As with any profession, those in education – teachers, administrators, students, and parents – all have important questions that need answers. While the questions begin to broaden with each level you venture away from the classroom, all of them are focused on benefiting students. A balanced set of educational assessments can provide many of the answers to these questions, but unfortunately, there are so many misconceptions about what assessments do, how they do it, and why, that it’s difficult for all those involved to make sense of this balance.
We recently came across a blog post at TeachThought – 6 Common Misunderstandings About Assessment of Learning – that is worth highlighting. Our goal at AssessmentLiteracy.org is to support the role of assessments in learning and to help educators understand the different uses of assessment and how to apply test data to support classroom learning.
Here are five of the misconceptions in the piece that we see quite often, too:
1. Assessment and evaluation are the same. As the blog suggests, too many people (involved in education or otherwise) put these two in the same category when they shouldn’t. More often than not, an evaluation is a graded outcome of a student’s learning around a particular topic, while assessment provides timely feedback of a student’s progress toward meeting learning outcomes. In the case of an evaluation, the result is whether a student learned what was taught. An assessment should provide the teacher with where they are in learning what is being taught.
2. Most assessment is summative. We’ve discussed at some length the benefits of minute-by-minute, day-by-day assessment that is formative in nature. These formative assessments can be done throughout the course of the year to make sure that students are where they need to be in their learning. A summative assessment, in contrast, is the year-end tool to determine how well a student did in their learning. The difference, of course, is the ability to use the assessment data in a timely manner to inform instructional change.
3. Assessment is a one-way communication. Most formative and interim assessments provide data that arm teachers with what they need to open a dialogue with students. Teachers have the ability to create individualized learning plans with students that support their unique learning needs. Working together with students, teachers can turn assessments into powerful tools for understanding student growth.
4. Assessment is for grading purposes. While assessments do play a role in grades and educational outcomes, they often are not graded (and should not be). Formative and interim assessments, in particular, provide data to help teachers map instruction so that all students are meeting their learning targets and outcomes. They are a means to a grade, but certainly not graded components that should be worked into their final score.
5. Student work should be given a grade or a mark. In the case of summative assessments, this may hold true, but with most other assessments of learning, there is no grade or mark. Rather, it’s like a thermometer reading of where students are in their learning at that moment.
Students, and everyone involved in supporting their education, have questions about how well they are learning. By understanding good assessment practice and using a balanced system of assessment, we can find the answers.