Assessments in high school courses for students with learning disabilities

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For the twenty first century the requirements of kinds of learning is different than previous century. There is a need for all students, not just a select few, to develop their abilities to think, solve problems and become independent learners (Bruer, 1993; CTGV, 1997; Resnick & Resnick, 1991).

Course objectives or Curriculum consists of the knowledge and skills in subject matter areas that teachers teach and students are supposed to learn (Pallegrino, 2002). Course objectives describe what learners will be able to do after a particular learning experience. Articulated course objectives make students and educators aware of the learning expectations and teaching goals, respectively. For any course, learning objectives should not only list the topics that students will learn, but also the expected cognitive levels for each of the topics. Through instruction teachers apply different methods of teaching and the learning activities to help students master the content and objectives specified by curriculum. By applying summative and formative assessments teachers and learners both able to measure the outcomes of education and the achievement with regard to important competencies. The course objectives, the learning activities and the assessments used to measure the achievement of the intended learning outcomes are intricately related and connected to each other (Cohen, 1987; Wiggins, 1993). An assessment should measure what students are actually being taught and the cognitive level that is being intended to teach in course objectives. If any of the functions is not well synchronized, it will be misleading, or instruction will be ineffective (Pallegrino, 2002).

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Lack of alignment between course objectives and assessments is a major reason that students adopt a surface approach to learning rather than developing higher order cognitive skills. In an aligned system of instruction teachers needed to identify the appropriate verbs in the objectives and to embed those in the assessment tasks so that judgments can be made about how well a given student's level of performance meets the objectives. As the teaching methods and the assessment tasks are accessed the same verbs as are in the objectives, the chances are increased that most students will engage with the appropriate learning activities (Biggs, 1999). There are several methods used to align course objectives and assessments based on the cognitive level. Benjamin S. Bloom was one of the first educators to realize the universality of a finite number of verbs across a variety of subject matters. He has built a framework for categorizing educational objectives in 1956 with the expectation to help to all teachers, administrators, professional specialists, and research worker to deal curricular and evaluation problems, which is widely known as Bloom's taxonomy. The cognitive domain (Bloom, 1956) involves knowledge and the development of intellectual skills. This includes the recall or recognition of specific facts, procedural patterns, and concepts that serve in the development of intellectual abilities and skills. There are six major categories (Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation) starting from the simplest to the most complex cognition (Bloom, 1956). The categories can be thought of as degrees of difficulties. That is, the first one must be mastered before the next one can take place. Some course objectives might address some verbs (identify, enumerate, describe, list, combine etc.) to develop lower levels of cognition that learners will learn a major ideas or procedure of a subject matter but ignores those verbs (justify, theorize, hypothesize, reflect etc.) that helps learner to achieve the skills so that they can apply these to solve different problems in relevant domains. Course objectives would refer to at least relational levels of understanding, where learners are not only expected to know facts and information, but also to structure them in forms that by the end of professional training they should be able apply into unseen problems and domains.

Bloom's Taxonomy Tool has been successfully used in multiple studies to evaluate the cognitive levels of course objectives and of assessments. However, these studies are focused on courses for general stream students and no such evaluation is currently available for students with learning disabilities.

The purpose of the current paper is to use the Revised Bloom's Taxonomy (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001) Tool to study the alignment between the objective and assessment for courses attended by the students with learning disabilities in High School settings. Students with learning disabilities do not have a hearing or visual impairment, a physical disability, or below average intelligence. However, they demonstrate difficulties in the receptive language (listening, reading), language processing (thinking, conceptualizing, integrating), and expressive language (talking, spelling, writing), mathematical computations, self-esteem and social skills, sequencing, time management etc. By applying Revised Bloom's Taxonomy (RBT) on course objectives and assessment the level of cognition can be determined by identifying the verbs and level of knowledge can be determined by identifying nouns used in their objectives and assessments. Verb defines the category and sub-category of the cognitive domain that students have reached and the noun describes the category of knowledge (factual, conceptual, procedural, and metacognitive knowledge) they are being assessed. The overall goal of the project is to better understand the effects of the alignment between the cognitive levels of the course (English, math, and science) objectives designed for the students with learning disabilities at high school level and the assessment questions used to evaluate their performance.

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The objective of this study is firstly, to apply the Revised Bloom's Taxonomy Tools to evaluate the alignment between the stated course objectives and the questions asked for assessment for different competencies of each course, that is the level of each course objectives that have being taught; and the level of cognitive complexity of assessment task that have being used, and secondly, to analyze students' grade to investigate the association of Bloom's level of an assessment question on their performance, that is the possible positive or negative correlation between level of assessment task to the level of performance will be analyzed and thirdly, to analyze students' grade to investigate the impact of variation in assessment objective with course objective at a different Bloom's level on students' performance.

This study may generate data indicative of perfect alignments or possible misalignments between the learning objectives and the assessment procedure in a course designed for the students with learning disabilities. This information will either confirm the existing strength in the design of a course to the teachers or the curriculum coordinators and provide support for sound strategies or on the contrary this information will aware about the possible alignment weaknesses in the design of a course to the teachers or the curriculum coordinators and facilitate the implementation of corrective measures towards the improvement and enrichment the course. Findings from this study will be useful to inform the teacher education programs to make teachers aware of the importance of maintaining curriculum coherence for efficient teaching and effective learning. As Lorin W. Anderson (2002) mentioned that proper curriculum alignment enables teachers to understand the differences in the effects of schooling on student achievement and poorly aligned curriculum results underestimating the effect of instruction on learning. Furthermore, findings from this study might create an urge to producing an instructor's guide to the course objectives with specific examples and active learning activities that can be used in class and aligned exam question banks that could be used for effective assessment purpose. Furthermore, researchers could generate suggestions if any modification is needed in relation to better reflect key principles of learning for students with learning disabilities.