Connecting “What is Taught” to “What is Assessed” in the Classroom (page 2)
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.
Cognitive Processing Categories
Knowledge considered the foundational processing level involving basic retention and memorization of information (e.g., a student identifies the instruments and materials found in a chemical laboratory).
Comprehension reflects primary awareness, understanding, and use of information (e.g., a student executes the proper sequence of steps in ventilating the chemistry lab during an experiment).
Analysis requires a learner to break down an idea, concept, procedure, etc. into its various parts in order to more fully understand the relationship of the parts to the collective or unified whole or system (e.g., the student conducts the distillation and attempts to identify an unknown substance that is distillated from the liquid).
Synthesis requires a learner to incorporate separate elements or components together in order to form a complete pattern or idea (e.g., the student recognizes that the distillate originated in the liquid and hypotheses that the white substance is salt and perhaps the solution is saltwater).
Evaluation requires a learner to critically review and exam some product, idea, or procedure, complete with identified assets and limitations (e.g., the student removes the white substance and begins to test its basic qualities in order to determine its composition).
Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy
Anderson and Krathwohl (2001) modified Bloom’s taxonomy along two dimensions. First, four knowledge dimensions (factual knowledge, conceptual knowledge, procedural knowledge, and meta-cognitive knowledge) are acknowledged and indicate the specific kind of knowledge set that is intended to be learned in an objective or goal (e.g., the distillation of a liquid in the laboratory as procedural knowledge as opposed to the process of photosynthesis which is conceptual knowledge). In addition, six dimensions of the cognitive process (remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, and create) are identified and indicate what the learner is supposed to be able to do with the acquired knowledge or information. This then can be used to generate a two-dimensional table known as a taxonomy table, where the desired skill performance(s), particular to an instructional objective(s), can be cross-referenced according to both conditions. It allows a teacher to directly identify and confirm specific knowledge elements and processing qualities within the content covered as part of a lesson(s).
Taxonomy Table Model
For example, if you are providing a lesson on the human body and objective 1 of that lesson includes the identification and function of the major organ systems, conceptual knowledge is being utilized (knowledge of the various organs and how they function) along with factual knowledge (knowledge of terminology, structures, and details of the brain, lung, heart, etc.). In the provided table, 1s have been placed in accordance with the knowledge and cognitive process being tapped within that objective. For objective 2, however, students must anticipate the expected potential physiological impact of a person suffering from severe dehydration and provide an intervention/recovery plan based on the anticipated effects of this condition on the human body. Different skills are being asked for with objective 2. In particular, conceptual as well as procedural knowledge sets (e.g., knowing what structures and systems will be affected and start to break down) are involved with this task along with higher processing skills such as application and creation (e.g., generating an effective intervention plan). Numbers 2s in the table represent the skills involved with this objective. Both objectives are important, yet they involve the development and use of different skills, and this coverage is important to document before the lesson is ever provided.
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