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Student assessment

Students as Active Partners

Involving students in the assessment and evaluation process is an essential part of balanced assessment. When students become partners in the learning process, they gain a better sense of themselves as readers, writers, and thinkers. As students reflect on what they have learned and on how they learn, they develop the tools to become more effective learners.

Students need to examine their work and think about what they do well and in which areas they still need help. To guide students in understanding the process of self-evaluation, you may want to have them complete a Self-Reflection/Self-Assessment sheet of your own.

Once students have reflected on their learning, they are ready to set new goals for themselves. As they work toward these goals, they should be encouraged to reflect on their learning journey at regular intervals. You might have students record their observations during these periods of self-reflection to help reaffirm their goals and motivate them to move toward meeting each goal. With practice, students who self-assess become more conscious learners, able to apply knowledge of their learning needs and styles to new areas of study.

As students become more active participants in the assessment process, they will begin to evaluate their strengths and attitudes, analyze their progress in a particular area, and set goals for future learning.

Self-Assessment Methods

Self-assessment can take many forms, including:

  • writing conferences
  • discussion (whole-class or small-group)
  • reflection logs
  • weekly self-evaluations
  • self-assessment checklists and inventories
  • teacher-student interviews

These types of self-assessment share a common theme: they ask students to review their work to determine what they have learned and what areas of confusion still exist. Although each method differs slightly, all should include enough time for students to consider thoughtfully and evaluate their progress.

When students understand the criteria for good work before they begin a literacy activity, they are more likely to meet those criteria. The key to this understanding is to make the criteria clear. As students evaluate their work, you may want them to set up their own criteria for good work. Help them with the clarity of their criteria as they assess their own work.

Students’ observations and reflections can also provide valuable feedback for refining your instructional plan. As your students answer questions about their learning and the strategies they use, think about their responses to find out what they are really learning and to see if they are learning what you are teaching them.

Self-Assessment Opportunities

Meaningful reflection takes practice. This is as true for students as it is for teachers. You can best support your students in their efforts at self-assessment by providing regular, uninterrupted time for students to think about their progress. At first, you may need to guide their reflection with questions such as these:

  • What did I learn today?
  • What did I do well?
  • What am I confused about?
  • What do I need help with?
  • What do I want to know more about?
  • What am I going to work on next?

As students participate in the self-assessment process, they will have many opportunities to collect pieces of their writing and react to things they have read. Individual student conferences can help guide these periods of self-reflection and reinforce the idea that collecting and evaluating work are important steps in self-assessment.

Changes in Reading Assessment

Significant changes are being made in the way reading and writing are assessed. Tests given to large numbers of students, even state and national reading measures, are moving away from the exclusive use of multiple-choice items to items that require students to actively construct and examine the meaning of reading selections.

Classroom assessment procedures, those used by classroom teachers on an ongoing basis, are also changing. Less emphasis is being placed on formal test measures, and more emphasis is being placed on teacher observations, samples of student instructional products, and student self-evaluation. Meaningful collections of such observations, work samples, and reflections are assembled into portfolios, which document student achievement and progress in literacy.

New Concept of Reading

Reading assessment is undergoing substantial changes in order to reflect changes that have taken place in the way reading is being defined and in the ways in which it is being taught. Numerous writers and researchers have noted that there is a substantial disparity between the way we now think about and teach reading and traditional tests of reading (Cambourne & Turbill, 1990; Johnston, 1984; Valencia & Pearson, 1987; Winograd, Paris, & Bridge, 1991). Increasingly, reading is conceptualized as a dynamic, interactive, constructive process requiring thought and elaboration on the part of the reader. Traditional tests that asked students to read short, artificially constructed passages and choose from multiple-choice responses, or that attempted to measure specific isolated skills, are seriously misaligned with recent theories of reading and recent curriculum developments (Haney & Madaus, 1989; Wolf, Bixley, Glenn, & Gardner, 1991).

Two terms that are currently being widely used to describe newer forms of assessment are performance-based assessment and authentic assessment. The two terms are closely related.

Performance Measures

In a performance-based measure, the student is asked to perform a task that is of interest to the evaluator rather than some proxy (Meyers, 1992; Shepherd, 1991). Thus, if we want to assess students’ writing we ask them to write and do not ask them multiple-choice questions about punctuation and capitalization conventions. If we want to assess students’ ability to read an expository article in order to gain new information, we ask the students to read a real piece of expository text and then ask them to tell or write about what they learned.

