Assessment glossary

Why assess?

The most important task in schooling is deciding what students should know. As important as this is, it has been put in the backseat of the assessment bus, by narrowly defining what is currently being assessed. This is not the page to lament on that topic, but it is the place to emphasize - it is importance to consider the appropriateness of what we expect students to know before you begin an assessment process.

What is assessment?

Assessment is the collection of data to inform. It is the measurement activities educators use to attempt to make valid inferences about students' knowledge, skills, and dispositions; as well as using those measurements and inferences to make curricular and instructional decisions. Information that should be bias free, fair and consistent (valid and reliable) for the purpose of suggesting developmentally appropriate activities to achieve productive mastery oriented growth and assist with affective communication.

How is information selected to be put in an assessment?

After a topic or idea is identified to be assessed, the first thing to do is decide what students should know about it? What ideas are important to know and identify them conceptually and write that information as concepts.

Next, is to determine how to find determine what students know about the concepts or inormation related to the concepts. To determine how much of what a person knows about an idea is measurement. All measurement needs a standard or unit to use as a ruler. Since concepts are mental ideas, and at the present time can't be seen, we can't compare them and hence can't measure them directly. The solution...

To determine what concepts a person knows and the degree of conceptual understanding he or she has of those concepts we observe students as they do or make something. What they say or do is know as an artifact. So in the assessment game concepts or ideas are associated to what a person can do to indicate their conceptualization of a particular concept. Or what a person can do to infer where there understanding is in creating a conceptualization of the concept. Usually concepts have different levels of undertandin and those levels can be used as the measuring guide or ruler. We just need to describe different levels of something a person can do to indicate the person's level of understanding or concepts. This information is known as a scoring guide or rubric and each level has information know as outcomes.

Placing a student at a particular level is the measurement aspect. Just as the length of a room can be measured differently by different people the placing of students at different levels can also occur. These differences or inconsistencies are attributed to bias, or an assessment that is not valid or reliable.

For example. A scoring guide or rubric that has clear descriptions of levels with sharp differences between level outcomes will be easier for people to score student's behavior or artifact. It would also provide for more agreement between different teachers scoring the same behavior or artifacts resulting with more scores at the same level for the same student or similar student understanding. This assessment would be considered as more valid assessment.

The amount of agreemeent among different observer's measurements or level placements to each others determines the assessment's reliability. A test’s consistency or the degree to which an assessment yields consistent results; ways to attain reliability include test-retest, alternate form, split-half, and inter rater comparisons. The manner in which an assessment is created, implemented, and scored all affect its reliability. Ways to increase reliability.

Validity is how well the assessment measures what it is supposed to measure. Ways to increase validity.

How do we determine outcomes?

Each topic or subtopic can be stated as a big idea. A statement that captures the essence or power of the topic. Each topic must be unpacked or its powerful ideas identified along with all the necessary subtopics.

Samples of unpacking | science ideas | science inquiry | measurement | pre number sense | number sense | place value | classification - math | additon and subtraction | multiplication and division | fractions, decimals, percents |

You could make a map, drawing, outline, chart to explain what a student at a specific grade level should be able to know (concept) and do (outcome) with respect to the selected standard.

Operational definitons are helpful in defining what students should be able to do and some rubrics are available that have that kind of information (classification rubric does).

After deciding what students should do, then determine a range of outcomes expected of students at a specific grade level or across grade levels. A concept map or chart may be helpful. Other samples can be found at AAAS site scroll to the bottom to view online Atlas of Science Literacy (also includes mathematics and social sciences examples).

A mini-lecture on how to create rubrics for science inquiry at the fourth grade level is at the end of this link. --->>>| Creating fourth grade inquiry rubrics |Other rubrics mathematics, algebra equality, problem solving, probability, cardinality,

Now that you know what is targeted for students to know and do; you would put together a sequence of events or activities that students could participate in to achieve understanding and be able to perform the outcomes at acceptable or exceptional levels. See the following list for suggestions on what and how to plan --->>>>> steps .

What is authentic assessment?

Authentic assessment is when the task a students perform to demonstrate a behavior or create an artifact is a meaningful, often real world, application of knowledge, skills, and dispositions. The closer the task is to what people face in the world as architects, machinists, doctors, mechanics, construction workers, designers, business people, politicians, parents, citizens, the more authentic the assessment. An examples of an authentic assessments in mathematics for algebra - pattern recognition.

When do teachers assess students' attainment of outcomes?

If assessment is ongoing and continuous, then the answer to the question. When should we assess? Is answered with always.

However, if assessment is ongoing and continuous there is an element of time for assessment that has meaning to the assessor and the person being assessed with respect to self-assessment.

The time element can be separated into four categories, which are helpful to use when making decisions to facilitate learning.

Four different times for assessment - diagnostic, formative, summative, and generative

While it's possible any assessment task, activity, or questions might fit in any and all of these four categories, here are some important reasons to consider each of the four.

