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Unfortunately, I have inherent misconceptions about tests and that tests were designed to differentiate between high achieving and low achieving students. When I go back ten to fifteen years ago when I was a student, I realized how unrealistic it was to differentiate the students in such a way. Tests were based on comparing the students' performance to one another and categorizing students according to this. But the question is; did these tests really measure the students learning? Were they able to identify areas of weakness and strengths in the students? Were the students who receive an A grade ready to move to an advanced level? Were they able to pass outside tests with the same A grade? It was not a big surprise for me to meet one of those low achieving students in my school days and to see him one of the most successful in his work field. But after reading about assessment frameworks and knowing that assessment should go far beyond grades, I realized that the tests performed when I was a student were basically measuring the students memorizing and exam taking skills rather than their thinking and cognitive skills.
A Framework of Assessmentâ€¦
Teaching is not all about instructions; it is based on assessment and making judgments as well. As a teacher, I give a great care for monitoring my students' progress. To do this, I develop a variety of assessment tools to help me know how far my students grasp the objectives I set and how far my instructional planning achieves its goals. Getting deeper into reading about assessment, I realized how it is important to develop a framework for assessment based on the purpose of my assessment and what learning outcomes and cognitive behaviors I want my students to attain.
Knowing about frameworks in assessment was so valuable. When I thought which framework I do use in my assessment for my students, I found out that I use different frameworks based on the situation. I use Norm -reference interpretations as a part of my school policy in assessing the students and criterion-referenced interpretations as a part of my work as a teacher. Whatever is the framework I use, it should serve my students' learning.
Norm-reference tests are accomplished by comparing student scores with the average scores of other students. I always use these tests as a part of my school policy when I need to measure the overall achievement of my students and how far they understood the topics by different means. These tests usually include fill in the blank, multiple choice, true /false and explain the scientific reasons questions. I use these different objective testing that give more clear cut and precise answers. I intend not only to rely on one type of tests but to use a variety of these tests as this exhibit low-pressure on students especially those who are really anxious about exams and certain types of questions. For example, after finishing the unit about the human body systems for my fourth grade students, I performed a test formed of different forms of questions in an attempt to assess how far the students understood the topics in this unit. I admit that these tests have good advantages of giving me as a teacher a general idea about my students' performance. Moreover, quizzes with these questioning forms serve the final exams by enabling me as a teacher to figure out my students' mistakes and correct them. It is true that in this framework I compare students' performance but I do this trying to identify my weak students in order to give them more help and support. However, I agree with Borich and Tombari (2004) when they argued that standardized tests do not measure students' talents, problem solving, cognitive and metacognitive skills. I mean if the student was one of those who got an A grade on a test in science, does this guarantee that he can fully understand all the scientific concepts? Is not there a possibility that this student was just good at memorizing but on the real world he is not able to apply what he was taught in new contexts? In other words, Norm-referenced tests usually tend to measure general abilities but not specific cognitive behaviors. Moreover, Woolfolk (2008) argued that "norm-reference tests tend to encourage competition and comparison of scores. Some students compete to be the best. Others, realizing that being the best is impossible, may compete to be the worst."(p.577). This in my point of view could to somehow affect the relationship among students and among low achieving students and teachers as well. That's why, in my point of view, it is important for the professional teachers not to rely only on this framework but she should have other frameworks that help her get deeper into her students' minds and know about their skills.
Criterion-reference tests serve this purpose as it compares student's score to a certain criterion or standard. Being bound to the school policy in using standardized tests, I use criterion-reference tests in specific situations for specific purposes for me as a teacher. This is when I need to know what exactly my students can do and cannot do. This helps me identify areas of mastery in my students and be more specific. For example, after I finished my lessons about the human body systems, I thought of something that helps me be more specific about my objectives. This is when I thought about frog dissection classes. I designed a laboratory sheet for my students in which they can fill in blanks describing the frog from outside; its surface, its color, its limbs, its eyes, tongue and texture. Then after the students dissect the frog, they had to examine its systems and relate each organ to its system. While doing this, I set some standards for assessing certain skills in my students including; how far they were able to relate each organ to its system and identify its function, their laboratory skills and these included; handling the dissection tools, the correctness of following the dissection procedures, their neatness in handling the laboratory sheet and cleaning up after finishing work. I also included in my standards their collaborative skills and how far they were able to respect teamwork. By this, I was able to identify each of my students' mastery in each of these skills. From a very short time I started to assess my students' mastery of handling homework assignments, class work activities and their presentation skills in presenting their activities according to some criteria for each of these. I found that designing a criterion framework with certain standards was very helpful. This is because what is unique about this framework is that the student knows exactly what criteria he will be assessed on in advance and by this it is up to him to choose the grade he wants to receive. I usually involve my students in this framework of assessment by grading themselves according to the given standards. This allows the students to monitor their progress and performance.
Therefore, I believe that at times, it is helpful to use norm-referenced tests that are when I want to measure my students' general abilities and other times it is more valuable to use criterion-referenced tests when I want to measure very specific skills. Each type is used in specific situations and each has its advantages and limitations. Whatever is the framework I use, it should comply with my school policy, my purpose of assessment and the learning outcomes.
