Connecting “What is Taught” to “What is Assessed” in the Classroom
Classroom assessment is most effective and useful for a teacher (as well as for students) when it accurately matches the instructional content that has been taught. This linkage of instruction with desired learning that is accurately assessed is recognized as instruction-learning-assessment alignment (Beck, 2007; Cohen & Hyman, 1991; Witte 2012). Central to this process is connecting what is taught in the classroom to the accurate assessment of student learning based on the provided learning experience(s).
Regardless of a teacher’s delivery method (e.g., lecture, small group, inquiry-based, on-line), the instructional process needs to start with organizing and matching the instruction and learning activities to the intended academic standards and/or expected performance expectations. Academic standards, which reflect state and/or national learning expectations, indicate what students are expected to be knowledgeable about and be able to do relative to certain content areas (e.g., math, physical science). Classroom assessment needs to be designed to measure the students’ progress in accomplishing the learning outcomes that are connected to those standards.
In order to facilitate the entire process, teachers must be clear about what their students are expected to learn. What is taught is just as important as how it is taught. This requires a solid awareness of the instructional standards that exist across the grade levels. Knowing the curriculum continuum is essential since teachers must know what skills students should possess when then enter a specific grade level, and also what they should be able to do once they have completed that grade. Unfortunately, sometimes what-is-taught is not what-is-assessed and when this mismatch takes place instruction-learning-assessment alignment does not occur.
That is why it is so important, from an instructional perspective, to have complete clarity regarding the desired goals for the students and to possess valid and reliable assessment measures that allow for the collection of meaningful student data. In particular, the assessment system needs to be “laser accurate” when it comes to evaluating student accomplishments relative to the identified learning outcomes. And that just doesn’t include just the academic information (e.g., language arts, social studies) but also includes the cognitive skills that are connected with that content.
Both Content and Cognitive Skills Are Essential
Clear learning targets (i.e. detailed statements of student performance that describes what a student should be able to do after a specific lesson/instructional activity) and outcomes (i.e. a desired effect or product that a student can generate because of an instructional experience) must be identified within a content area. Moreover, the expectation of how students are to demonstrate new knowledge and skill bases must be clarified. For example, analyzing the short- and long-term financial and health impact costs of the recent Gulf oil spill on the Mississippi delta region involves the integration of several different knowledge and skill sets and a comprehensive problem-solving model, as compared to identifying the date when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. Both are important, but they require the use of different skills. Different tasks and outcomes require different skill sets and operations, and this needs to be recognized, as well as planned for, as part of the instructional process.
For cognitive processing, we turn to Bloom’s taxonomy in the examination of differentiated levels of cognitive processing relative to educational objectives (Bloom, Englehart, Furst, Hill, & Krathwohl, 1956; Bloom, Hastings, & Madaus, 1971). Bloom’s cognitive taxonomy includes six major categories, including (1) knowledge, (2) comprehension, (3) application, (4) analysis, (5) synthesis, and (6) evaluation, with the categories placed in ascending order based on growing complexity and abstraction (Krathwohl, 2002). It is important to note that all of these skills and required learner actions are important and need to be executed if students are to be effective learners.
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