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Assessment is the process of documenting, usually in measurable terms, knowledge, skills, attitudes and beliefs. This article covers educational assessment including the work of institutional researchers, but the term applies to other fields as well including health and finance.
Assessments can be classified in many different ways. The most important distinctions are: (1) formative and summative; (2) objective and subjective; (3) criterion-referenced and norm-referenced; and (4) informal and formal.
Formative and summative
There are two main types of assessment:
- Summative assessment - Summative assessment is generally carried out at the end of a course or project. In an educational setting, summative assessments are typically used to assign students a course grade.
- Formative assessment - Formative assessment is generally carried out throughout a course or project. Formative assessment, also referred to as educative assessment, is used to aid learning. In an educational setting, formative assessment might be a teacher (or peer) or the learner, providing feedback on a student's work, and would not necessarily be used for grading purposes.
- Ipsative assessment - Ipsative assessment is a style of assessment (or testing) in which the tested individual is compared to him- or her-self through time.
Summative and formative assessment are referred to in a learning context as "assessment of learning" and "assessment for learning" respectively.
A common form of formative assessment is diagnostic assessment. Diagnostic assessment measures a student's current knowledge and skills for the purpose of identifying a suitable program of learning. Self-assessment is a form of diagnostic assessment which involves students assessing themselves. Forward-looking assessment asks those being assessed to consider themselves in hypothetical future situations.
Objective and subjective
Assessment (either summative or formative) can be objective or subjective. Objective assessment is a form of questioning which has a single correct answer. Subjective assessment is a form of questioning which may have more than one current answer (or more than one way of expressing the correct answer). There are various types of objective and subjective questions. Objective question types include true/false, multiple choice, multiple-response and matching questions. Subjective questions include extended-response questions and essays. Objective assessment is becoming more popular due to the increased use of online assessment (e-assessment) since this form of questioning is well-suited to computerisation.
Criterion-referenced and norm-referenced
Criterion-referenced assessment, typically using a criterion-referenced test, as the name implies, occurs when candidates are measured against defined (and objective) criteria. Criterion-referenced assessment is often, but not always, used to establish a person’s competence (whether s/he can do something). The best known example of criterion-referenced assessment is the driving test, when learner drivers are measured against a range of explicit criteria (such as “Not endangering other road users”). Norm-referenced assessment (colloquially known as "grading on the curve"), typically using a norm-referenced test, is not measured against defined criteria. This type of assessment is relative to the student body undertaking the assessment. It is effectively a way of comparing students. The IQ test is the best known example of norm-referenced assessment. Many entrance tests (to prestigious schools or universities) are norm-referenced, permitting a fixed proportion of students to pass (“passing” in this context means being accepted into the school or university rather than an explicit level of ability). This means that standards may vary from year to year, depending on the quality of the cohort; criterion-referenced assessment does not vary from year to year (unless the criteria change).
Compares the various grading methods in a normal distribution. Includes: Standard deviations, cumulative percentages, percentile equivalents, Z-scores, T-scores, standard nine, percent in stanine.
Informal and formal
Assessment can be either formal or informal. Formal assessment usually a written document, such as a test, quiz, or paper. Formal assessment is given a numerical score or grade based on student performance. Whereas, informal assessment does not contribute to a student's final grade. It usually occurs in a more casual manner, including observation, inventories, participation, peer and self evaluation, and discussion.
Standards of quality
The considerations of validity and reliability typically are viewed as essential elements for determining the quality of any assessment. However, professional and practitioner associations frequently have placed these concerns within broader contexts when developing standards and making overall judgments about the quality of any assessment as a whole within a given context.
In the field of psychometrics, the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing  place standards about validity and reliability, along with errors of measurement and related considerations under the general topic of test construction, evaluation and documentation. The second major topic covers standards related to fairness in testing, including fairness in testing and test use, the rights and responsibilities of test takers, testing individuals of diverse linguistic backgrounds, and testing individuals with disabilities. The third and final major topic covers standards related to testing applications, including the responsibilities of test users, psychological testing and assessment, educational testing and assessment, testing in employment and credentialing, plus testing in program evaluation and public policy.
In the field of evaluation, and in particular educational evaluation, the Joint Committee on Standards for Educational Evaluation  has published three sets of standards for evaluations. The Personnel Evaluation Standards  was published in 1988, The Program Evaluation Standards (2nd edition)  was published in 1994, and The Student Evaluation Standards  was published in 2003.
Each publication presents and elaborates a set of standards for use in a variety of educational settings. The standards provide guidelines for designing, implementing, assessing and improving the identified form of evaluation. Each of the standards has been placed in one of four fundamental categories to promote educational evaluations that are proper, useful, feasible, and accurate. In these sets of standards, validity and reliability considerations are covered under the accuracy topic. For example, the student accuracy standards help ensure that student evaluations will provide sound, accurate, and credible information about student learning and performance.
Validity and reliability
A valid assessment is one which measures what it is intended to measure. For example, it would not be valid to assess driving skills through a written test alone. A more valid way of assessing driving skills would be through a combination of tests that help determine what a driver knows, such as through a written test of driving knowledge, and what a driver is able to do, such as through a performance assessment of actual driving. Teachers frequently complain that some examinations do not properly assess the syllabus upon which the examination is based; they are, effectively, questioning the validity of the exam.
