A True Assessment?

Much has been said in recent years about the standardized tests that our students have been subjected to throughout the course of their educational career. And with these discussions come the questions: “What do the assessments really show us?” “What is the purpose of an assessment?”  “Do they adequately reflect what a child knows about a given topic?”  According to Richard Stiggins, founder of the Assessment Training Institute, the educational system currently does an adequate job of providing assessments OF learning, however he argues that we are missing an essential aspect of gauging academic progress: assessment FOR learning.

Any excellent educator will tell you that the primary purpose of an assessment should be to check for understanding in order to guide instruction.  Additionally, it should be noted that a true assessment FOR learning is an ongoing process, not an end result.  Some, especially those outside of the education realm, think of an assessment as a capstone to an academic unit, or the summation of a course of study…and for an assessment OF learning, this may be the case.   But is this the direction we want to take as we move forward in developing new and improved educational models? Take a look at the table below comparing assessments OF learning and assessments FOR learning…and decide for yourself.


Assessment OF Learning… Assessment FOR Learning…
Strives to document student achievement Strives to increase student achievement
Diagnoses a program’s strengths and weaknesses by providing comparable results Diagnoses a student’s strengths and weaknesses by providing results that are unique to individual students
Provides summative results at the end of a unit or course of study Provides data throughout a unit or course of study that allows tailoring of instruction and motivation or improvement
Informs others (teachers, parents, administrators, community members) about students and their achievements Informs students about themselves and helps them learn how to take charge of their own progress
Assumes the teacher’s role is to gauge student success Assumes the teacher’s role is to promote student success
Reflects the standards themselves Reflects the knowledge, skills, and understandings that underpin standards

Portions from Stiggins, R. (2002) Assessment Crisis: the Absence of Assessment for Learning, Phi Delta Kappan, 83 p.758

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