With the role of standardized tests and competency-based education increasing, one of the main topics of conversation in education circles is educational assessment. Many equate the idea of assessment with testing, and while that is certainly a valid starting point, it doesn’t paint a full picture. Here, we’ll explore exactly what educational assessment is and why it is necessary.
What is an educational assessment?
In broad terms, educational assessment is the process of measuring and documenting what students have learned. In traditional classroom settings assessment focuses on identifying the knowledge, skills, and attitudes students have acquired via a lesson, a course, a grade level, and so on.
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Assessment can take many forms:
- It may involve formal tests or performance-based activities.
- It may be administered online or using paper and pencil or other materials.
- It may be objective (requiring a single correct answer) or subjective (there may be many possible correct answers, such as in an essay).
- It may be formative (carried out over the course of a project) or summative (administered at the end of a project or a course).
- What these types of educational assessment have in common is that they all measure learners’ performance relative to previously defined goals, which are usually stated as learning objective or outcomes.
Why do we need educational assessment?
- Ideally, educational assessments are more than just tests. When done well, they are powerful learning tools for students as well as evaluation tools for educators. Here are some of the benefits of good educational assessment:
- It helps educators track students’ progress so they can identify anyone who is struggling and provide remediation.
- It provides feedback to students about their own performance, which they can use to further improve their knowledge and skills.
- It provides motivation for students, as they know they will be evaluated at the end of each module or course.
- It helps educators set learning objectives and outcomes and determine the best ways to help students reach their goals.
- It can be used to improve the curriculum.
- It can be used to evaluate teachers’ and school systems’ performance, as well as the effectiveness of different teaching practices.
What makes educational assessment “good”?
Above, we identified several benefits of “good” educational assessment, but what exactly makes assessments good? Here are two basic principles of quality educational assessment:
- Assessments must be based on defined objectives and outcomes. Before assessments can be used as a valid measuring tool for knowledge and skills, the desired knowledge and skills must first be clearly articulated.
- Assessments must be valid. Validity refers to the extent to which an assessment actually measures the knowledge or skills it is supposed to, and the reason there are so many types of assessments is that there is no one type that can validly measure all kinds of learning. For example, while it may be possible to assess students’ knowledge of historical facts using a multiple-choice test, this would not be a valid way to evaluate their typing skills.
Some form of assessment is used in almost every educational environment today, from end-of-chapter quizzes and final exams to large scale standardized testing, like the Common Core, SAT, and GRE tests. Because assessment is so widespread, it is vital that educators, as well as parents and students, understand what it is and why it is used.