Affective Assessment: The Missing Piece of the Educational Reform Puzzle

Article excerpt

The cognitive and affective domains are inseparable. One is incomplete without the other. Proper, ongoing assessment of the affective domain-students' attitudes, values, dispositions, and ethical perspectives-is essential in any efforts to improve academic achievement and the quality of the educational experience provided. Unfortunately, the practice of routinely assessing learners' affective constructs is all too often lacking. This article highlights the significance and absolute necessity of regular affective assessment and the ways in which data obtained through such assessments may be used to refresh and recapture learners.

High- stakes standardized testing, school report cards, and stiff sanctions for failing to meet the target are just a few of many indications that an educational reform movement is currently underway. In fact, the reformation of K-12 education seems to exist in a perpetual state rather than as a realized goal. For decades, those groups and individuals responsible for reforming the educational system have sought and tested numerous potential solutions to educational woes, trying combinations of strategies in an approach akin to that of putting together a puzzle. However, finding the right pieces to complete the picture of reform remains a challenge.

For centuries, educators have known about the three domains of learner behavior; the cognitive, affective, and psychomotor domains. As part of a heavy emphasis on accountability and reform, attention seems to turn to the cognitive domain almost exclusively. Most classroom teachers do not devote their attention directly to their students' affective constructs, and an even greater number of teachers fail to assess them (Popham, 2011). However, it is entirely conceivable that potentially the largest piece of the puzzle to which educators, educational leaders, and legislators seek a solution remains dormant. What is often forgotten is the fact that the cognitive and affective domains go hand-in-hand; they do not and should not function independently but should complement and complete one another. Although increasing what students know and are able to do is primary, their content-related attitudes, values, beliefs, and dispositions - the affective domain - are at least equally significant. Popham (2011) even goes so far to say that "affective variables are often more significant than cognitive variables" (p. 230).

The Missing Piece

Affective assessment entails measuring students' attitudes, interests, or values. Sometimes referred to as dispositional assessment, it is conducted in an effort to discover students' usual or typical inclinations. In contrast to cognitive and performance assessment, affective assessment does not measure the content that learners know or the skills they are able to perform. What it measures instead are students' dispositions (Popham, 2011).

Something happens affectively between the time children enter school and the time they exit as graduates. Many first graders who so anxiously await every opportunity to participate in class and please their teacher transform some years later into students who are disengaged from the educational process. The level of interest in learning and the desire to excel academically generally seem to diminish over time, and it is disturbing to read multiple studies of high school drop-outs who indicate that a major reason for their decision to leave school was an inability to see relevance in the curriculum. Routine affective assessment that is embedded in the curriculum and appropriately administered can make all the difference. Such assessment is a finger on the pulse of learners' attitudes about the relevance and importance of the content they are to learn as well as their content- related ethical perspectives. It also keeps a constant watch on students' beliefs concerning their own ability to meet educational objectives and standards. As such, affective assessment provides ongoing opportunities for educators to identify students who may potentially fall through the cracks of the educational system as a direct result of their affective constructs. …