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Assessment in the educational settings is critical as it gives direction to the teachers, students, parents, and the government. Since classroom setting is different across the education levels, specific measures are required to accommodate all students in the assessment process. Special cases of students with learning disabilities need unique handling. This work discusses various forms of educational assessment, the importance of assessment, the No Child Left behind Act, and standardized assessment. The work expounds on the necessity of having an accommodative assessment for all students, whether English language learners (ELL) or non-ELL.
Keywords: classroom, education assessment outline, assessment, standardized assessment.
In order to promote educational equity and excellence among American schools, it is necessary to raise both students’ achievements and academic standards. These two strategies work where there is a coordinated effort in assessment (U.S. Department of Education, 2004). Assessment is critical when the understanding of the subject by the student needs to be demonstrated. Tests are used to evaluate the set educational goals and standards that the teacher has presented to the students. It is through assessment that teachers are able to identify the shortcomings in achieving the syllabus, and thus, correcting what is lacking for the students.
Assessment forms an integral part of curriculum delivery as it affects decisions on advancement, grading, instructional needs, placement, and funding, to some extent. Teaching cannot be quantified or measured without an assessment. Students need to know more than basic education, which is arithmetic and reading skills since other skills are also important outside the class environment. Shaffner (2008) notes that assessment in education is outlined to serve the following:
- providing diagnostic feedback, where the teacher assesses the knowledge base of the students as per their performance. In addition, it provides the evaluation of student’s needs regarding what is lacking in the curriculum delivery part. This becomes a basis for the teacher to design what is needed to be taught;
- it also helps educators to set educational standards through assessing performances that demonstrate knowledge, understanding, and mastery;
- this tool is used in evaluating progress by knowing how the students are doing and designing the most suitable teaching methods that can cover the content in the best way. Apart from that, it offers ratio to the changes/modifications required in lessons to assist the students;
- assessments provide motivation to the students, including self-evaluation where students can determine their stand and design a way forward to improve his/her performance. This educational instrument indicates the student’s progress in understanding the taught concepts and acquiring new skills and knowledge.
Thus, education assessment, which is thoroughly discussed in this paper, serves a major role in assessing the potential of students and evaluating the curriculum.
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Assessment may be described as the utilization of empirical data with the aim of improving the performance of the students and refining the educational programs. It involves the gathering and discussion of the information obtained from various sources to help in the development of a deeper understanding of the material that is already known and understood by students. Assessment reveals what students are able to accomplish with the knowledge they have already gained.
This approach to the evaluation of the level of knowledge involves the use of assessment results to come up with ways of improving subsequent learning. These tests are either created by the teachers or came with the textbook and are usually true/false, multiple choices, or fill-in-the-blanks. These forms of assessment are used to indicate the probability that learning the set content has occurred and that students are able to comprehend.
The educational assessment provides documentation in the form of measurable terms, skills, knowledge beliefs, and attitudes. This type of assessment can be focusing on the individual student, the class, the institution, and the entire educational system (granularity). The final assessment depends on a theoretical framework designed by the educational experts and researchers, basing it on the beliefs and their assumptions with regard to the nature of the human mind, the process of learning, and the origin of learning.
Common core units, such as mathematics and English, need to be emphasized. Assessments of these units are designed to be digitalized and abandon the former state-curriculum-based assessments. This sub-type of evaluation of learners’ level of knowledge deals with more writing in every grade, assessing the students directly. Tests may include multiple-choice questions, writing sample answers, rewriting a poorly written paragraph, or answering open-ended questions. The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium has been mandated with designing common core state standards in mathematics and English language literacy/arts.
The assessment provides diagnostic feedback. It helps educators set standards and allows them to evaluate students’ progress in relation to that of others. The purpose of assessment can be categorized into specific groups in educational stakeholders.
Purpose of assessment to children:
- to identify the level of knowledge and special needs;
- to be able to determine an appropriate placement;
- to choose proper curricula capable of meeting each child’s needs;
- to refer children and their respective families for extra educational services.
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Purpose to families:
- to communicate with parents and provide information on their child’s educational progress;
- to correlate school activities to home experiences.
Purpose of early childhood programs for teachers include:
- to make policies on the appropriateness of education decision for the children;
- establishing how best and the extent to which services and programs can make an impact on children;
- to identify skills, needs, and abilities; make activity and lesson plans; create new classroom arrangements, and select teaching materials. Equally, it is useful in making decisions on how to improve learning and meeting the individual needs of students who also use it.
