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Core Principles of Classroom Assessment


Clear and accurate assessment can be almost as influential as the learning itself for establishing a good reputation, defining expectations, improving abilities, motivation, and learning. To accurately identify how a student can progress, and what they've accomplished so far, or to help define warning flags for where they're struggling, will help your student to improve, but will also improve your career and expertise as a teacher. Here are some core principles of assessment based on the article given to me by Dale Hutchinson.

It's important that a teachers' assessment be based on the objectives from their lessons, because there's nothing worse than when a test comes out of the blue and has no bearing on the subject matter students' have been learning. A well-crafted curriculum includes goals that reinforce the different elements necessary in language fluency. If an assessment only tests a single area, like vocabulary or grammar, it will fail to really show the totality of what a student can do. I think we all know by now that it's important not to just quiz a student's ability to memorize, but to evaluate their ability to re-apply their knowledge to new situations, with a speaking performance test, or by using familiar content in an unfamiliar scenario.

'Summative assessment' is probably what you had growing up. This is where a teacher tries to summarize a term of study and express how much you learned through a single grade. Once the grade is given, that's the end of the matter. But really, the goal for classroom assessment should be 'formative assessment', which is really just a shift in mindset towards giving feedback to students based on the results of their assessment, not just identifying their strengths and weaknesses, but also how to improve upon those weaknesses. Which in turn helps educators better understand about what's working or not working with their methods and curriculum. Helping everyone to improve, and stay motivated. So an assessment does not just end with a score, but should include direction on where to improve next.

Multiple forms of assessment are important also, as no one style, or single instance, can be reliable at revealing the entirety of an individuals true ability. It is very important to give multiple and varied opportunities to demonstrate knowledge and skill. In fact, academic studies indicate that regular assessments spaced out over a course can have a beneficial and formative effect helping students retain knowledge for the long-term, and that courses with regular assessment were rated more highly by students, and promoted continuous learning instead of just an obligatory cram for the final exam. Teachers get a more accurate picture of student abilities when assessment is regular and varied also, helping them to make better decisions and lesson plans for the future.

Lots of transparency up front with the criteria for assessment, and explaining how the grading will work helps ensure that students can effectively prepare and demonstrate their learning. It's very frustrating for students, families, and administrators when a teacher keeps their assessment criteria amorphous and in the dark. Students don't know what to do, and administrators and parents don't know what the teacher is thinking. So transparency gives credibility to an assessment, and to a teacher's abilities. Obviously the contents of a test are best kept secret, but explaining what is to be expected, and how much each section is worth, will help guide the students efforts and leave them with fewer surprises when the results come out.

Holistic scoring is fast, simple, and direct. Slapping a big letter grade on top of a test highlights the teachers' overall impression, but leaves little explanation for the objective observer to understand the logic behind the grade. Analytic scoring counts up a number of explicitly stated points of criteria, but can be cold, miss the big picture, and often lacks the flexibility to show any finer nuance in an individuals learning. Both methods have drawbacks and benefits. A holistic blanket approach, while quick and convenient, is subjective to the teachers personal impressions, and difficult to justify to anyone else, giving little indication to why a student received a certain grade, or what they might do to improve upon it in the future. On the other hand, a purely analytical approach leads to a system where students, or elements of the evaluation, fall through the cracks and both teacher and student feel that something is lacking by leaving the result up to simple math without any conscious hand to guide the overall results. By simply understanding the restraints of either method and working to explain or adjust accordingly in order to create a flexible analytic approach, or a scored holistic approach will help satisfy both students and teachers with the final score.

If students, educators, and administrators can understand the logic behind the assessment, and see how a student can improve for the future, than a positive experience is created from an something that many of us used to dread from our own experiences in school... the big test.

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