A current policy issue that is plaguing our educational system is the emphasis put on student assessments. Teachers are at odds in their classrooms on whether to teach the necessities that students will need to be productive in our society, to simply teach what will be tested on state and federally mandated assessments, or both. Teachers are forced to find a balance within their instructions due to the time restraints that stand in their way.
When teachers are able to find this balance and present all the concepts that are included in assessment, plus all other concepts, the results from the assessments can be very beneficial to their classrooms. Assessment results have important implications for instruction. The primary aim of assessment is to foster learning of worthwhile academic content for all students (Wolf, Bixby, Glenn, & Gardner, 1991). School communities use assessment results in a formative way to determine how well they are meeting instructional goals and how to alter curriculum and instruction so that goals can be better met.
But if what schools assess and how schools assess do not match what is taught and how it is taught, then the results are meaningless, if not potentially harmful. There’s also potential for harm when decisions affecting students’ futures are being made based on results of assessments made with tools that are not appropriate for the purpose. Some schools are attempting to change assessment to match the content and format of instruction, and are therefore relying more upon alternative assessment. Alternative assessments include performance-based assessment, portfolios, student-designed assessments, etc.
, and are considered by many educators to be more reflective of new curricular goals and methods of instruction. Some educators view alternative assessment as a better way to determine how well students are learning traditional forms of assessment like multiple choice tests. Alternative forms of assessment might best serve some of these purposes while more traditional forms could still serve others. Regardless of the purpose, however, the form of assessment used must reflect a teacher’s instructional goals and must be of high technical quality.
(White & Fredericksen, 1994) Alternative forms of assessment require knowledge and skills that most teachers have not had the opportunity to learn, which in fact poses another issue with these types of classroom assessments. Without the knowledge and skills, teachers will be doing their students a disservice by conducting faulty assessments. Providing teachers with the time that is essential for learning is necessary to making changes in assessment practices. Teachers need time to produce and implement the assessments.
Teachers also need time to work with one another to share ideas and reach consensus because integrating instruction and assessment requires coordination. Alternative assessment will not be effective if it is added to the list of responsibilities for teachers. (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 1991) When assessment results are used to make important decisions, there is a danger that instruction will narrowly focus on what is assessed while other important curricular goals and content are neglected (Romberg, Zarinnia, & Williams, 1989). All assessments include only a sample of the total content contained within a curriculum.
Critics of multiple-choice tests, for example, suggest that the skills usually assessed by multiple-choice testing become the focus of instruction at the expense of more substantial content. Alternative assessment presents a solution to this situation by ensuring that the content of the assessment matches the most important content in the curriculum. However, regardless of how much the content of an assessment is improved, when teachers narrowly focus on what is tested, the assessment results will only reveal the students’ learning of the test content, not whether they could perform a related task in a different environment.
For example, if instruction is focused on a skill that is a test requirement, the results of the test will reflect only the students’ performance in a testing environment, not his/her general ability to perform that skill in everyday settings. This limitation is primarily a concern in large-scale districts or state testing situations where important decisions are based on a limited sample of student performances. The most important factors in determining the technical quality of assessments are the assessments’ reliability, validity, and fairness.
If the quality of an assessment is not ensured, grouping practices, and coverage and pacing decisions may be based on invalid estimates of students’ capabilities. Sometimes grouping decisions can reflect or reinforce racial and socioeconomic inequities, or the decisions might be based on prior achievement that was artificially low due to past limited opportunities to learn. If all students have not had an equal opportunity to learn, then grouping and pacing decisions based on test results are unfair. (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 1991)
Good assessment requires minimizing factors that could lead to misinterpretation of results. The criteria for meeting this requirement are reliability, validity, and fairness. Reliability is defined as “an indication of the consistency of scores across evaluators or over time. ” An assessment is considered reliable when the same results occur regardless of when the assessment occurs or who does the scoring. There should be compelling evidence to show that results are consistent across raters and across scoring occasions.
(Elliott, 1994) Validity is defined as “an indication of how well an assessment actually measures what it is supposed to measure. ” Three aspects of an assessment that must be evaluated for validity are tasks, extraneous interference, and consequences. Every assessment requires students to complete some task or activity. A valid task should reflect actual knowledge or performance, engage and motivate students to perform to the best of their ability, be consistent with current educational theory and practice, be reviewed by experts to judge content quality and authenticity.