To the public, assessments should give information on children’s achievements and their school-wide performances (Morrison, 2010).
Diagnostic assessment can aid in pinpointing the pupils’ present knowledge of a topic (“Assessment-Inquiry Connection,” n.d.). It is intended to improve the student’s level of achievement and experience. This type of assessment tends to focus backward rather than forward as it assesses what the student understands and the challenges one faces in learning procedures. The difficulties have to be identified, and if not, they do limit the learning process. Diagnostic assessment is often used before or during learning when a problem arises. It also identifies the specific needs and strengths of the student. This tool serves as a follow up to an initial assessment done as the teaching begins.
In this way, diagnostic assessment acts as a baseline for determining the level of learning that has occurred following the completion of a learning activity. It enables instructors to ensure a sequential building of concepts during the entire course. It means that these assessments help ensure that students are being equipped with the necessary basis for a proper understanding of the relatively complex concepts which do come later in their course. The assessment is done when there is a need for a detailed test/assessment. It involves a topic that relates to the specific skills required for the tasks (Excellence Gateway, 2014).
Formative assessment offers feedback and data during the instructional procedure (Hanna & Dettmer, 2004). This type of assessment is usually short-term as it helps the learners to understand new content and comprehending it along with what is already known. It gives immediate feedback to the learners, thus enabling them to modify their behavior and get meaning of the contents in the right manner. In addition, this method gives the teacher another direction to approach the learning process. The teacher performs teaching role as a coach, whereby strategies are changed immediately to drive in the content to the students.
Formative assessment is counted as the best and powerful assessment method that allows improvement of student’s performance and understanding. This is based on the understanding that whenever teachers incorporate it in their everyday practice in the classroom, it provides the necessary information for adjustment learning. Apart from helping teachers in gauging the understanding of their students, the aforementioned assessment type presents students with an opportunity to practice what they are learning. It enables teachers to make informed decisions with regards to the most applicable instructions.
A perfect example of formative assessment is an interactive class discussion, a quiz, on-the-spot performance, and a warm-up or exit slip (MCISD, 2014). Evidently, formative assessment can be a tool for discovering opportunities for teaching intervention since it supplies tutors with the areas needing extra support and practice. The assessments are critical, as there is time to allow improvements during the course of the year (CTB, 2014).
Summative assessment is more a product-oriented and measures the finishing product (Hanna & Dettmer, 2004). It is often administered at the end-term, end of the semester, or even as the course comes to an end. The point is that it is meant for the evaluation of the academic achievement, skill acquisition, and learning by students after any given period of defined instructions. The results are mostly for the teacher or school’s use and they may take time before reaching the students. The assessment gives little room for the student to be reassessed giving the last and least impact for improvement. Parents or teachers do assess the standing of the student compared to other standardized tests (for instance, the Iowa Tests) can use the summative assessment.
Its application has been that of highlighting the weaknesses and strengths of the curriculum and teaching methods, thereby providing improvements for future students. Examples of summative assessments include standardized tests, such as MEAP/MME, ACT, Terra Nova, and WorkKeys. Final exams for course works and major cumulative projects form other examples of summative assessments. Reliability and validity derived from summative assessment give the importance of the assessment (MCISD, 2014).
Formative or summative assessment can be either subjective or objective. Subjective assessment is derived from the instructor’s specifically designed awareness of quality in class work and any other student-related activity. Thus, it helps in assessing the validity of the instructing materials as some outcomes need sensitivity to the context, enabling a flexible way of assessing. Objective assessment depends on the quantitative scales assessment of student’s performance. It can be applied in student’s performance or descriptions of learners’ works.
Objective assessment is reliable and fair as compared to unstable and biased subjective assessments. Grading has been more often based on an objective assessment due to its fairness. The objective rating cannot measure contextually sensitive performance and complex thinking because validity cannot be designated on it. It gives way for subjective assessment that requires the tutors to professionally design awareness of quality.
