ERIC Identifier: ED447201 Publication Date: 2000-11-00
Author: McMillan, James H. Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Assessment and Evaluation College Park MD.
Basic Assessment Concepts for Teachers and School
Administrators. ERIC/AE Digest.
While several authors have argued that there are a number of essential
assessment concepts, principles, techniques, and procedures that teachers and
administrators need to know (e.g., Calfee & Masuda, 1997; Cizek, 1997),
there continues to be relatively little emphasis on assessment in the
preparation or professional development of teachers and administrators
(Stiggins, 2000). Nevertheless, guidance is provided through established
professional standards for assessment skills of teachers (Standards for Teacher
Competence in Educational Assessment of Students (1990), a framework of
assessment tasks for administrators(Impara & Plake, 1996), the Code of
Professional Responsibilities in Educational Measurement (1995), the Code of
Fair Testing Practices in Education (1988), and the new edition of Standards for
Educational and Psychological Testing (1999). This Digest draws on suggestions
and guidelines from these sources, in light of current assessment demands and
contemporary theories of learning and motivation, to present eleven basic
principles to guide the assessment training and professional development of
teachers and administrators.
ASSESSMENT IS INHERENTLY A PROCESS OF PROFESSIONAL
Professional judgment is the foundation for all assessment. The
measurement of student performance may seem "objective," given such practices as
machine scoring and multiple--choice test items, but even these approaches are
based on professional assumptions and values. Whether that judgment occurs in
constructing test questions, scoring essays, creating rubrics, grading
participation, combining scores, or interpreting standardized test scores, the
essence of the process is making professional interpretations and decisions.
ASSESSMENT IS BASED ON SEPARATE BUT RELATED PRINCIPLES OF MEASUREMENT EVIDENCE AND EVALUATION.
It is important to understand the
difference between measurement evidence (differentiating degrees of a trait by
description or by assigning scores) and evaluation (interpreting the description
or scores). Essential measurement evidence skills include the ability to
understand and interpret the meaning of descriptive statistical procedures,
including variability, correlation, percentiles, standard scores, growth--scale
scores, norming, and principles of combining scores for grading. A conceptual
understanding of these techniques is needed (not necessarily knowing how to
compute statistics) for such tasks as interpreting student strengths and
weaknesses, examining reliability and validity evidence, determining grades, and
making admissions decisions. Schafer (1991) has indicated that these concepts
and techniques comprise part of an essential language for educators. They also
provide a common basis for communication about results, interpretation of
evidence, and appropriate use of data. This is increasingly important given the
pervasiveness of standards--based, high--stakes, large-scale assessments.
Evaluation concerns merit and worth of the data as applied to a specific use or
context. It involves what Shepard (2000) has described as the systematic
analysis of evidence to interpret evidence effectively and make value judgments
about the meaning of the results.
ASSESSMENT DECISION--MAKING IS INFLUENCED BY A SERIES OF
Competing purposes, uses, and pressures result in tensions for
teachers and administrators as they make assessment--related decisions. For
example, good teaching incorporates assessments that motivate and engage
students in ways that are consistent with teachers' philosophies of teaching and
learning and with theories of development, learning and motivation. Most
teachers want to use constructed-response assessments because they believe this
kind of testing is best to ascertain student understanding. On the other hand,
factors external to the classroom, such as mandated large--scale testing,
promote different assessment strategies, such as using selected--response tests
and providing practice in objective test--taking (McMillan & Nash, 2000).
Further examples of tensions include formative (informal and ongoing) vs.
summative (formal and at the end), criterion--referenced vs. norm-referenced,
traditional vs. alternative, authentic vs. contrived, and standardized tests vs.
classroom tests. Decisions about assessment are best made with a full
understanding of how different factors influence the nature of the assessment.
ASSESSMENT INFLUENCES STUDENT MOTIVATION AND LEARNING.
nature of assessment influences what is learned and the degree of meaningful
engagement by students in the learning process. While Wiggins (1998) contends
that assessments should be authentic, with feedback and opportunities for
revision to improve, rather than simply audit learning, the more general
principle is understanding how different assessments affect students. Will
students be more engaged if assessment tasks are problem-based? How do students
study when they know the test consists of multiple--choice items? What is the
nature of feedback, and when is it given to students? How does assessment affect
student effort? Recent research summarized by Black & Wiliam (1998), for
example, shows that student self-assessment skills, learned and applied as part
of formative assessment, enhance student achievement.
