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Assessment Literacy in Today’s Classroom

By — Classroom Assessment Resource Center
Updated on Nov 12, 2010

The documentation of student learning and progress now plays a primary role in how our schools and educational programs are evaluated. Assessment in all its forms (e.g., formative, summative, self-assessment) has become one of the biggest discussion points in education today. Educational accountability, as identified through No Child Left Behind (NCLB) along with national and state standards, must now be demonstrated in the classroom through the documented collection of student learning evidence. Due to this educational reality, teachers play a central role in this process.

Why does a teacher need to be competent and skilled in the assessment of student learning?

The first and obvious answer to that question is that classroom assessment is now considered a professional requirement comparable to other expected professional skills such as content knowledge or classroom management. It is now an official “tool” that is expected to be in every teacher’s “toolbox” and this represents a national practice expectation. However, beyond the professional requirements and general accountability pressure, a more essential and important reason for the need of classroom assessment exists. Information obtained through classroom assessment can help answer the fundamental question that every educator asks of themselves: Am I truly effective with my teaching and are my students learning what they need to learn?

Through the use of effective classroom assessment procedures, teachers are able to identify and document, due to collected student evidence, whether or not appropriate progress has been demonstrated by students in the classroom. If limited progress is evidenced by the students, then the collected data can provide the justification to implement necessary instructional and learning changes in order that the intended learning outcomes and goals can be reached.

What are the assessment competencies that teachers need to demonstrate in the classroom?

Most states have identified assessment standards that teachers are expected to meet as part of their professional practice. When viewed collectively, fundamental assessment competencies exist for teachers regardless of where they are employed. 

At a minimum, teachers should be knowledgeable and competent in regards to the following assessment skills:
  • Knowing and understanding basic assessment terms and procedures and how they apply to the classroom setting.
  • Selecting appropriate assessment approaches (e.g., formative assessments, summative reviews, self-assessment procedures, skill diagnostic assessments, etc.) based on the purpose, need and instructional situation.
  • Collecting and communicating data findings and corresponding educational decisions to various educational constituents including students, parents, related professionals as well as the general public.
  • Following ethical guidelines and procedures when utilizing assessment measures and procedures in the classroom.

Does classroom assessment really matter when it comes to student achievement?

Based on research spanning several decades, classroom achievement has been found to improve when students, particularly low-achieving students, are actively engaged and receive feedback on their performance during an instructional event. According to the Assessment Reform Group (1999) based on the assessment research of Black and Wiliam (1998), students can achieve at high levels if five instructional/assessment practices are followed in the classroom:

  • Effective and meaningful learning feedback is provided to students during the instructional process.
  • Efforts are made to ensure that students are a part of their learning and are actively connected to it.
  • Assessment information is used by the teacher to examine the learning progress of students and to adjust the instructional process when, and if, necessary.
  • Assessment information is used to support and motivate students throughout the instructional process.
  • Students self-assess their own learning progress and make the necessary adjustments and modifications needed in order to reach the desired educational outcomes.

What assessment types or approaches are found in the classroom?

The main assessment types or approaches that are used in the classroom include formative assessment, self-assessment, and summative assessment. Formative assessment involves the teacher providing constructive review, confirmation and/or correction to students in order to promote their learning without any formal cost (e.g., losing points, being graded) connected to the learning event. Self-assessment is the relatively new skill expectation for students. As a process, self-assessment involves students selecting and/or prioritizing individual learning goals or outcomes, monitoring one’s progress toward those learning outcomes as well as determining what individual adjustments, if any, are needed throughout an instructional experience. Summative assessment is the most recognized form of classroom assessment. This type of assessment is used to officially confirm and document a student’s performance usually in the recognized form of a grade or mark. The most recognized summative assessment measure is the classroom test. However, other forms of student work (e.g., project, rubric, portfolio) can and do serve as useful summative assessments.

In order for summative assessment to be truly effective, formative assessment and self-assessment must be utilized and directly connected to any summative product. In fact, all need to be part of the instructional process. Although designed for different purposes, collectively they provide the opportunity for academic success to be maximized for every learner in the classroom; and all are necessary when constructing and utilizing any classroom assessment system.

How are assessment and teaching connected?

Assessment exists as the essential complement to teaching. With an effective classroom assessment system in place, a valid demonstration of student learning and progress connected to classroom instruction and experience can be confirmed. Moreover, if the classroom assessment system is aligned with the intended academic content standards, then direct evidence that students have acquired expected knowledge and skills mandated by district, state, or national standards can be provided. By making assessment a part of the teaching process, it becomes an essential element of every educational experience that is provided in the classroom. Classroom assessment is, by design, a continuous process where specific student product information (e.g., pages read and review questions answered, two digit multiplication problems solved, Shakespeare project completed, questions answered in class, etc.) is examined and reviewed to make sure appropriate and genuine progress toward an identified learning goal or target (i.e. what students are expected to know and be able to do once the instruction is complete) is being met.

Where can I learn more about classroom assessment?

There are many excellent resources to review many of which are located on the following website (http://web.me.com/dr.raymondwitte/ClassroomAssessment) which is maintained by Dr. Witte and his assistant Ms. Lindsay Whittle. This site has more detailed information on formative, summative, and self-assessment. A short video on the integration of these assessment forms is provided along with professional links related to assessment areas such as Response to Intervention (RTI), performance assessments, as well as standardized tests. An extra benefit to this site is the Q & A/blog where a teacher or parent has the opportunity to have his or her specific assessment question(s) addressed and answered.

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