Extraneous interference occurs when there is something in the assessment that might get in the way of students being able to demonstrate what they know and can do. A valid assessment does not require knowledge or skills that are irrelevant to what is actually being assessed. Some examples of these might include students’ ability to read, write, role-play, or understand the context, personality, physical limitations, or knowledge of irrelevant background information. Valid assessments also minimize unintended negative consequences.
Negative effects of assessments might include restricting curricula to what can be easily assessed, communicating unintended messages about power, control, or social status, and fostering narrow images of the nature of a particular discipline. (Elliott, 1994) Fairness means that an assessment should “allow for students of both genders and all backgrounds to do equally well. All students should have equal opportunity to demonstrate the skills and knowledge being assessed.
” The fairness of the assessment is jeopardized if bias exists either in the task or in the rater. (Elliott, 1994) In this atmosphere of reform, student assessment is the centerpiece of many educational improvement efforts. Policymakers hope that changes in assessment will cause teachers and schools to do things differently. Assessment reform is viewed as a means of setting more appropriate targets for students, focusing staff development efforts for teachers, encouraging curriculum reform, and improving instruction and instructional materials.
(Fuchs, 1994) Many educators and policymakers believe that what gets assessed is what gets taught and that the format of assessment influences the format of instruction. Contrary to our understanding of how students learn, many assessments test facts and skills in isolation, seldom requiring students to apply what they know and can do in real-life situations. Standardized tests do not match the emerging content standards, and over-reliance on this type of assessment often leads to instruction that stresses basic knowledge and skills.
Rather than encouraging changes in instruction toward the engaged learning that will prepare students for the 21st century, these tests encourage instruction of less important skills and passive learning. (Fuchs, 1994) Since the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the only national representative and continuing assessment of what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas, it seemed to be the most obvious choice for exploration. In exploration of this policy, research will be conducted to find out how affective it is within our country.
The terms of this policy requires that assessments be conducted periodically in mathematics, reading, science, writing, the arts, civics, economics, geography, and U. S. history. Because of the issues of assessment, NAEP’s assessment will be probed to find if they are reliable, valid, and fair being that it serves as a type models for all other assessment practices. Under the current structure, the Commissioner of Education Statistics, who heads the National Center for Education Statistics in the U. S. Department of Education, is responsible by law for carrying out the NAEP project.
The National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB), appointed by the Secretary of Education but independent of the Department, sets policy for NAEP and is responsible for developing the framework and test specifications that serve as the blueprint for the assessments. The National Assessment Governing Board develops the frameworks that provide the theoretical basis for the assessment and specific direction for what kinds of knowledge and skills should be assessed, how the exercises should be designed, and how student responses should be scored.
These frameworks are the result of comprehensive efforts in which teachers, curriculum experts, policymakers, and members of the general public worked to create a unified vision of how a particular subject ought to be assessed. This vision is based on current educational research on achievement and its measurement, and good educational practices. (National Center for Education Statistics) References Berk, R. A. (1993). National Trends in Student and Teacher Assessment: Issues in Performance Assessment. Retrieved January 17, 2008 from http://nesonline. com/PDFs/1993_05Berk. pdf Elliott, S. N. (1994).
Creating meaningful performance assessments: Fundamental concepts. Reston, VA: The Council for Exceptional Children. Fuchs, L. S. (1994). Connecting performance assessment to instruction. Reston, VA: The Council for Exceptional Children. National Center for Education Statistics. NEAP Overview. Retrieved on January 20, 2008 from http://www. nces. ed. gov/nationsreportcard/about/ North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, PBS Elementary/Secondary Service, in partnership with the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (UCLA/CRESST) (1991). Schools That Work: The Research Advantage.
Part IV: Alternatives for Measuring Performance. Oak Brook, IL: Authors. Romberg, T. , Zarinnia, A. & Williams, S. (1989). The Influence of Mandated Testing on Mathematics Instruction: Grade Eight Teachers’ Perceptions. In Romberg, T. & Wilson, L. (1992, September), Alignment of Tests with the Standards, Arithmetic Teacher, 40 (1), 18-22. White, B. Y. & Fredericksen, J. R. (1994, Fall). Using Assessment to Foster a Classroom Research Community. Educator, 19-24. Wolf, D. , Bixby, J. , Glenn, J. , III, & Gardner, H. (1991). To use their minds well: Investigating new forms of student assessment. Review of Research in Education, 17, 31-74.