The above circumstance indicates that the subjective assessment requires more reliability. Sometimes, rubric is used to enhance the reliability of subjective assessment where the students can understand the criterion with spaces for feedbacks and personal application (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, n.d.). Subjective assessment can include questions that have more than an answer or even different ways of expressing the appropriate answer. Subjective questions involve essays and other extended response questions, while objective assessments include multiple choices, multiple responses, true/false answers and matching questions. Many computerized and other online assessment tests are objective.
Criterion-Referenced and Norm-Referenced Assessment
Criterion-referenced assessment determines whether each pupil has accomplished particular skills or concepts (Popham, 1975). It also compares students’ performance with set curriculum objectives, areas of knowledge and skills levels. There is a set objective that students need to achieve. For instance, they should be having or should have demonstrated mastery of a certain subject like long division. It does not place much consideration on the level of other students’ performance. Sometimes normative thinking influences judgments with respect to meeting the set criterion. To ascertain validity and reliability, trial marking, collation of exemplars and moderation can be done.
Norm-referenced assessment ranks each pupil with reverence to the accomplishment of others in wide-ranging areas of data (Popham, 1975). For instance, being rated as a student who spelled a certain word better than 95 percent of one’s classmates is a norm-referenced assessment. They also measure basic skills and concepts taught in schools across the country. They present a precise measure of the curriculum where the results from these norm-referenced tests provide a comparison to a national representative sample. For example, a student scoring at 85th percentile indicates that the student’s score was better than 84 percent of all scores in the exam undertaken for the same norm-referenced test.
Formal assessments are supported by data that influence the conclusion of the test. In this case, the tests are standardized measures and have been tried and even tested among other students. The conclusions are made on a standard score. Some assessments are designed for age-specific levels of education. Data from the tests are computed and analyzed with categories in percentiles and standard scores derived from the data. Informal assessments are purposeful and content-driven, often lacking data. An example includes having a record for read books. The record will indicate the number that has read the book and the percentage of words read appropriately. This type of assessment gives the rubric scores.
In summary, all assessments need to match the aim of the assessment. Standardized measures are for assessing the performance of students in comparison to their age and grade. On the other hand, informal assessments, sometimes known as criterion-referenced measures, are mostly used for informing an instruction (Weaver, n.d.). Informal assessments are non-standardized, with no scores, no comparison to other students. These tools include observing and interviewing in a normal classroom environment. Formal assessment is a standardized test that embraces scores with comparison of students and set criterion. This technique presents a summative test and could be done beyond the normal classroom setting (Dela, 2013).
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Reliability is among the set standards to determine the quality of educational assessment. In this process, reliability is concerned with the consistency of assessment. It is recommended that a reliable assessment should produce the same results when administered to the same cohort or group of students. Factors that influence reliability includes: (a) the number of options a question paper has; (b) whether or not markers are competent (poorly trained or well trained); (c) whether or not there are ambiguous questions; and (d) the competency of marking the instructions. The following measures were traditionally used to assess reliability based on the mentioned factors:
- formal equivalence where it assumes that the performance is equivalent among the students being tested on different forms of an assessment of the same content;
- internal consistency, where responses of an assessment are consistent across the tests given. For instance, a survey expects the same responses on attitude across the tested class provided it is on a single topic, such as technology in learning the process;
- temporal stability where the performance of the test is compared on more than one occasion.
The extent to which test materials are taught in the classroom has been labeled instructional validity (McClung, 1978). The nation’s first instructional validity study was implemented by the Florida Department of Education in 1982. The validity of the assessment indicates whether the assessment has achieved what it was intended for. For instance, a complete assessment of a driving school should include a practical on the road and not mere theory in class. The validity of an examination can be gauged by looking at the content of the assessment and whether it addresses the set curriculum objectives. The criterion used should be able to relate to an outside reference. The test ought to be able to make sense to the examinees and the experts in the educational sector. Validity is also to be supported by evidence to enhance quality and fairness. ETS (2009) suggest that validity can be improved by investigating the following:
- test speediness when comparing ELL (English language learners) and non-ELL students, this is when the fluency test is concerned. When time limits are put on the assessments, ELL may have challenges of disproportion relative to non-ELLS. It is advisable to have different criterion for assessment of the two groups to increase the validity of the test;
- relations to other constructs and variables, such as statistical relationships between the scores of subtests and total tests as well as comparing them with external variables;
- an analysis of internal test structure is needed where statistical relationship within the components of the assessment should be reported. These relationships may be of subtests, test correlations, factor structure, and dimensionality (ETS, 2009).
