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What is Assessment?

Assessment is a process. Its purpose is to improve student learning through effective feedback. Assessment provides an effective tool for communicating educational expectations and progress toward accomplishing those expectations. Assessment involves the ongoing process of collecting and interpreting data for the purpose of improving understanding and adjusting teaching.

In essence, assessment and learning are two sides of the same coin. As students engage in an assessment exercise, they should learn from it as well.

The challenge is for teachers to shift the assessment paradigm to embrace the concept of assessment as more than a terminal event.

The focus of assessment is student learning and understanding.

Types of Assessment

There are three types of assessment. These are diagnostic, formative, and summative.

  1. Diagnostic assessment provides a way for teachers to chart a course of action, or map out a route, using existing knowledge to build upon. It also allows for identification of gaps or misconceptions in prior learning. These assessments are used to gather information about what students already know and are able to do.

    Examples of diagnostic assessments include but are not limited to:

    • Graphic organizers
    • Journal Entries
    • KWLs
    • Pre-tests

  2. Formative assessments occur throughout the learning process. They provide multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate attainment of identified targeted goals without concerns about grading. Formative assessments should vary to accommodate students' abilities to demonstrate knowledge.

    Examples of formative assessments include but are not limited to:

    • Conferences
    • Observations
    • Question and Answer Sessions
    • First Drafts / Quizzes
    • Journals

    Formative assessment provides ongoing direction for improvement and/or adjustment in learning and instruction. It is non-graded and considered low-stakes. An important element of formative assessment is feedback. Feedback makes the biggest impact when it occurs during the learning process.

    Research shows that most assessments should be formative in nature.

  3. Summative assessment is a high-stakes type of assessment for the purpose of making final judgments about student achievement and instructional effectiveness.

    By the time summative assessment occurs, students have typically exited the learning mode. Summative assessment forms an end point that sums up the performance or learning level of achievement.

    The evaluation of summative assessments provides a look at student performance as well as an opportunity to evaluate instructional practices.

    Examples of summative assessment include but are not limited to:

    • Chapter/Unit tests
    • Projects
    • Performances
    • Final copies

How Does Assessment Fit with Inquiry?

The assessment process includes gathering and interpreting information over a period of time, much like the process of inquiry. Expected academic outcomes regarding scientific inquiry and investigation should be apparent in assessment practices.

As students begin the inquiry process, the teacher can diagnose prior knowledge and skills and identify misconceptions. This can be done using a variety of methods or tools.

During the investigation, the teacher can use a variety of formative assessments and/or tools to guide student learning (i.e., observations, checklists, journals, logs, data, self-assessment, etc.) The reinforcement of previously learned skills and inclusion of ample practice for new skills are incorporated within the feedback given and received as a result of formative assessment.

Feedback as a result of formative assessment . . .

  • Informs students of their progress
  • Encourages students to continue or extend learning
  • Offers students an opportunity to improve
  • Provides students redirection

Summative assessment is also a necessary component of the process of inquiry. This type of assessment serves to evaluate students understanding of content as well as processes.

What does Assessment of Inquiry Look Like?

Assessment of active knowledge can take many forms, some of which are indistinguishable from the learning process. Assessments can be individual or group, or a combination of both. It is important to note, however, that assessments must generate evidence of individual achievement in order to be useful. Assessment of inquiry should smoothly link content with process. Assessment should mirror what is most highly valued - scientific understanding, reasoning, and knowledge. As with instruction, the student should be central to assessment.

Assessment of inquiry can take on many forms. Some include . . .

  • Interviews
  • Projects
  • Formal performance tasks
  • Portfolios
  • Checklists
  • Written reports
  • Multiple choice
  • Short answer
  • Essay examinations

Assessment Considerations

What is the purpose(s) for assessment? Assessment should provide information needed to improve instruction and learning. This information is shared through feedback. Feedback informs the teacher as well as helps students improve learning strategies and study habits in order to become independent, successful learners.

What criteria will students use to assess how well they have communicated their findings? Students may use a rubric for the purpose of assessing progress throughout inquiry. This tool may be teacher generated, but is best if students and teacher generate collectively. Sometimes a checklist or a criteria list is sufficient to guide students' progress. Regardless of the type of tool used to measure student achievement, criteria should be shared with students early-on during the inquiry process.

When and how will students present what they have learned? Who will be the audience? This should be established well in advance and the students should be informed. Who your audience will be plays a determining factor in how you choose to present your findings. Possibilities include multimedia presentations, diorama, written report, play, oral report, model, poster, pamphlet, etc. Ongoing assessment should occur during the entire inquiry process and students should be asked to reflect on the process as well as the results.


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