Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Transforming Student Assessment

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Transforming Student Assessment

Article excerpt

In a "get tough" environment in which ave are seeing an increase in the use of graduation and even grade-promotion tests, more testing seems to be on the agenda. Yet the problems with traditional testing have not gone away, Mr. Neill warns. He suggests a better approach.

Imagine an assessment system in which teachers had a wide repertoire of classroom-based, culturally sensitive assessment practices and tools to use in helping each and every child learn to high standards: in which educators collaboratively used assessment information to continuously improve schools; in which important decisions about a student, such as readiness to graduate from high school, were based on the work done over the years by the student; in which schools in networks held one another accountable for student learning; and in which public evidence of student achievement consisted primarily of samples from students' actual schoolwork rather than just reports of results from one-shot examinations.

Many would probably dismiss this vision as the product of an overactive imagination. However, these ideas are at the core of Principles and Indicators for Student Assessment Systems, developed by the National Forum on Assessment and signed by more than 80 national and local education and civil rights organizations.' The widespread support for this document indicates a deep desire for a radical reconstruction of assessment practices, with student learning made central to assessment reform. In this article I draw on Principles to outline what a new assessment system could look like and to suggest some actions that can be taken to further assessment reform.

The seven principles endorsed by the Forum are:

1. The primary purpose of assessment is to improve student learning.

2. Assessment for other purposes supports student learning.

3. Assessment systems are fair to all students.

4. Professional collaboration and development support assessment.

5. The broad community participates in assessment development.

6. Communication about assessment is regular and clear.

7. Assessment systems are regularly reviewed and improved.

Classroom Assessment

Assessment for the primary purpose of improving student learning must rest on what the Forum calls "foundations" of high-quality schooling: an understanding of how student learning takes place, clear statements of desired learning (goals or standards) for all students, adequate learning resources (particularly high-quality teachers), and school structures and practices that support the learning needs of all students.

Assessment to enhance student learning must be integrated with, not separate from, curriculum and instruction.(2) Thus assessment reform is necessarily integrated with reform in other areas of schooling. In particular, schools need to ensure the development of "authentic instruction," which involves modes of teaching that foster understanding of rich content and encourage students' positive engagement with the world.

Both individual and societal interests come together in classroom instruction and assessment. Assessment works on a continuum. Helping the student with his or her individual interests and ways of thinking lies at one end. At the other are the more standard ways of knowing and doing things that society has deemed important. In the middle are individualized ways of learning, understanding, and expressing socially important things. There are, for example, many ways for a student to present an understanding of the causes of the U.S. Civil War.

For all these purposes, teachers must gather information. Teachers must keep track of student learning, check up on what students have learned, and find out what's going on with them. Keeping track means observing and documenting what students do. Checking up involves various kinds of testing and quizzing. Finding out is the heart of classroom assessment: What does the child mean? …

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