Understand assessment strategies

By Diana Eggers

Assessing students has been a part of the teacher's job since the opening of the very first schoolhouse. However, assessment today is very different from the assessment that happened in one-room schools on the prairie. Today, most educators would agree that assessment is, for better or worse, not only how students are measured but also how schools and teachers are measured.

Assessment occurs at all levels, from the classroom to the national.

National assessment includes the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS), and other assessments that are based on standards set by national organizations such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

State assessment includes standardized tests based on state student learning standards, state portfolio initiatives, state senior project requirements, and so on.

Local district assessment includes standardized tests that schools or districts subscribe to and district-wide project and portfolio initiatives.

School/classroom assessment includes observation, informal checks for understanding, quizzes, tests, projects, portfolios, and informal and formal discussions with students.

This article concerns school/classroom assessment strategies and tools.

Types of classroom assessment

There are many types of classroom assessment tools, including quizzes, tests, presentations, projects, collections of work, and observation. Most of these assessment strategies can be placed into one of three assessment types: performance, portfolio, and project.

Performance assessment

In performance assessment (also known as authentic assessment), students are asked to show the teacher that they've gained certain knowledge and skills. Performance assessment goes beyond regurgitation of facts and figures to the ability to solve problems. The assessment usually is focused on the process used to arrive at the product or outcome as well as the product or outcome itself.

When creating performance assessments, you need to start with the end in mind. What outcome do you want the students to attain? What knowledge are they demonstrating by performing the task?

Additionally, consider the following when designing performance assessments:

  • What outcome or standard will be evaluated?
  • How will the students complete the assessment?
  • Where will students complete the assessment?
  • How much time will they have to do so?
  • How much assistance will teachers, parents, or peers provide?
  • What materials, supplies, and equipment will students need to complete the task?
  • How many and what options will you give the students for their responses? Are they all submitting a presentation printed on paper, created in Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2003, or on a DVD? Or do they have a choice of media in which to complete the task?
  • What scoring criteria will be used? Be sure to present this to students at the beginning of the task.

The following are learning tasks that could be assessed based on performance:

  • Create a game.
  • Write an article for the school newspaper or local newspaper.
  • Write a research paper.
  • Propose and support a way to solve a problem.
  • Design a museum exhibit.
  • Rewrite an ending to your favorite story or to a story that's been read in class.
  • Create a classification system for a group of objects.
  • Identify a variety of solutions for a problem.
  • Write a review for a school or local play or concert.
  • Write the "other side of a story" from the villain's perspective.

Portfolio assessment

The use of portfolios for assessment is on the rise in classrooms. A portfolio is a collection of work selected by the teacher and the student to demonstrate that the student has mastered one or more concepts. In addition, portfolios may be used to show growth, so rather than including only a student's best work, a portfolio may include various samples of work from throughout the school year to demonstrate how the student has progressed in a particular area.

It's important to note that the portfolio is not a scrapbook of miscellaneous pieces of work. It's a documentation of identified skills, or an intentional and meaningful collection of work that serves as evidence that particular standards have been met. Portfolios also include reflection by the student on the various artifacts included in the portfolio.

The following are some examples of portfolio assignments:

  • Collect three examples from your writing collection. For each one, include outlines, drafts, peer-editing notes, and the final copy. Evaluate and reflect on your writing.
  • For each area of study, collect five artifacts that demonstrate your best work from this year. For each set of five, explain why it's your best work and how you might improve upon it in future.
  • Select three book reviews from your reading of fiction. Choose one to recommend to your peers.
  • Maintain a writing journal and a reading log.

Teachers can also help students create portfolios by videotaping student presentations or performances. Teachers can also help by recording a student reading the same paragraph throughout the year.

Project assessment

Teachers are also turning to project-based learning to help their students learn subject matter and meet state and national standards. Project-based learning encourages students to use information, ideas, skills, and various types of intelligence to answer real-world questions and solve real-world problems.

The key elements of project-based learning are that it:

  • Provides real-world orientation.
  • Encourages higher-order thinking skills.
  • Allows the teacher to be a facilitator of learning.
  • Provides for ongoing student self-assessment.

Projects are often presented in the form of a question to answer or a problem to solve, and they're usually evaluated by means of a rubric.

The following are some sample scenarios that might be used for project-based learning.

  • The Maple neighborhood has been having a growing problem concerning coyotes. They have been spotted in backyards and have, in some cases, been the prime suspects in the disappearances of small pets. In a recent survey conducted by the homeowners' association, many residents expressed a need to control the proliferation of coyotes in the neighborhood. As a concerned citizen, present to the homeowners' association a request for help in the humane control of this growing menace.
  • The United States government has decided to create a 9/11 memorial. This will join the other memorials on the Mall in Washington, D.C., and will be visited by people from across the country and around the world. The commission responsible is assembling teams from throughout the country to create different parts of the memorial. Your team has been asked to create one portion of the memorial to visually represent the tragic events of 9/11.
  • NASA will launch the first manned mission to Mars next month. The astronauts will have one week on the planet to conduct research. Develop an outline and prioritization for the research that the astronauts will conduct while they're on Mars. What areas do you want them to study? Why should they study those areas?

Ready, set, assess

Although many teachers favor one type of assessment over another, most teachers use a combination of all three types. Combining performance, portfolio, and project assessments provides a clear picture of what a student can and cannot do. No matter what type of assessment you use, it's important when you design it to keep standards and outcomes in mind.

About the author     Diana Eggers has taught special education and is the former instructional technology coordinator for the Kent School District, Kent, Washington, where she developed curricula to help other teachers integrate technology in the classroom. She was also the founding executive director of The Learning Space, a nonprofit organization focused on helping teachers integrate technology in the classroom. Diana currently teaches video production, computer graphics, and advanced applications of the Microsoft Office System.

Applies to:
PowerPoint 2003, Word 2003