Reliability relates to the consistency of an assessment. A reliable assessment is one which consistently achieves the same results with the same (or similar) cohort of students. Various factors affect reliability – including ambiguous questions, too many options within a question paper, vague marking instructions and poorly trained markers.
A good assessment has both validity and reliability, plus the other quality attributes noted above for a specific context and purpose. In practice, an assessment is rarely totally valid or totally reliable. A ruler which is marked wrong will always give the same (wrong) measurements. It is very reliable, but not very valid. Asking random individuals to tell the time without looking at a clock or watch is sometimes used as an example of an assessment which is valid, but not reliable. The answers will vary between individuals, but the average answer is probably close to the actual time. In many fields, such as medical research, educational testing, and psychology, there will often be a trade-off between reliability and validity. A history test written for high validity will have many essay and fill-in-the-blank questions. It will be a good measure of mastery of the subject, but difficult to score completely accurately. A history test written for high reliability will be entirely multiple choice. It isn't as good at measuring knowledge of history, but can easily be scored with great precision. We may generalise from this. The more reliable is our estimate of what we purport to measure, the less certain we are that we are actually measuring that aspect of attainment. It is also important to note that there are at least thirteen sources of invalidity, which can be estimated for individual students in test situations. They never are. Perhaps this is because their social purpose demands the absence of any error, and validity errors are usually so high that they would destabilise the whole assessment industry.
The assessments which have caused the most controversy are the use of High school graduation examinations, which first appeared to support the defunct Certificate of Initial Mastery, which can be used to deny diplomas to students who do not meet high standards. They argue that one measure should not be the sole determinant of success or failure. Technical notes for standards based assessments such as Washington's WASL warn that such tests lack the reliability needed to use scores for individual decisions, yet the state legislature passed a law requiring that the WASL be used for just such a purpose. Others such as Washington State University's Don Orlich question the use of test items far beyond standard cognitive levels for testing ages, and the use of expensive, holistically graded tests to measure the quality of both the system and individuals for very large numbers of students.
High stakes tests, even when they do not invoke punishment, have been cited for causing sickness and anxiety in students and teachers, and narrowing the curriculum towards test preparation. In an exercise designed to make children comfortable about testing, a Spokane, Washington newspaper published a picture of a monster that feeds on fear when asked to draw a picture of what she thought of the state assessment. This, however is thought to be acceptable if it increases student learning outcomes.
Standardized multiple choice tests do not conform to the latest education standards. Nevertheless, they are much less expensive, less prone to disagreement between scorers, and can be scored quickly enough to be returned before the end of the school year. Legislation such as No Child Left Behind also define failure if a school does not show improvement from year to year, even if the school is already successful. The use of IQ tests has been banned in some states for educational decisions, and norm referenced tests have been criticized for bias against minorities. Yet the use of standards based assessments to make high stakes decisions, with greatest impact falling on low-scoring ethnic groups, is widely supported by education officials because they show the achievement gap which is promised to be closed merely by implementing standards based education reform. Many states are currently using testing practices which have been condemned by dissenting education experts such as Fairtest and Alfie Kohn.
Notes and references
- ^ The Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing
- ^ Joint Committee on Standards for Educational Evaluation
- ^ Joint Committee on Standards for Educational Evaluation. (1988). The Personnel Evaluation Standards: How to Assess Systems for Evaluating Educators. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.
- ^ Joint Committee on Standards for Educational Evaluation. (1994). The Program Evaluation Standards, 2nd Edition. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.
- ^ Committee on Standards for Educational Evaluation. (2003). The Student Evaluation Standards: How to Improve Evaluations of Students. Newbury Park, CA: Corwin Press.
- Course evaluation is a series of questions given to students to evaluate the instruction of a given course.
- Evaluation is the process of looking at what is being assessed to make sure the right areas are being considered.
- Grading is the process of assigning a (possibly mutually exclusive) ranking to learners.
- Educational measurement is a process of assessment or an evaluation in which the objective is to quantify level of attainment or competence within a specified domain. See the Rasch model for measurement for elaboration on the conceptual requirements of such processes, including those pertaining to grading and use of raw scores from assessments.
- Educational evaluation deals specifically with evaluation as it applies to an educational setting. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is a government program that requires educational evaluation.
- Educational psychology
- Electronic portfolio is a personal digital record containing information such as a collection of artifacts or evidence demonstrating what one knows and can do.
- Health Impact Assessment looks at the potential health impacts of policies, programs and projects.
- Program evaluation is essentially a set of philosophies and techniques to determine if a program 'works'.
- Social Impact Assessment looks at the possible social impacts of proposed new infrastructure projects, natural resource projects, or development activities.
- Standardized testing is any test that is used across a variety of schools or other situations.
- Science, Technology, Society and Environment Education
- Assessment in Higher Education web site.
- Edutopia: Assessment Overview A collection of media and articles on the topic of assessment from The George Lucas Educational Foundation
- The Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing
- Joint Committee on Standards for Educational Evaluation
- Testing and Assessment Glossary of Terms
Categories: Articles to be merged since December 2006 | Academic transfer | Education | Educational assessment and evaluation | Educational psychology | Evaluation methods | Evaluation | School terminology | Thought | Standards-based education