1 - Diagnosis.

The major characteristic to associate with diagnostic assessment is that it is preliminary.

It is to probe into what is known before facilitating instruction. It usually precedes learning activities, but doesn't have to. It can come at anytime during a lesson. For example, if during a lesson a question arises, that depends on background information, the teacher can ask a diagnostic question to check the students' level of understanding for that background information. At the end of that diagnostic question, she can decide if the students are ready to proceed or if the background information needs to be developed before continuing on the day's planned activity. Diagnose of students' readiness.

2 - Formative.

This type of assessment is used to check the students' progress toward learning. It can happen at anytime during a lesson and is usually understood as such.

3 - Summative.

This kind of assessment is usually associated with the time immediately after facilitating learning. However, what is that time frame? Is it at the end of a five minute mini-teach where summative assessment is to summarize what was learned in the five minutes? Or is it a time frame of an hour, day, week, month, or year?

One could argue that it is only summative if you are inclined to think the students understand the concepts and can perform the outcomes, other wise it could be considered formative. Whatever, it usually is considered the last assessment before the teacher moves to another topic. It could be the first summary check, or a question to double or triple check, and of course the assessment results will be within the range of acceptable or above.

4 - Generative.

This assessment is to inquire into the students' understanding of being able to apply, use, adapt, alter, or join ideas that have been taught. The purpose of seeing how well students understand what they learned.

Assessment that tries to determine if the information has become strong enought to be usable beyond the scope of the examples to which they are familiar or examples that are similar to what was presented during instruction, or are they able to use it in ways that were not presented and demonstrate a variety of application, analysis, and synthesis with the information.

Again, any one of these kinds can come at anytime of the lesson and only makes sense with respect to the purpose of the teacher within a sequence of facilitating learning. When planning a teacher can anticipate all four types of assessment that will be used through out a sequence for each concept within the sequence. The planning will prepare the teacher to interact with students and be ready to faciliate their learning in real time that will be individualized for each student.

How do the four ideas of assessment fit with the idea of a subject as multidimensional?

Imagine a piece of wool yarn as a sequence of learning with each hair as a concept we would find a possibility of four types of assessments on each hair. If the lesson included or relied on other concepts then the yarn would contain one hair for each concept, but the hairs would overlap depending on when they were needed to be used or worked on for construction. This would create, as is the case in yarn, hairs that start out in the yarn at different places. With hairs starting before and after others with some overlapping and others separated by other hairs along the length of the yarn. With the entire yarn representing mathematics instruction for a certain period of time.

Of course not all of the concept hairs are targeted for instruction. If the teacher knows students' existing knowledge includes observation, measurement, and graphing; then the concept hairs are in that part of the yarn, but they are not targeted and don't have assessment points on them. So if the teaher is pretty sure students don't know much about the function of seed parts, since previous fourth graders didn't and that is why it is listed in the curriculum, the concept hairs for functions would have assessment points on them.

When the teacher begins the sequence planned for plants somewhere along the yarn she will get to a place where she will ask students what a seed is (that is where she puts the start for her facilitating the concept of seed (hair of yearn). As the dicussion progresses she plans to ask if there are parts to seeds and begin the part of the sequence on plants that will focus on seed parts and their function (more concept hairs in the yarn). Hairs that represent seeds, seed coat, embryo, cotyledon, and functions like - seed coat protects, embryo is the baby plant, cotyledon provides the food,... whenever the time comes for that information to be needed or constructed the piece of yarn representing that time has those hairs inside it. All concepts that students need have a concept hair in the yarn, but only hairs that the teacher chooses will have assessment points on them.

Let's say the she also plans to help students create an experiment to investigate the purposes of the different seed parts as her instructional strategy. Since, students have done several experiments before the concepts aren't being introduced, but she plans on seeing if they can identify and suggest to experiment with all the different seed parts (identify variables hair with assessment marks). So there are hairs for inquiry, and all the hairs that represent the different steps and processes of inquiry and experimenting where they are needed in the yarn, but they don't have assessment marks. (To get the bad pun out of the way - Yeah I know, it's getting to be a hairy situation.)

She plans to guide students to the idea that they can disect seeds into parts and put each part and combinations of parts into germination chambers. Set them aside and chart the growth or lack of growth of the different parts in cm on a graph with a small polka dots representing the length of the various seed parts for each day of the experiment. When the data on a particular day has an interesting range she plans to use that to start to facilitate students' conceptual understanding of average of data points (hair) by asking students questions about how they could summarize and explain the data for that certain seed part on that particular day and using the dots to help students visualize how averages plotted on a graph represents all of the data points for that average.

That's a small slice of what happens in a quality science classroom with respect to assessment and decision making. The planning becomes, yes hairy, because there are and should be many concepts that are being facilitated simultaneously. The challenge for you is to include this complexity in your planning.

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Dr. Robert Sweetland's Notes ©