Classroom Assessment Strategies: What Do Students At-Risk and Teachers Perceive as Effective and Useful?

Article excerpt

With the focus on standardized tests, it appears that we are leaving classroom assessments and students at-risk of school failure behind. This quantitative study investigated the perceptions of junior high school teachers, and students at risk of school failure, on the effectiveness and level of use of various classroom assessments and assessment-related strategies. Results of the study showed that statistically significant differences existed between assessments and strategies teachers and students perceived to be effective and what is being used in classrooms. Perhaps we need to evaluate whether adolescents are really at risk or educators are making them at-risk because of their assessment strategies.

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The middle school years are a pivotal period in adolescents' lives, and assessment plays a critical role in how adolescents perceive themselves and their peers during those middle school years. All children, including those at-risk, can and do learn; therefore, it is a charge of our teachers to be flexible in the methods of instructing and evaluating children to meet the needs of every individual within the schools.

Various approaches are used to define at-risk students. Hixon and Tinzmann (1990) stated students who have certain demographic characteristics such as living in a single-parent home, being a member of a minority group, or having limited English proficiency are often considered at-risk, because statistically these students are more likely to be low achievers or drop out of school. Also, students who are performing badly or failing school are at-risk because they are not successful in the "regular" school program and require interventions. Other at-risk factors include frequent absenteeism, retention in one or more grades, severe behavior problems, low ability, low socioeconomic status, and drug and alcohol use.

The students at-risk targeted in this study included those of low ability and/or low achievement who were at-risk of failing two or more subjects at the junior high school level, at-risk of failing two or more subjects and exhibited 10% or greater absenteeism, and/or were identified by their teachers as possible future dropouts. They may have been low achievers because they possessed one or more of the risk factors previously stated.

School characteristics such as narrow curricula, a focus on lower-level skills, inappropriate instructional strategies, inappropriate materials and resources, over-reliance on standardized test results, tracking, pull-out programs, and beliefs and attitudes toward particular students and their parents have been blamed for students' failure (Hixon & Tinzmann, 1990). Anderman and Maehr (1994) found that students often exhibited a "disturbing downturn" in motivation during the middle grades and that competence and students' expectations for success were higher during the elementary years than during secondary school. They stated that students who experience school-related failure during adolescence might adopt self-schemata that define life goals and life tasks in terms of present failure instead of future possibilities. The same authors (Maehr & Anderman, 1993) suggested, "To an important degree, early adolescence is a make-or-break point for children who have experienced problems with school, other persons, and society" (p.594). Similarly, Eccles and her colleagues (1993) discovered that for some children the middle grade years "mark a downward spiral in school-related behaviors and motivation that often lead to academic failure and dropping out of school" (p. 554). They concluded that the decline in motivation assumed to be characteristic of the adolescent period was less a consequence of the children's developmental stage than of the "mismatch between students' needs and the opportunities afforded them in traditional middle schools" (p.567). Further studies in middle grades (MacIver & Epstein, 1993) showed that the content of the curriculum and the nature of instruction fostered or limited students' feelings of achievement and competence. …