“Today, kids spend too much time on the scale and not enough time at the trough.” This analogy of students as farm animals isn’t a beautiful one, but it gets the point across. In the past decade, students have spent a great deal of class time taking assessments (being weighed), which reduces the time available for instruction and learning (eating at the trough). The reasons for this development vary, but the testing requirements of No Child Left Behind are a major reason behind it.
Many of us sometimes feel that our students are “over-assessed,” so it’s easy to have a negative attitude toward testing. But assessments are an essential part of teaching when they are used effectively. The descriptions below include information about what each assessment type is intended to accomplish, as well as some ideas for making it meaningful and effective in the classroom.
Four Categories of Assessments
There are four principal categories of assessments that teachers encounter during a school year.
Definition: These are ongoing, informal, short, frequent, and should guide instruction. Typically these assessments are not undertaken for a grade. Students can individually use formative assessments to help assess their own learning.
Make It Meaningful: Let the students in on the process. The point of a formative assessment is to guide the instruction, so the more the students feel a part of it the better. Questions like, “How difficult was this concept to learn?” or “What would have helped you to learn this better/more quickly?” are formative in nature. The students’ feedback may not always be helpful, but it becomes more meaningful to them if they have a voice in the process.
Make It Effective: Use technology to become more efficient. Here are some ideas for checks for understanding: Formative assessments can be completed by a group of students to monitor whole-class understanding of a concept. Using the MimioMobile™ assessment app or the MimioVote™ assessment system can be an engaging and exciting way to conduct the same assessment in small groups.
Definition: These assessments come at the end of learning. Think of a final exam, a final essay, or a state test. These tests are not necessarily used to form instruction, though they can help a teacher make changes for the next group of students. When it’s time for a summative assessment, the learning should be considered “finished.”
Make It Meaningful: In my opinion, these are the hardest tests to make meaningful to students. If students don’t succeed, they are left with a feeling of defeat – just because of the nature of the test. As a teacher, it’s good to approach these tests with the idea that students are being asked to “show what you know.” All the learning has already taken place, so students should go into the test with confidence.
Make It Effective: Make the timeline flexible. This is always possible with state or national tests, but within the classroom it’s also a great practice. Let each student take the test when he or she feels ready. Don’t make a student wait until Friday to be tested on spelling words that were mastered on Tuesday (and give more time to the student who hasn’t mastered them yet).
Definition: These assessments are given to all students. The objective is to find out whether students are “on level.” These test don’t provide a great deal of information for the teacher or the students, but are quick to administer and are reliable.
Make It Meaningful: Provide instant feedback to the students (if possible). For example, many reading screening tests are done individually with students. By giving the results back right away to a student, you decrease his or her anxiety and create meaning for the test. If the scores are low, the teacher can also reassure the student and prep him or her for the diagnostic test to come (discussed below).
Make It Effective: Have a good system in place to support the students. If a student doesn’t pass a screening test, a diagnostic test should be administered soon to see what interventions might be needed.
Definition: A diagnostic assessment is used when a student appears to have a deficit of some sort. Diagnostics are not give to all students because of the time required to administer them, their intensity, and sometimes their cost.
Make It Meaningful: Help the student to feel supported through the assessment. As students grow older, they become more aware of any gaps between them and other students. These assessments should be seen by the student (and the teacher) as a path to getting necessary help.
Make It Effective: Provide help. There are many tools that can assist with this in the classroom; here are just a few: for reading - Core5, Istation; for math - IXL; for both – Front Row, MobyMax. The objective is to help the student as best you can in one way or another.
Regardless of the type of assessment, there’s a variety of methods to help make each test meaningful to both the teacher and the student, and to make it effective in the classroom.
Want tips on using student response systems in your classroom? Download our tip sheet, 12 Best Practices: Student Response Systems.>>