The best assessment method has to involve reliability and validity. Assessment cannot be totally reliable as there are other components that cannot be tested through the normal assessment method. This may create a situation where the assessment is valid but lacks reliability. Validity can be “predictive” or “subject matter” validity, where “subjective” validity is the most used in education to measure student’s performance with different questions of the same test. There are several sources, at least ten, of invalidity that can be deduced from individual test.
Federal educational programs have been reformed under the directions of the No Child Left behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) that supports state efforts in establishing challenging standards across the education system. The Act has helped in developing aligned assessments and building accountability systems for schools and districts that benchmark educational data (U. S. Department of Education, 2004). The NCLB Act gives mandates for standardized testing nationwide as they align with the national curriculum. The Act connects the students, teacher, district, and the state in accountability to the delivery of the education curriculum. NCLB is mandated to offer tangible evaluation methods in the education sector. It holds the education stakeholders accountable for both positive and negative performances while trying to bridge the gap across ethnicity and class.
The NCLB Act has opponents who argue that having the educators accountable to the performance of their students would lead to “teaching to the test” in order the children could pass. It also equips the students with limited skills since they prepare the learners for the exam only. This circumstance limits fostering a deep understanding of the content and other key principles needed to be understood in the learning process.
The NCLB Act has expanded the roles of the federal government through annual academic progress, annual testing, teacher qualifications, funding changes, and report cards. The provisions of the Act include administering annual statewide-standardized tests to all federal government sponsored schools. In this case, every student takes the examination under the same condition. All students who get government funding have to undertake the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) tests as per the setting of the NCLB Act.
Some measures like labeling poor performing schools as “In Need of Improvement” are done to push the schools to adopt a two-year plan for improvement. Schools under the AYP and Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 must perform the same standardized tests. The concern by the state to have nationwide tests, in the same condition, is a measure to have equality across the students divide.
The Act has further provisions of disciplinary measures taken against poor performing schools, where punishments include closing the school as a last option when it fails to hit the set AYP target by the sixth year. The school can either be put under the State Office of Education or a private company to revitalize its performance. States have been allowed to make AYP objectives that are consistent with the NCLB Act. To administer high-quality assessments with a high degree of reliability and validity, the Act requires the states to have highly qualified teachers to set and administer the tests.
The states decide what is “high quality and challenging” assessments. The NCLB Act has given more accountability for schools and teachers since the performance is a nationwide comparison and no teacher or school would want to be the last. There is enhanced involvement of education stakeholders in parents, teachers, students’ and others directly or indirectly involved education stakeholders (NCLB Act, 2001).
State-mandated standardized tests are administered by all schools within the states. Each student takes the same test at a particular grade level. The test is standardized from the questions administered to the length of time. The examinees need to complete it (with some exceptions of students challenged by learning or physical disabilities) within the period of the year in which the test is administered. Student performance on set standardized tests has become the benchmark for important decisions, such as promoting a student from one grade to the other and compensating for administrators and teachers. These privileges are nationwide and arise from the enactment of the No Child Left behind Act of 2001.
Standardized tests are different from standards movements that advocate specific grade-level tests and performance standards in specific subjects. To achieve common standards, the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSS) was created during the spring of 2009 to serve all educational levels in the U.S. education system. The CCSS is an evolving movement that has been supported by the majority of states, pledging to implement it through 2015. In 2010, the CCSS standards for mathematics and English language were published giving way for the production of standards for social studies and sciences (U. S. Department of Education, 2004).
Any teacher expected to measure students’ understanding of the lessons taught often designs alternative assessment. For instance, the measurements can include written compositions, open-ended questions, oral presentations, experiments, portfolios of work and projects undertaken by the student over time. These assessments are made to match the content of the assessment with the content of what is being taught. Authentic assessment involves giving essays, observations, interviews, performance tasks, exhibitions and demonstrations, rubrics and self- and peer-evaluation assignments.
Students with learning disabilities have to participate in the annual statewide assessments that are directed under the NCLB Act. Parental involvement in assessing students is required to enhance accountability. There are requirements under the NCLB that give special preference to students with learning disabilities (LD). The Act requires that every school administers an assessment in science at least once across the education levels. Students with LD have to be included in large-scale assessments where four issues of concern have been raised. They involve identifying and classifying LD, appropriate use of accommodations, disability problems related to measured constructs and test design issues.
