Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Challenge of Assessment

While teachers are continually assessing students throughout the year - marking books, observing students at work, monitoring through quizzes - there are key times when student progress needs to be reported on and teachers are met by the challenge of providing tasks that will accurately determine student learning and performance.

When facing this challenge, there are many things to take into consideration. Below are some of the things that I work through when planning this type of assessment.

It can be difficult to get the timing right with assessment. I want my students to have the best chance of achieving the material, but also need to prepare the reports by about mid-term. This means that most of the final assessment needs to take place early in the term - before I get a chance to review the material with my students one last time. I develop an assessment schedule to help me plan out how I will gather the appropriate information in the remaining time.

In part due to the timing, but mostly due to the differences in learning styles, it is helpful to give students opportunities to show their learning through different means. Some children may like to complete a written test, others would prefer to demonstrate their learning, or present it orally.

More than one sample
This next consideration is related to the last. As much as possible, it is useful to have more than one sample that is used to determine a grade. For example: A handwriting textbook is great for showing how a student performs in formal handwriting lessons, however it is worthwhile to also consider how this translates to their writing in other curriculum areas as well.

Scope of Assessment Items
When developing a piece of assessment it is important to provide scope for students of differing abilities. My assessment task cannot only test for the outcomes that I taught toward. I need to include parts for students of lower ability and parts that will challenge students with greater ability.
For example, when testing for year 1 Maths outcomes, I use questions relating to Kindergarten outcomes, Year 1 outcomes and Year 2 outcomes. If students can only answer the Kindergarten outcomes, they are performing at an E level. If they can answer K and 1 outcomes, they are performing at a C level. If they can answer all questions, they are performing at an A level. Students who achieve a C level have been successful at meeting the grade standards.
Sometimes I find a test will be too easy and won't give an accurate spread of students. When this happens, I use other work samples or assessment items to assist my decision.

Developing rubrics may be time consuming as I prepare my assessment schedule, however it saves me time in the long run and helps me to become more objective when comparing students across the class or grade level. When I am moderating with other teachers, a rubric will help with consistency in marking.

Communication is important when preparing assessment and reports. Teachers of the same grade level can talk about their opinions of grades and discuss what they see when they look at a piece of work. I often find that one teacher will notice something valuable about a piece that I may have overlooked. The insight of others helps me to make more thorough judgements.

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges I find with assessment and reporting is acceptance. At the end of the year I feel confronted by my failures. Despite all the work that I've put into my teaching throughout the year, I never feel that I've quite done enough. During moderation I will see that some students in another teacher's class have achieved a higher standard in some areas of the curriculum and I'll begin to second guess my own methods. I'll be frustrated, particularly when I realise that there is so little time left in the year to 'fix things'.
I think that somehow (stupidly) I feel that I am the last chance for this child - that if they haven't learnt everything by the end of the year, they will never learn it - which of course is false. As I head into this time, I need to accept that I have done my best for my class. I need to accept that I cannot control everything in my classroom all of the time. (Some of it comes down to the kids' personalities, interests and abilities as well!!!) And, I need to honestly reflect on my achievements through the year. There will be things that I can try to do differently next year - there always is - but there are also some great things that were done in this year.

Let me know what you see as the biggest challenges with assessment.


  1. I totally agree: I never feel quite like I have taught them enough!

    We have so many extracurricular interruptions, how can I ever have enough time to teach them what I want to teach them? My class need team building skills and social skills, yet if I spend time on this how will those be shown on the reports?

    I find this time stressful, how can I possibly judge all of their work to develop a number for them at the end of the year? What about special needs students?

    I like to take into consideration a range of assessment strategies. Half way through the year this year I wanted to put students more than 12 months ahead of their year level but was discouraged by leadership...now that the National testing has been returned (NAPLAN) I am able to place their where I originally wanted to.

    I guess for me the overall philosophy is: If i have evidence that the student sits at a particular level then I am happy to put them there- whether it be in front or behind.

    A real challenge for me this year with assessment and reporting was this: the Victorian Government expects us to report on a huge range of areas...what if I haven't covered one of those yet and plan to do it in the 2nd half of the year? Do I just 'guess' where they are or do I not include it at all and just make sure it is on the end of year report? Or do I just give them the average ‘c’ and hope they are there when we actually DO cover it?

    Assessment can be a tough issue! In the end, I think that if you keep the parents informed throughout the journey then there isn’t as much pressure when it comes to reporting time.

  2. These were wonderful points to make! I like how you talk about differentiation which is extremely important with special needs students. I also like how you mention that we may need more than one sample because I feel that anyone could have a bad day when being tested. For example, teachers who are being evaluated might have a bad day because students have personal problems or there are technical difficulties. I think it is more important to get a bigger picture. How are skills being applied to different situations? Are students given the opportunity to meet the goals and objectives in various ways? Great post!

  3. Ah, Penny, I am so glad I read that! I was feeling that my class were so low compared to Kym's and yours. I also felt that I hadn't done enough for them, and that there was so little time to 'boost' them up so that they are at the right level before the end of the year.

    I suppose as a beginning teacher, I am still learning the most effective and efficient way of teaching my class, but it feels like I have let them down in the process of my own learning.

    It's good to know that experienced teachers sometimes have the same thoughts.


  4. You are really incredible. These are the same challenges I do face here in Uganda.

  5. Really incredible. These are some of the same challenges I do face when assessing students here in Uganda. Teaching is not different but varies from person to person and country to country because of different curriculum and instructional materials available.


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