Authentic Tests

An authentic test asks students to perform desirable, valued tasks in a realistic, natural context. An authentic assessment task is one that could be worthwhile for a student to do as an instructional activity (Meyers, 1992; Wiggins, 1992). For example, if we are interested in students’ full range of writing abilities, we should give them opportunities to produce drafts of their writing and also allow time for revision. If we are interested in students’ ability to read an expository selection, we should allow them as much time as they need.

It is hard to imagine an authentic task that is not performance-based, but it is possible to think of performance-based measures, such as artificially time-restricted measures, that are not authentic.

The Influence of Performance-Based and Authentic Assessment

Many states are developing or have developed new forms of assessment that make their required testing of reading more performance-based and authentic (Mitchell, 1992; O’Neil, 1992). Even tests that are administered to very large numbers of students, like the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), are moving in the direction of becoming more authentic and performance-based.

Some of the characteristics of new reading tests include:

    Building the reading assessment within a framework that views reading as a dynamic, interactive, constructive process; therefore, isolated skills are not measured.

Using longer passages that were not written for the test but that were originally written for students to read for information and enjoyment.

Assessing students’ ability to read a variety of text types for a variety of purposes, such as reading expository, narrative, and procedural texts for enjoyment, for literary appreciation, for information, and so forth.

Asking students to respond to open-ended questions that allow for a variety of interpretations and a range of acceptable responses rather than asking students to choose the correct answer from four choices (NAEP Reading Consensus Project, 1992).

Match Between Assessment and Instruction

The newer forms of assessment are designed to bring about alignment and congruence between enlightened concepts of what reading is and how it should be taught and the assessment of reading (Lamme & Hysmith, 1991; Mitchell, 1992; Wiggins, 1992). If assessment continues to advance, teachers should no longer feel compelled to “teach to tests” since tests will be in harmony with good teaching practices. In the past, there was clear evidence that teachers frequently narrowed their curriculum to improve test scores (Herman & Golan, 1991; NAEP Reading Consensus Project, 1992; Shepherd, 1991; Smith & Rottenberg, 1991).

Students who are engaged in programs of instruction using quality literature as a basis for reading, comparing, reflecting, and writing will clearly have an advantage on new forms of reading assessment. Emphasis is no longer on choosing a single answer from a multiple-choice format. Emphasis is on reading. There is good evidence that students who engage in extensive reading and writing achieve better in literacy (Anderson, Wilson, & Fielding, 1988).

Classroom Assessment

The primary effect that new ideas in reading assessment are having is that classroom teachers rather than tests are being viewed as the most important instruments in assessment. The assessment information that teachers gather is seen as having the potential for being by far the most valuable and valued form of assessment (Lamme & Hysmith, 1991). A recently developed position statement by a joint committee of the International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English directly states: “The teacher is the most important assessment instrument.”

The concepts of performance-based and authentic assessment clearly imply that the observations that teachers make and the products that result from classroom instructional events are the most valuable and valid measures of reading (Hansen, 1992; Shavelson, 1992; Wiggins, 1992). As authentic approaches to assessment are increasingly implemented, the distinction between instruction and assessment should diminish.

Effect on Instruction and Classroom Management

By thinking of assessment as part of instruction, teachers obtain immediate instructional suggestions and make any adjustments that are necessary. Teacher observation is a legitimate, necessary, valuable source of assessment information. By asking children to read aloud or to retell a portion of a selection they are reading, the teacher receives immediate information about the level of challenge that the selection presents to various students (Bembridge, 1992; Morrow, 1985).

Classroom organization and management suggestions flow from ongoing assessment data. Children who need added support, for example, may be encouraged to work in cooperative groups. Students who are having difficulty gain the support they need, and very able students gain deeper understanding of the materials they are reading as they explain the materials to others (Johnson & Johnson, 1992).