Identification of known disability is a criterion for determining who an LD student is and who is not. Accommodation of LD students happens when there is a modification of the standard test. “Out-of-level” and “out-of-grade” modifications are possible choices with LD students. Other forms of accommodation include giving additional time, giving the test in a different location, breaking the testing time into shorter sessions or even reading the test items to the students directly. It can also comprise of giving students tests in a special format such as Braille, presenting the test written in large type size and having the students dictate their answers rather than writing them (Koretz & Barton, 2003).
When learning involves English learners, it becomes a challenge to comprehend the subject as understanding the English language is itself a challenge. English language learners (ELL) have to be assessed with more accuracy, validity and fairness since the students are more challenged.
However, the assessments in the United States are based on normative standards, and therefore, are not adequately representative of the ELL student populations. Having conclusions from normative scores of ELL students is often inappropriate and inaccurate. It has been proved that when ELL students sit for the same assessments as the ENL (English as a Native Language) ones, students’ results in referrals and repeats for the tests.
The majority of schools rarely modify the tests to fit the students with diverse and unique cultural backgrounds. The case of over-referrals is connected to this challenge of not setting specific assessments for the culturally challenged students. It has also led to the low representation of the ELL populations in education institutions. To some extent, the services of a translator are utilized to provide the assessment to the ELL students, especially in their native language.
When translations are involved for the ELL students, the content to be assessed can change the meaning or the expected response can be distorted, thus derailing the process of assessing the student. When the translation is involved for the ELL, it compromises the fairness and validity of the test making the results unreliable. Assessments comprised of nonverbal tests have been indicated to be less discriminatory to all students, including the ELL students. Assessment information should be interpreted and integrated to provide non-biased gauging and conclusion.
When having ELL students’ assessments, it is recommended that the conclusions and gauging be based on multidimensional sources of information and data that can include parent interviews, teacher assessments, and class observations. The ELL students’ cultural background, linguistics, and experiential background should be considered when performing an assessment. Teachers have to use other sources of data apart from the specific assessment done by all students.
Over five million ELLs present in the United States has prompted to have specific assessment criterion at all levels of the US educational system. The US classrooms have one ELL student every ten from kindergarten to grade 12. Estimates for foreign languages in the US are over four hundred with around 80 percent of them being native Spanish speakers (ETS, 2009). Five percent of the ELL is the Asian dialects, especially Korean, Hmong, Cantonese, and Mandarin. The US education system has to cater for the ELL in both urban centers and in small community concentrations. Some states, such as California, Texas, Florida, Illinois, New York, and Arizona, have over sixty percent of ELL students.
Therefore, their assessment procedures should fully incorporate ELL systems. To balance the system of educational assessment, No Child Left behind Act of 2001 caters to the differences (ETS, 2009). ETS has provided a guideline for the ELL assessment that is all-inclusive and provides additional opportunities for the minority groups. The guidelines offer sample tests that can be used for ELL students.
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Educational assessment is vital for upholding educational values, quality, and preparing the students for their future. Assessments allow students to fully comprehend the subjects taught over a period. This educational monitoring helps design feedback for improving learning, set standards, and evaluate the progress of the learner. A teacher can apply several types of assessments depending on the composition of the class, time of the academic calendar, and the nature of the content taught. Common core assessment and educational assessments provide baseline information on the performance of the students.
The importance of the assessment applies to all education stakeholders, where students, parents, school, community, and the government benefit. Forms of assessments applied to both normal and disabled students are many as discussed above, and each has its own specified period of application. Provision for the accommodation to disabled students is necessary under the ETS program to allow equity across the education system.
Diagnostic, summative and formative assessments can be applied to all normal students at specific periods of curriculum delivery. Equally, all assessments can be either formal or informal; they can also be subjective or objective, depending on the tutors’ design. No Child Left behind Act serves to promote equal assessment in the whole nation and every state is in charge of the assessment. This Act gives equal opportunities to all and allows the federal state a firmer hold on the education systems in trying to enhance accountability. For an assessment to be fair and accommodative, it has to be reliable and valid across all education systems and all levels. When doing assessments, it is advisable that all factors promoting fairness, validity and reliability to be observed to harmonize the education assessment system.