High stakes testing is a necessary evil in our educational system. It is a way to make sure that schools are accountable and are all on the same page. Assessment is the process of using measuring tools such as tests and other alternative methods to facilitate educational decisions regarding student academic and behavioral performance. It emphasizes multiple ways such as the diagnostic, formative and summative assessments to collect data and relate it to the effectiveness of instructional methods, strategies and practices correlated to the content of subject material.
Assessment has undergone some radical changes since its inception while incorporating methodology that is cognizant of the learning process itself and overall cognition of the individual.
Assessment is a very complex term because of the various interpretations of not only what it is, but its validity and purpose. There is no question that since Binet and Simon established assessment measures such as intelligence tests in 1905, they were and still are considered valuable tools to measure performance, but are subject to many questions in regard to their reliability and validity.
Assessment measures have been used to gauge academic and behavior performance in a variety of ways. The U.S. Army first incorporated the intelligence tests on large groups of people in 1917 at the time of the Great War and its purpose was to identify the best men for placement in the highly skilled jobs. It was their way to categorize each to his own’ ability, but they were negligent in consideration of cultural diversity and although it produced great results in theory, in practice, it failed to produce valid and reliable results.
In the 1960’s, B.F.Skinner advocated direct observation that based performance over an extended period of time rather than just one test. Here the behavior is observed, monitored and possibly changed through intervention. The 1970’s introduced the System of Multicultural Pluralistic Assessment (SOMPA) which was embraced by those that had sought reform in the areas of cultural and racial bias.
The Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1991 amended in 1997 and again in 2004 totally changed the whole landscape of assessment by applying measures for the individual needs of the student. It has focused on the individual leading to differentiated instruction and given credence to multiple intelligences while making revisions in assessment measures. With the advent of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001 that set the motion for accountability and increased standardized testing to reassure effectiveness of school programs. Although there has been much criticism towards the NCLB in regard to funding as well as other issues, it has bought to the forefront a new look at assessment and accountability for our schools.
The three main assessment strategies that are utilized in my US History I classes are the diagnostic, formative and summative methods producing accurate data necessary with both qualitative and quantitative results. For example, the diagnostic assessments students are provided a reading sample on the first day and write a brief summary of a particular area of interest. They will then read their summaries and then express their point of views orally without looking at the article. A rubric is used to reveal their oral and written expression in addition to their comprehension, vocabulary and overall knowledge of content material. Independently, each student spends time with me to assess further knowledge and their strengths/weaknesses through prompts and inquiries related to the content. This is done to assess prior knowledge, how much the students know, and to match my teaching methods with their specific needs taking into consideration their modifications and accommodations of their respective Individual Education Plans.
Other diagnostic forms of assessments might include matching, graphic organizers, word banks, True/False, Opinion/Fact, multiple choice and fill in the blank types of tests. Students are given formative assessments both formal and informal during the instructional process to guide and direct students to complete given tasks and to provide immediate feedback. This will allow me to modify my teaching strategies and lesson plans so I can thoroughly employ methods that are conducive to enhance the learning of concepts and skills. Forms of assessments may include teaching activities, PowerPoint presentations, interviews, play acting, research papers and essays usually assessed with rubrics. Students are given summative assessments to ascertain what they have learned or retained as well as to determine what they have not learned. These will manifest areas of strengths and weaknesses of the student or my teaching methods. This information is useful to assess how much my students have learned before moving on to the next topic. It is also useful obtaining grades, reporting to the parents and collecting data to adapt to the different learning styles.
Federal and state testing standards have put more demand on teachers and teaching to the tests and have become problematic in some districts as they strive to meet the requirements and withstand the pressures to succeed. The path of assessment and the language surrounding it has often been obscure and at times ambiguous while its future is constantly being revised, improved and amended. The necessity for educators to understand the various forms of assessment is imperative. They must keep abreast of the latest technological and educational methods available in implementing instructional techniques, strategies, and methodology that will enhance pedagogical skills and produce proficient and competent learners.