In the current high-stakes educational environment, emphasis is on measurable student learning outcomes. The focus remains on single high-stakes tests, but most assessments of student learning occur in the classroom. In a survey of secondary mathematics teachers, the teachers self-reported their use of classroom assessment methods. The classroom assessment picture depicted is one of continued reliance on traditional assessments such as quizzes and major examinations as the main determinant of student grades. However, traditional assessments are not the only indicators that determine student grades. Secondary mathematics teachers use multiple assessments to determine student grades at the end of a semester.
Classroom assessment is an important topic for study in today's educational environment that emphasizes student learning and achievement too often in terms of a single-event high-stakes test. Policymakers and the public support the use of high-stakes testing as the measure of student and school achievement despite serious reservations on the part of the educational community. Classroom assessment, however, is rarely included in the standards-based accountability efforts. Despite recent compliance challenges under the No Child Left Behind Act, the only state that currently uses classroom assessments as part of its standards-based reforms is Nebraska (Borja, 2007). The Nebraska School-based Teacher-Led Assessment Reporting Systems (STARS) encourages school districts to form individual district plans that incorporate classroom assessments as a critical part of student assessment and achievement data (Olson, 2002).
Classroom assessment serves many purposes for teachers: grading, identification of student special needs, student motivation, and monitoring instructional effectiveness. Teachers have a wide range of classroom assessment methods to employ. These methods provide the teacher with access to powerful assessment of student learning. Good assessment enhances instruction; it is not an activity that merely audits learning (Stiggins, 2001). The classroom context is one of fairly constant formal and informal assessment over time and across many dimensions of behavior. However, among the many assessment options available to classroom secondary teachers, common practice indicates that teachers devise some variation of a test to determine student learning levels for summative grading purposes (Brualdi, 1998).
Since teachers in 35 of 50 states are not required to take a course or to demonstrate competency in the area of assessment, teachers may have a limited knowledge of how to design and use tests and other assessment tools (Tienken & Wilson, 2001). Without significant intervention, preservice teachers typically were found to adopt the assessment practices that were used with them as students or those used by their cooperating teachers (Taylor & Nolen, 1996). Some might say it is a most human and natural reaction to stay within the assessment comfort zone of traditional testing models.
The current state of classroom assessment has been called dismal for decades; the need for improvement is significant because classroom assessment retains immense potential for improving student learning (Stiggins, 2001). According to Madaus and O'Dwyer (1999), performancebased assessment, despite the strong advocacy by the educational community, is essentially based on the same techniques as all assessment. Broad inferences about student performance in an entire domain are made by obtaining a small sample of a student's work. Despite this essential similarity, educational leaders today emphasize the three Ps: performance, portfolios, and products at the expense of traditional assessment methods. Performance-based assessments are the assessment methods that occupy the high ground in current educational discourse.
According to Swanson and Stevenson (2002), mathematics was the first discipline to embrace standards-based reforms and has continued to be the strongest advocate of content and assessment standards. …