Assessment: The How & Why

Blooms new taxonomy: addressing learning styles and authentic learning and assessment

School. So often in the k-12 experience, teachers provide a text book, assign a chapter or unit, and then administer a written test.  Usually in multiple choice format, maybe matching definitions or dates, a few true or false questions, and perhaps an essay or short answer or two.  The grade supposedly reflects what you learned.  Students study the night before (good students may study a few days in advance). They memorize information (dates, characters, definitions). They then regurgitate it on the day of the assessment.  What is measured? The ability to memorize information?  The ability to take standard, traditional tests? Have students actually learned, and I mean really learned, the information, process, thoughts? How do we know?  My point is, are we measuring learned information and skills or are we measuring strategies of memorization and test taking?

When I was in high school and undergraduate college, I remember taking history classes. I actually enjoy history now, but not in those classes.  We had huge, thick textbooks. We completed a unit on World War II or some other time in history. We memorized important dates, treaties, people, events.  We took the unit test; usually a series of multiple choice questions, a few matching, and a series of short answer or essay questions, all requiring us to regurgitate the information we memorized.  I struggled on these tests immensely!  I did not retain much of anything in long term memory, except when it was something that really interested me. Why? – because I was neither engaged in the learning nor moving any information into long term memory. When we were done with that unit, I didn’t need to know the information again until the mid-term exam or final exam, at which point I would repeat the cramming process. (I didn’t do well on those exams either).

These types of assessments, referred to as summative assessments may have their place, but it is important to know what they truly measure and what they do not.  Summative assessments provide summary information in a formal method, often administered at the end of a unit or course where all students take the same assessment (usually written).   As Rose & Meyer attest in Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age: Universal Design for Learning,  most of these types of assessments do not accommodate individual differences.  Furthermore, it’s questionable whether a teacher is gathering the intended data. The summative assessment is not providing the instructor with information on the effectiveness of teacher methodology, it is not identifying the barriers or needs of the individual students, it is not indicating the causes of success or failure. A summative evaluation is providing information related to a student’s ability to be successful in this type of test-taking, the ability for some students to affectively memorize and demonstrate memorization in a summative assessment format, and in cases where being able to take these types of assessment are necessary it will determine the preparedness of this format of testing (for instance a class for the Certified Nursing Assistant will need to ensure a student is prepared to participate in the state-directed traditional format assessment to become certified).

So, in the example above in my experience in history classes, not only should the method of instruction provide for the learning differences among students; multiple means of gaining meaningful information, varying instruction methods, and the like, but the assessment process must be a formative one. In other words, when formative assessments are used, teachers and students both benefit. Ongoing measurement in a variety of formats, as supported by the concept of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), provides for learner differences and provide meaningful information for the teacher to address needed supports and change in teacher methodology to ensure all students are being taught the intended curriculum.

Teaching the content of history with video, story-telling, linking history to current day trends, would have engaged me in the learning. Providing opportunities to create my own story, illustrate time periods, create plays, research music from the different time periods in history, create visual timelines, and provide creative means to express what knowledge I have gained would have accurately taught and measured my success. I would have been ENGAGED. I would have been able to self-assess my progress. The teacher would have known if she reached me and if I learned. She would have motivated me in my own learning. And, instead of memorizing and regurgitating dates and places and names, I would have been able to hold a conversation about a time in history, probably even using those dates and times and places!

We must ENGAGE our students in the learning process and ALSO ENGAGE them in the formative and authentic evaluations of their learning.

Animated video about Authentic Assessment. (http://youtu.be/c_gibuFZXZw)

Authentic Assessment Wordle

Next Blog Post: The UDL Framework and Assessment Approach: Strengths and Challenges.

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