ASSESSMENT CONTAINS ERROR.
Teachers and administrators need
to know not only that there is error in all classroom and standardized
assessments, but also, more specifically, how reliability is determined and how
much error is likely. With so much emphasis today on high-stakes testing for
promotion, graduation, teacher and administrator accountability, and school
accreditation, it is critical that all educators understand such concepts as
standard error of measurement, reliability coefficients, confidence intervals,
and standard setting. Two reliability principles deserve special attention: (1)
Reliability refers to scores, not instruments; (2)Typically, error is
GOOD ASSESSMENT ENHANCES INSTRUCTION.
Just as assessment
affects student learning and motivation, it also influences the nature of
instruction in the classroom. When assessment is integrated with instruction, it
informs teachers about what activities and assignments will be most useful, what
level of teaching is most appropriate, and how summative assessments provide
diagnostic information. During instructional activities, informal, formative
assessment helps teachers know when to move on, when to ask more questions, when
to give more examples, and how to respond to student questions. Standardized
test scores, when used appropriately, help teachers understand student strengths
and weaknesses in order to target further instruction.
GOOD ASSESSMENT IS VALID.
As with reliability, validity has
certain technical terms and issues associated with it that are essential in
helping teachers and administrators make reasonable and appropriate inferences
from assessment results (e.g., types of validity evidence, validity
generalization, construct underrepresentation, construct--irrelevant variance,
and discriminate and convergent evidence). Of critical importance is the concept
of evidence based on consequences, a new major validity category in the recently
revised Standards. Both intended and unintended consequences of assessment need
to be examined with appropriate evidence that supports particular arguments or
points of view. Of equal importance is getting teachers and administrators to
understand their role in gathering and interpreting validity evidence.
GOOD ASSESSMENT IS FAIR AND ETHICAL.
Arguably, the most
important change in the recently published Standards is an entire new major
section entitled "Fairness in Testing." The Standards presents four views of
fairness: as absence of bias (e.g., offensiveness and unfair penalization), as
equitable treatment, as equality in outcomes, and as opportunity to learn. It
includes entire chapters on the rights and responsibilities of test takers,
testing individuals of diverse linguistic backgrounds, and testing individuals
with disabilities or special needs. Three additional areas are also important:
(1) Student knowledge of learning targets and the nature of assessments prior to
instruction (e.g., what will be tested, how it will be graded, scoring criteria,
anchors, exemplars); (2) Student prerequisite knowledge and skills, including
test-taking skills; and (3)Avoidance of stereotypes.
GOOD ASSESSMENTS USE MULTIPLE METHODS.
Assessment that is
fair, leading to valid inferences with a minimum of error, is a series of
measures that show student understanding through multiple methods. A complete
picture of what students understand and can do is put together in pieces
comprised by different approaches to assessment. While testing experts and
testing companies stress that important decisions should not be made on the
basis of a single test score, some educators at the local level, and some
politicians at the state and national levels, seem determined to violate this
principle. There is a need to understand the entire range of assessment
techniques and methods and their limitations.
GOOD ASSESSMENT IS EFFICIENT AND FEASIBLE.
school administrators have limited time and resources. Consideration must be
given to the efficiency of different approaches to assessment, balancing needs
to implement methods required to provide a full understanding with the time
needed to develop and implement the methods and score results. Teacher skills
and knowledge are important to consider, as are the levels of support and
GOOD ASSESSMENT APPROPRIATELY INCORPORATES TECHNOLOGY.
technology advances and teachers become more proficient in the use of
technology, there will be increased opportunities for teachers and
administrators to use computer--based techniques (e.g., item banks, electronic
grading, computer--adapted testing, computer--based simulations),Internet
resources, and more complex, detailed ways of reporting results. There is,
however, a danger that technology will contribute to the mindless use of new
resources, such as using items online developed by some companies without
adequate evidence of reliability, validity, and fairness, and crunching numbers
with software programs without sufficient thought about weighting, error, and
To summarize, what is most essential about assessment is understanding how
general, fundamental assessment principles and ideas can be used to enhance
student learning and teacher effectiveness. This will be achieved as teachers
and administrators learn about conceptual and technical assessment concepts,
methods, and procedures, for both large-scale and classroom assessments, and
apply these fundamentals to instruction.
An earlier version of this paper was presented at the
Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans,
April 24, 2000.
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