Purpose of Assessmentâ€¦
I have to admit that before starting this course, I had inherent beliefs that students should work for grades .Despite grades are important, the purpose of assessment should go beyond grading and categorizing students into high achieving and low achieving groups. So, as a teacher beside assigning grades, I may use any of the assessment frameworks to establish expectations for each student or even each group of students. I assess my students to make a diagnosis before, during and after instructions. I usually do this by performing something like a pretest to help me know what each of my students already knows and where I should begin. I did this with my fourth grade students when I gave them a multiple choice question test in which I tested their knowledge about science as a subject in the first place before starting over. I remember before I started my lessons on the human body systems, I wanted to know the extent to which my students know about this topic. During our discussions, I found out a lot of misconceptions and the funniest part of these misconceptions is when the students were surprised to find out that males have a reproductive system! And one of my students argued that males would have a reproductive system only when they grow up! So assessing my students through these fruitful discussions help me realize what age group I am dealing with and how I should arrange my instructional plans to get along with them. Thus, making diagnosis before instructions helps me identify areas of misconceptions in my students' minds. I also assess my students during and after instruction. This helps me identify areas of weakness and learning problems in my students so that I can modify my instructional plans and make better instructional decisions. Meanwhile, I always put my students' progress beforehand. I often care to give my students constructive feedback about their performance and progress. Bloom and Bourdon(1980, as cited in Woolfolk, 2008) argued that, "In one study, only about 8% of the teachers notices a consistent type of error in a student's arithmetic computation and informed the student." (p.613). I always care to give my students their quizzes and tests back with written comments on their mistakes and ways to improve. Therefore, assessment should serve as a tool by which the teacher can gather as much information as she can about her students.
The learning outcomesâ€¦
On assessing the students, I should predetermine what I want my students to learn and what learning outcomes I want from my classroom instructions. According to this, I make my assessment. Knowing about Bloom's taxonomy was quite helpful in planning my lessons about the human body systems. Setting my objectives and the domains of learning helps me organize my instructions and the pace of the lesson. I learned from Bloom's taxonomy how it is important to establish my objectives and write them clearly on the board in my classes. I as well as my students find it so comfortable to know exactly what is expected from each lesson. Moreover, every test I make or even every question I ask encloses a purpose and a certain skill I want to measure. This means that a question designed to assess knowledge is different from the question designed to assess comprehension or ability to analyze, synthesize or evaluate.
How to ensure the quality of assessmentâ€¦
Ensuring the quality of assessment involve two aspects: ensuring validity and reliability. As a teacher, it is important to be sure that the tests are accurately interpreted and that we get the same results each time the test is repeated. Ensuring validity starting from specifying the construct domain, choosing which cognitive skill I want to assess and as many indicators as possible to assess my students while giving the students clear task directions was something quite valuable. While reading about this, I found some mistakes that I fell in their trap. A part of these mistakes is that many times I was not specific about which cognitive activity I want to assess and sometimes I was not giving my students clear task directions. For example, I wanted to assess my students understanding of the digestion process as a part of my lessons covering the human body systems. So, I asked my students to summarize what they learned about digestion as a class work assignment. While doing this, I thought I am assessing their comprehension to this process but after my readings, I realized that what I was doing was not assessing their understanding but I was assessing their memorization. I did not give them clear task directions as well that might serve the purpose of my question. So, I think it would have been better if I gave them the same question in the following format; (Think of a meal you have eaten during your day. Track the journey of your food in your body. In your answer you should include the food content, the digestive juice and the organ responsible for each component digestion). According to what I have learned about construct validity this question would be quite helpful. Regarding instructional validity, I always care to assess what I teach. Knowing about the assessment blueprint was something new and beneficial. Since I read about it, it has been engraved in my mind. While making a test, I have begun to put the blueprint table in my mind in an attempt to be more focused on the objectives I want to assess and the topics I want to cover. I do not design my blueprint on a paper but it is just like an engraved image in my mind. For me, it acts as a summary of the contents of my lessons, the cognitive behaviors I want to assess with the degree of emphasis I want to put in the topics of the lessons and the cognitive behaviors. Borich and Tombari (2004) emphasized that tests validity should not be all about construct and instructional validity, it should also include making use of the test scores and their interpretations. This is because one of the assessment goals is to change the teacher, the student behavior or both.
As the test should be valid, it should be reliable as well. Tests should give scores that are reliable and dependable. They should give accurate measures with no errors so that if the test is repeated, the results would be the same. Again I did realize that I fell in some mistakes. This is when my tasks again were unclear to my students and when I depended only on one type of questions in my class room assignments as the one I gave before in the digestion lesson. These must have contributed in making my assessment unreliable. Thus, learning from my mistakes would let me use a wide variety of questions in my assessment, observing my students in different contexts and giving them clear tasks directions.
Therefore, validity and reliability should be included in all forms of assessment. Assessment and learning are ongoing processes that are hard to define which of them follows the other.