I have thought long and hard on what my philosophy of assessment was or should be. Before I can come to any conclusion, there are a number of questions that need answering. First, what role does assessment plays in the process of teaching? Assessment is a part of teaching. Proper assessment lets a teacher know if what and how they are teaching is valid and effective.
One of the processes used by teachers is authentic assessment. Like any other assessment tool, authentic assessment has its good points and bad points. A big plus of authentic assessment is that it follows the educational objectives very closely. This means that generally, you are only assessing what you are teaching. This means that the assessment will be extremely accurate. However, authentic assessment is limited in the fact that by only assessing what is taught, there is no room to extend knowledge. I have heard time and time again in this teaching program that you should try to work at a level just above your students’ abilities. Authentic assessment does not always do that. It really amounts to “teaching to the test.” It’s almost like cheating. If you only assess on what is directly spoon fed in the classroom, then there is no opportunity or motivation to challenge the students to challenge themselves.
Traditional testing also has good and bad points. A traditional pencil and paper test challenges the students’ language skills. They are forced to think about their answers. On the downside, what if the test is not written at the language level of the student? Is the test actually testing to the academic objectives?
The question falls to me of how to best combine authentic assessment with traditional testing in my classroom. Authentic assessment to me does not even dignify a response. It seems very common sense to test to what you’re teaching. A teacher I talked to about authentic assessment was incredulous, claiming: “only an idiot would try to teach a unit on writing a persuasive essay, and then give anything other than a persuasive essay writing assignment for an assessment.”
I talked to a number of other teachers ranging in experience from first year to a year from retirement on how to combine traditional testing and authentic assessment in the classroom, and most looked at me as if I had a horn growing out of the middle of my forehead. In the simplest terms, here is what they told me: Because of all the testing required by No Child Left Behind (NCLB) curriculum is more or less set in stone. Assessment had better be a virtual carbon copy of the assessment on the standardized tests. Sadly, the question of how to combine authentic assessment and traditional testing is moot.
The question of how to accommodate my assessment practices to meet the needs of students with special requirements begs clarification. What are the special requirements? Am I making a test shorter? Am I reading aloud? Does the test have to be printed in a larger font? In Spanish? I can not adequately address all of the possible accommodations I could possibly make within the confines of this essay. However, I am blessed with the fact that many schools are staffed with special education teachers who do Regular Education Initiative (REI) in the classrooms.
I am not sure how to handle the question of what role students and parents will play with regard to assessment in my classroom. My belief, as well as the beliefs of the teachers I spoke with say that unless a parent is a teacher, then they should play little role in assessment. If a parent is allowed into the classroom and they are not a teacher, then you may have to spend hours explaining the process of assessment. Even worse they can take the invitation as a tacit declaration of expertise in themselves. Then the risk is run of a parent trying to make demands of how you should be doing your job. The bottom line is a parent should be supporting their child at home. As for the role of the child, a child needs only show up and be a student. Their performance on assessments and their overall ability to perform school related tasks is a direct indication of how well the material is being presented as well as how well assessment is matching the needs of the student.
One of the strategies that will be of use to me in my teaching is the use of rubrics. By using rubrics I can assess complex ideas. It allows me to be put down exactly what I am expecting from a student and show them those expectations before they even begin. A rubric clearly delineates what an assignment or test item calls for. This is also a problem for rubrics, specifically item based rubrics. If a student knows exactly what is expected from an assessment, they may be tempted to do nothing more than what the rubric asks for. Any potentially creative thought a student might have could be squelched simply because the rubric does not specifically address it. When I looked at the rubric for this assignment, this section of the paper calls for three concepts or strategies that would be most helpful in teaching. Specifically, the rubric states “explains in detail how teacher / student achievement will benefit.” Technically, what I am writing now does not fit into the rubric and as such, does not count for any credit. I can show understanding of what a rubric is and how it is used, but unless I can come up with ways to show how they are beneficial, I get no points. I am stymied. I feel that care must be taken when using item based rubrics for extended writing assignments lest the creative process be stifled.
Probably the most useful concept learned this semester is how to interpret standardized tests to parents. Since NCLB has resulted in schools giving countless batteries of standardized tests to students, the skill of explaining those scores to parents becomes very important. Generally it is not a problem if the scores and resulting actions are good. Generally parents do not question good news. Bad news on the other hand is another story entirely. How do you go about explaining to a parent that their child may need to be placed in a lower level class because of a score on a standardized test? If everyone understands the meaning of the test scores, everyone benefits. The teacher benefits by seeing the strengths and weaknesses of students broken down into concrete numbers. This helps them determine how to best teach that student. This is automatically a benefit to the student. If a student is placed in the proper classes because of proper interpretation of his scores, that student only stands to have higher achievement. The student also may have parental pressure reduced. A parent, not knowing what the standardized test scores mean, might be angry with their child’s performance or placement in school. In all cases, an informed, educated parent is a happy parent.
The last concept I found useful would be validity. The text defines validity as “the extent to which a test is useful in a particular situation.” In the simplest terms, validity is how well you are testing to what has been taught. Teachers benefit from validity in a number of ways. When a teacher is checking for validity in their assessments, they are ensuring that they are testing only on what has been taught. It guarantees the assessment will be accurate and valuable. Student achievement benefits because students are only being tested on what they have learned. There are no surprises during their assessments. The more an assessment dovetails the materials covered, the higher the potential for academic success.
There is so much to ensuring accurate and valid assessment in the classroom. After this semester, I still do not feel that I have a philosophy per se. I have a greater understanding of what I should be doing in the classroom when assessing students. I know what works well and what is asking for trouble. I know that assessment is going to vary from student to student, classroom to classroom, district to district. If I had to label an assessment philosophy it would be to be flexible and do not get locked down on one strategy. Like anything else in the classroom, assessment should be dynamic.