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The positives and negatives of Formal and Informal Assessments

Formal and informal assessments are two specific procedures that teachers use to evaluate and grade their students. “Both formal and informal formative assessments involve gathering, interpreting, and acting on information” (Ruiz-Primo& Furtak,2004, p. 4). Formal assessments are standardized exams used by a state to reflect on particular grade level to measure a student’s academic abilities. These exams are administered in the same way every time with a time restriction and instructions to how the exam should be graded. In contrast, informal assessments are exams or activities designed to specially review or test student’s knowledge on a certain academic subject taught by their teacher. I will be discussing the advantage and disadvantage for two different forms of formal assessment and four types of informal assessments methods.

The two formal assessments are norm-referenced and criterion-referenced. “Norm-referenced are standardized tests and are linked to inter individual differences” (Gargiulo, 2008, p.65). This test compares the student’s skill to other students in the similar age group. Statistical method is used to determine how the student did. For example first grade students were tested and the outcome is used in a statistical method. You would be able to see how each student ranked. For example, Jon scored at the 50th percentile among his class.

There are advantages and disadvantages in using norm referenced testing. One advantage to this method is it can determine whether a student may need special services. For example, if the student scores less than standard norm for reading, they will receive special services to aid them in this subject. Another advantage to this method is it allows parents to see how their child’s academic results are compared to their peers. For example, Julie performs at 86 percentile in her class. This means that Julie performed better than 86% from her classmates. As there are advantages, there are disadvantages. One disadvantage to this method is it consists of broad academic information and may not consist of current classroom content. Another disadvantage is it does not fully capture a student’s academic abilities on problem solving, decision making, social skills, nor their ability elaborate on certain topic.

In contrast, “Criterion-referenced tests are associated with intra individual differences and can provide data that is useful for instructional planning” (Gargiulo, 2008, p.66). For example, a math problem is given to a student to see if the student is able to add two digit numbers. The outcome is strictly based on whether the student did or did not answer the problem correctly. The first advantage to this test is it can compare a students’ individual performance from their previous one. For example, April’s current test indicated her reading skills have improved from last quarter. April’s results are not compared to how well she did among her classmates instead it compares to her individual progress. Another advantage to this test it can assist a teacher to figure out each student’s academic strengths and weakness. A teacher can guide and assign additional help in the areas where students need improvement. The downfall to this method is it cannot compare student academic performance to other schools or districts. For example, a teacher will not be able to compare her student’s success to other classes nor to other schools. Another disadvantage is creating a valid exam for students. Designing an exam needs to meet specific standards plus it’s time consuming for teachers to work around their daily responsibilities.

The following are the four types of informal assessments that can be used in a classroom which are an essay exam, a classroom game, walk around method, and a multiple choice exam.

The first informal assessment is an essay exam. Essay exams are questions based on a certain lesson or topic where a student needs to provide a written answer. Depending on the exam instructions students may only need to write a couple of paragraphs or several pages in length. The following are two advantages in using an essay exam to test students. First, students have the opportunity to express their thoughts and demonstrate their level of comprehension on a certain question. The second advantage, students begin to construct and analyze how to answer each question. For example, the instruction on the essay says to please explain the difference between a mammal and an amphibian. The student first needs to analyze the differences between the two species and then construct examples to elaborate on the question. An issue does represent itself; this type of method is time consuming for both the student and teacher. The students need plenty of time to answer and write an essay and the teacher needs time to evaluate and grade each paper. The second disadvantage, teachers must be aware of their biases when writing a question where students need to agree or disagree on a certain topic. This disadvantage may get in the way of grading papers accurately. A teacher needs to be aware of their bias and base their grading on the students response not if they agree or disagree with their student.

Another informal way to evaluate a student’s progress is a classroom game. A Classroom game creates an opportunity for students to apply their knowledge and encourages them to learn. For example, the class is divided into four groups to play a game of Jeopardy. The game of Jeopardy consists of questions on a certain academic subject. An advantage to this method is it promotes cooperative learning. Students are learning how to interact, collaborate, and work together with their peers to answer questions. Working together provides positive reinforcements for students to develop social skills and trust among their team members. Another advantage it motivates students to apply their own knowledge and retain new information as they play the game. A game will keep students alert and encourages participation which will lead to learning. Since students are divided into groups not every student is participating or collaborating on every question and this is downfall to this method. Even though each student has an opportunity to answer a question, the group is judged as a whole not the individual knowledge to every question but the ones they answer. Another disadvantage to this method does not provide enough feedback to a teacher to determine which students needs additional assistance in comprehending the current subject.

The third informal assessment is the walk-around. This assessment requires the teacher to interact with each student as they work together as a group or individually. The teacher is actively observing and assisting students to stay on task. The advantage to this method it allows the teacher to interact with students individually or as a group to answer any concerns or assist them in understanding their assignment. The second advantage is the one on one conference. “The teacher uses the one on one conference to talk to the students for five or ten minutes. This conference offers attention, and additional help in instructions for students”(Cole,1999,p.4). This type of interaction builds trust and improves the communication between teacher and student. A downside to walk around assessment is giving each student or groups the same amount of time to answer questions or concerns. Since every student or groups have different questions, some may need additional assistance than others. This may cause some behavior issues or delay some students in completing their assignment. Another issue is making sure every student understands the material or contributing their work to their group. The teacher needs to give every student an opportunity to talk and demonstrate they understand the assignment.

Lastly, the multiple-choice test is another assessment used in a classroom. Multiple choice tests consist of questions and a list of possible answers for each question. An upside to this method students begin to access their knowledge and apply it to every question by eliminating misleading choices. This method is also an advantage for teachers as well. The grading is less time consuming than other methods and easier to narrow down where the students are having difficulties. A disadvantage for students is it may cause them some confusion or frustration when the exams are poorly written. Poor written exams consist of tricky options to choose from, for instance having two possible answers. The second disadvantage for students is not being able to understand a question. This may lead the students to guess on answers they are not able to comprehend due to reading difficulties or a poor written exam. This may lead to inappropriate score on the student’s progress or knowledge.

In conclusion, both formal and informal assessments consist of advantages and disadvantages that a teacher should consider and understand before administrating these assessments. Assessments are necessary to pinpoint student’s academic strengths and weaknesses. This allows a teacher to provide additional assistance to students that are struggling. Without assessments teachers will not be able to properly evaluate and assist students.

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