Academic journal article Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin

Affective Assessment: The Missing Piece of the Educational Reform Puzzle

Academic journal article Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin

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.

Stiggins (2005) perhaps captured the importance and role of the affective domain best when he stated,

Motivation and desire represent the very foundation of learning. If students don't want to learn, there will be no learning. If they feel unable to learn, there will be no learning. Desire and motivation are not academic achievement characteristics. They are affective characteristics, (pp. 199-200)

Popham (2011) further explained the importance of the affective domain by clarifying its connection to future behavior. He stated,

The reason such affective variables as students' attitudes, interests, and values are important to us is that those variables typically influence future behavior. The reason we want to promote positive attitudes toward learning is because students who have positive attitudes toward learning today will be inclined to pursue learning in the future. The affective status of students lets us see how students are predisposed to behave subsequently, (p. 233)

Because the cognitive and affective domains are so closely connected, focusing on cognitive constructs to the exclusion of affective constructs can mean choosing to provide an incomplete educational experience. For example, a Spanish teacher should not be satisfied having a student complete a class with an advanced knowledge of the culture and excellent speaking, reading, writing and comprehension skills, but with little to no value for the language or respect for cultural diversity. Similarly, students exiting an accounting class have not received a complete educational experience if they are able to record transactions and produce financial statements expertly but have little to no respect for the accounting profession or the ethical standards that govern it. Likewise, students entering an English class with outstanding writing skills, but believing they are awful writers, are not likely to apply fully or value their abilities. Only through assessment of the affective domain can educators obtain the information they need about learners' attitudes, values, dispositions, and ethical perspectives.

Finding and Connecting the Missing Piece

Affective assessment can occur at any time the educator so chooses and thinks appropriate; however, to obtain data that are most useful and meaningful, one should conduct assessments regularly. Relying on only one affective assessment for the entire duration of a course, the educator is unable to see if and how positive changes in the affective domain are taking place, and there is no opportunity to respond to those findings in a timely manner. The key is ongoing assessment, which could mean assessment before and after each chapter, each unit, or each grading period. Timing is at the discretion of the educator.

Affective assessment is by no means a summative assessment. It should never result in a grade in a grade book. Like all other types of assessments, affective assessment should be used for instructional decision making and with the intent of fostering the positive change in disposition that is desired.

...We assess dispositions in the hope of finding positive, productive attitudes, values, sense of academic self, or interest in particular topics so we can take advantage of these - build on them - to promote greater achievement gains. But if our assessments reveal negative feelings, then we are obliged to strive for educational experiences that will result in the positive dispositions we hope for. (Stiggins,2005,p.204)

Consider the following example: An elementary reading teacher decides to conduct affective assessments throughout the school year with a group of students who are beginning readers. One assessment is designed to monitor the class members' attitudes toward reading and their self-esteem concerning their ability to read. The first assessment indicates that the students, as a whole, generally despise the idea of reading; however, assessments during the next several months indicate gradual but certain improvement in their attitudes and self-perceptions. Then the teacher suddenly discovers a drastic drop in these levels of improvement. These data should spur the teacher to reflect on what was taught, how it was taught, and any other influential factors that occurred since the last positive affective assessment. As a result of such evaluations, the teacher is in a much better position to modify instruction or identify areas that may warrant revisiting.

As another example, a foreign language teacher may discover through affective assessment that students in a class have very little confidence in their ability to speak the language because they believe that doing so makes them sound, look, and feel awkward. The teacher is now aware of the need to forgo group speaking exercises and class skits in exchange for more individual or one- on-one exercises until confidence is built. These scenarios are just two of many possible examples of how affective assessment may be conducted and used.


A number of instruments may be used for conducting affective assessment. Hopkins (1998) indicated that Likert, rating, and semantic differential scales, as well as self-report inventories, self-esteem inventories, Q-Sort instruments, questionnaires, and adjective checklists are all acceptable tools for collecting affective assessment data. Whichever type of instrument is employed, users should remember a few important guidelines so as to produce the most valid results possible. For example, the entire data collection process should be completely anonymous. Anonymity greatly increases the chances of obtaining honest responses. Students must know that they are not to place their names or any other identifying information on the instruments they complete. Rather than collecting responses by hand, the educator is encouraged to use a ballot box in which students may place the responses themselves. This method eliminates any ability to link responses to specific individuals based upon the row or order in which they sit. Similarly, for any tool requiring a written response, students should be encouraged to type their responses instead of writing them by hand.

One may wonder how affective assessment data can be used to modify instructional design when the data are collected anonymously. Because of the nature of what is being assessed, the potential exists for some students to respond dishonestly or simply not to take the assessment seriously. Reviewing aggregated data helps to mitigate the effects of the few who may distort their responses. Therefore, group-focused inferences are entirely appropriate and most feasible for making instructional decisions for the class.

Although educators will find that a number of instruments that assess a wide variety of affective constructs already exist, some educators may wish to create their own. When creating an affective assessment tool, perhaps the most important thing one should remember is to word the statements carefully so that the desired response or behavior is less obvious. For example, rather than have students agree or disagree with the statement I like to read, ask them how many books they have readjust for fun over the summer break. Students could also be asked to place cards containing the words read, study, write, and conduct an experiment in order of preference. Although no assessment tool is perfectly valid and reliable, adhering to these measures will help improve the quality of the findings as well as the decisions being made based on those findings (Mertler, 2003).


Affective assessment, frequently neglected in practice, is quite possibly the one missing piece of the puzzle when it comes to educational reform. Armed with data about students' affective status, educators are in a much better position to provide a complete educational experience that is clearly relevant and of interest to learners. Simply stated, affective assessment is worthy of the time and effort it requires, and without it, the educational experience is incomplete.


Affective assessment, frequently neglected in practice, is quite possibly th e one missing piece of the puzzle when it comes to educational reform.



Hopkins, K. D. (1998). Educational and psychological measurement and evaluation. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn 8i Bacon.

Mertler, C. A. (2003). Classroom assessment: A practical guide for educators. Los Angeles, CA: Pyrczak Publishing.

Popham, W.J. (2011). Classroom Assessment: What teachers need to know. Boston, MA: Pearson.

Stiggins, R.J. (2005). Student-involved assessment for learning. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

[Author Affiliation]

Dr. Ramona A. Hall is an Associate Professor in the Department of Education at Cameron University in Lawton, OK, She teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in educational assessment along with graduatelevel research and curriculum courses. Prior to coming to higher education, Dr. Hall taught elementary and high school Spanish as well as business education. She is a member of Beta Eta Chapter, OK, and currently serves as First Vice President. rhall(5)cameron,edu

Author Advanced search


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.