Richard Therrien Position Paper The Role of Assessment
There are essentially three forms of assessment used in schools. Diagnostic assessment can be used to determine the learning needs of students. Formative assessment can be used during instruction in order to guide students and increase learning. Summative assessments are used to identify achievement of goals and objectives. I agree with current research and thought that the role of assessment can be increased in classroom instruction and that it can be used as a tool for learning.
In the curricular model currently identified as Understanding By Design, assessment is held out as the first step in writing curriculum. This shows the role of summative assessment as a tool for learning. Wiggins and McTighe both state that if clear learning goals and performance expectations are identified at the beginning of a unit, it guides both the development of instructional activities, but also the specific objectives and methods by which students demonstrate their learning. Summative assessments are used to frame meaningful learning goals, and should reflect authentic and real world applications of skills and content. I believe that summative assessments should allow students to demonstrate understanding by synthesizing together the learned skills and content, present to a variety of audiences, including those outside the school community, and reflect different modes of learning and communication.
Formative assessment is also a key component of curriculum and instruction. Research by Stiggins, Chappuis, McTighe, Wiggins and others shows clearly that frequent, focused, specific formative assessment increases student learning. This means that teachers should be using clear and understandable rubrics, and giving very specific feedback for students. Assessment tools should also be viewed as learning tools in the classroom. This is sometimes tied into the idea of mastery learning, which means that students are allowed to continue to reach for their specific learning goals. As Chappuis puts it, every learning assessment should help students answer these three questions: Where am I going, where am I now, how can I close the gap?
Classroom teachers know that often students reach their highest level of learning on assessment tools, whether they are daily assignments, projects or tests. The idea of using assessment as an instructional tool is not new, but needs to be emphasized. I believe that formative assessment in any classroom is the key. Assessment is also only meaningful if it mirrors exactly the weighting of content and skills in the course or unit. Grades, as Winger points out, should not be a separate entity and need to be more reflective of actual learning, rather than a reflection of work ethic or procedural matters.
By synthesizing these ideas, I can come up with a comprehensive philosophy of assessment as tied to my subject area of science:
Students should be assessed with a variety of methods on their knowledge of science concepts and skills and how they apply to the real world. Students should be assessed on their ability to explain science ideas, do research, and defend decisions about scientific issues by the use of projects and class simulations. Projects should require some level of judgment and thinking by the students and extend beyond research into analysis and synthesis. Group and interpersonal skills should be included. Rubrics detailing students’ ability to present, discuss, and use scientific research, both lab results and issues, should be used by students, peers, and the teacher. The criteria for the students’ overall performance level in the course should focus on the science skills developed, explanation and understanding of science concepts, and use of science skills and concepts in real life situations.
Stiggins, R.J., Chappuis, S. (2002) Classroom Assessment For Learning. Educational Leadership, 60 (1), 40-43
Stiggins, R.J. (2002) Assessment Crisis: The Absence of Assessment FOR Learning, Phi Delta Kappan 83 (10) 758-765
McTighe, J. , O’Connor, K (2005) Seven Practices for Effective Learning. Educational Leadership, 63(3), 10-17
Chappuis, J (2005) Helping Students Understand Assessment. Educational Leadership, 63(3), 39-43
Winger, T. (2005) Grading To Communicate. Educational Leadership, 63(3), 10-61-65
Wiggins, G. (1998) Educative assessment: Designing assessments to inform and improve student performance. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.