Portfolio Assessment

Portfolio approaches to assessing literacy have been described in a wide variety of publications (Flood & Lapp, 1989; Lamme & Hysmith, 1991; Matthews, 1990; Tierney, Carter, & Desai, 1991; Valencia, 1990; Wolf, 1989) so that many descriptions of portfolios exist. Generally speaking, a literacy portfolio is a systematic collection of a variety of teacher observations and student products, collected over time, that reflect a student’s developmental status and progress made in literacy.

Instructional Outcomes

A portfolio is not a random collection of observations or student products; it is systematic in that the observations that are noted and the student products that are included relate to major instructional goals. For example, book logs that are kept by students over the year can serve as a reflection of the degree to which students are building positive attitudes and habits with respect to reading. A series of comprehension measures will reflect the extent to which a student can construct meaning from text. Developing positive attitudes and habits and increasing the ability to construct meaning are often seen as major goals for a reading program.

Multiple Products Collected over Time

Portfolios are multifaceted and begin to reflect the complex nature of reading and writing. Because they are collected over time, they can serve as a record of growth and progress. By asking students to construct meaning from books and other selections that are designed for use at various grade levels, a student’s level of development can be assessed. Teachers are encouraged to set standards or expectations in order to then determine a student’s developmental level in relation to those standards (Lamme & Hysmith, 1991).

Variety of Materials

Portfolios can consist of a wide variety of materials: teacher notes, teacher-completed checklists, student self- reflections, reading logs, sample journal pages, written summaries, audiotapes of retellings or oral readings, videotapes of group projects, and so forth (Valencia, 1990). All of these items are not used all of the time.

Student Involvement

An important dimension of portfolio assessment is that it should actively involve the students in the process of assessment (Tierney, Carter, & Desai, 1991).

Effective Means of Evaluating Reading and Writing

There are many ways in which portfolios have proven effective. They provide teachers with a wealth of information upon which to base instructional decisions and from which to evaluate student progress (Gomez, Grau, & Block, 1991). They are also an effective means of communicating students’ developmental status and progress in reading and writing to parents (Flood & Lapp, 1989). Teachers can use their record of observations and the collection of student work to support the conclusions they draw when reporting to parents. Portfolios can also serve to motivate students and promote student self-assessment and self-understanding (Frazier & Paulson, 1992).

Linn, Baker, and Dunbar (1991) indicate that major dimensions of an expanded concept of validity are consequences, fairness, transfer and generalizability, cognitive complexity, content quality, content coverage, meaningfulness, and cost efficiency. Portfolios are an especially promising approach to addressing all of these criteria.

Brings Assessment in Line with Instruction

Portfolios are an effective way to bring assessment into harmony with instructional goals. Portfolios can be thought of as a form of “embedded assessment”; that is, the assessment tasks are a part of instruction. Teachers determine important instructional goals and how they might be achieved. Through observation during instruction and collecting some of the artifacts of instruction, assessment flows directly from the instruction (Shavelson, 1992).

Portfolios can contextualize and provide a basis for challenging formal test results based on testing that is not authentic or reliable. All too often students are judged on the basis of a single test score from a test of questionable worth (Darling-Hammong & Wise, 1985; Haney & Madaus, 1989). Student performance on such tests can show day-to-day variation. However, such scores diminish in importance when contrasted with the multiple measures of reading and writing that are part of a literacy portfolio.

Valid Measures of Literacy

Portfolios are extremely valid measures of literacy. A new and exciting approach to validity, known as consequential validity, maintains that a major determinant of the validity of an assessment measure is the consequence that the measure has upon the student, the instruction, and the curriculum (Linn, Baker, & Dunbar, 1991). There is evidence that portfolios inform students, as well as teachers and parents, and that the results can be used to improve instruction, another major dimension of good assessment (Gomez, Grau, & Block, 1991).

Portfolios and Self-Assessment

A sizable number of authors and researchers indicate that students can and do improve in their ability to assess their strengths and weaknesses in reading and writing and their progress in these areas (Frazier & Paulson, 1992; Lamme & Hysmith, 1991; Tierney, Carter, & Desai, 1991). These sources describe how students improve in their awareness of what they know, what they are learning, areas that need improvement, and so forth. Students learn how to interact effectively with their teachers and parents to gain an even fuller picture of their own achievements and progress. The work of Gomez, Grau, and Block (1991) suggests that in order for students to use portfolio assessment to grow in their understanding of themselves as learners, they need guidance and support from their teacher.