a quiz. That is an assessment. 79% on a test is an assessment. 4 on a rubric is an assessment. The assessment is nothing more than a measurement.
Teachers establish criteria for the assessment. “A student is expected to get at least 7 out of 10 on a quiz” is a criterion that indicates to the student that he has successfully completed what’s expected. “75% of the students obtaining a 7 out of 10 on a quiz” is a criterion that the teacher can use to determine the effectiveness of the instruction.
THE EXTERNAL ASSESSMENT TOOL
The dreaded standardized test has become the tool of choice in determining teacher and student accountability.
State and national politicians demand accountability to be freed from the bias of teachers and schools. The assessment that has become espoused by most states is the standardized norm-referenced test. In most cases, the result of this single assessment has become the evaluation of a student’s progress. In some school districts this single test has become the benchmark for promotion or graduation.
These types of assessments are designed to be used as comparisons. In order for tests to be used for comparison purposes, the test needs to be standardized, that is, have a standard set of instructions, testing conditions, time allowed and questions asked. Standardized testing are norm-referenced tests, that is, a statistical average is established by a sample group of students. Students who then take the test are compared to the sample group or the norm. Statistical methods are employed to establish a normal curve. When a normal curve is graphed it appears as a bell shaped curve. The results of a tested student can then be placed on the bell curve indicating a score. This score can then be used to compare a student or group of students to a larger group of students: local, state or national. Test publishing companies usually normalize their tests every 5-7 years.
These standardized tests do not guarantee that the material studied in the classroom is being assessed. These tests are developed to assess students in a broad area. National tests, like the California Achievement Test (CAT) or the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS), are developed to assess students in many areas of the country. Many states have now developed standardized tests to assess students across their state. (More of this to come on future blogs).
Assessments lead to evaluation. In order to be fair in evaluating students it is vital that the assessments used are actually measuring the objectives and methods employed. The concept of “teaching the test” is a valid point. Most teachers must prepare students for assessments that are developed by others. These assessments are extremely important since they are often used to determine if a student is promoted to the next grade. These assessments are often used to evaluate a teacher, school or school district. Needless to say, this has been become a heated dispute in the education world.
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