Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

The Big Picture in Assessment and Who Ought to Have It

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

The Big Picture in Assessment and Who Ought to Have It

Article excerpt

IT IS AN exhilarating time to be involved in educational assessment. What was quite recently a fairly dry enterprise has become the focus of considerable attention. Many researchers and practitioners consider asessment reform to be the very foundation of general school reform. Grant Wiggins, a leader in assessment reform efforts, has highlighted the important role assessment must play in school restructuring.(1)

Indeed, interest in assessment has surpassed the expectations of many observers of the education scene. Teachers are participating in professional development activities that will enable them to better integrate assessment and instruction. A number of conferences have been held, and a wealth of written materials and videotapes have been produced to provide guidance on implementing new ways of gathering information about student learning, such as portfolios and performance assessments. Several special issues of education journals have been published, including a number of special sections in the Kappan.(2)

As these reform efforts swirl around them, classrooms have retained their place as ground zero.(3) Consider all the assessment activities that occur in individual classrooms. In one week, in a typical elementary classroom, a teacher might..

o prepare, administer, and grade the weekly spelling test,

o record students, teamwork and leadership skills during a group project in social studies;

o administer a test covering districtmandated learning objectives in math,

o compile portfolios of student work in the language arts,

o plan a performance assessment of students, lab skills in science.,

o observe one student's behavior for possible special education referral, or attend an IEP (individualized education program) meeting for a student at which intelligence test scores are discussed;

o write a note on a student project, commenting on the great effort the student put into it;

o draft a letter to send to parents regarding the norm-referenced, standardized test to be administered in the coming week;

o attend an inservice presentation on the newly implemented state-level proficiency test; and

o review a homework assignment that reveals - discouragingly - that students did not generate many responses to a brainstorming activity.

The Big Picture

If the preceding list seems overwhelming, there is a reason. It is. New forms of assessment, school reform initiatives, the growing number of mandated assessments, increasing calls for assessment of noncognitive outcomes, and a host of entities demanding accountability have converged on the classroom. One wonders how the teacher described above would respond to a principal's announcement that the school had been selected to participate in the National Assessment of Educational Progress! Considering the increasing attention to assessment and all the diverse purposes that are served by assessments, it is perhaps fair to say that the "big picture" in educational assessment is a chaotic one. If indeed one cannot serve two masters, it is even less conceivable that one can serve six or eight.

This picture of assessment chaos is perhaps the most neglected issue in the current discourse regarding assessment reform. It seems reasonable to demand that someone should have a clear understanding of the varieties of educational assessments that take place in classrooms and should be able to articulate the uses that those assessments serve. What is missing from the big picture in education reform is the notion that someone must have a vision regarding how the assessment parts fit together. Who might such a person be?

The Administrator's Role

You guessed it. I am about to pin the "vision thing" on administrators. There were several alternative candidates for the job. For one, it is clear that teachers need to understand the role and importance of assessment in their classrooms. …

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