Part two of a five-part series sharing the Academy’s thoughts on effective and intentional student assessment
One of the hottest topics in education today is how much and how often should students be tested. In order to determine where you stand on this issue, you first have to explore what exactly testing is and why is it necessary at all, let alone how much and how often.
There are basically three reasons to test or assess a student. First, to test for or assess what he or she knows, understands or can do before any instruction begins. This is referred to as “benchmark” testing and is often compared to a standard benchmark for students of a certain age or ability. This could be a simple pre-test before teaching a unit or could encompass multiple areas of comparison for a specified group of learners. Benchmark testing is often done annually for comparative value.
The second reason to test a student is to assess what he or she knows, understands or can do after instruction. This type of test or assessment is usually administered after a period of instruction and learning, and is primarily used to determine the effectiveness of the student’s ability to learn. However, teachers can also use the results to assess the effectiveness of their lessons.
The third type of testing is psychological and educational assessments that test not only what a student knows, understands or can do, but also assesses the student’s potential. These assessments often include intelligence quotient (IQ) testing as well as assessment of spatial and cognitive abilities. These assessments are most often used to clarify specific strengths and weaknesses a student demonstrates.
The expected outcome for all testing and assessment is the same — the information gathered from these tools is what should guide the teacher’s instruction. Thus, testing is necessary to effectively design programming that will address the specific needs of each student.
So, back to my original question, how much testing? Knowing that the main objective of any testing or assessment is to inform and guide instruction, it stands to reason that testing needs to be timely and readily available for use by the teacher to design his or her curriculum and instruction. It is also important that time is allowed to implement the instruction for the student to effectively learn what is being taught. Simple logic dictates that more time needs to be allocated to teaching and learning, and less time to testing and assessment. The more time spent on instruction and learning, the more successful students will be when being tested or assessed.
At Harrisburg Academy, I believe we have been very successful in finding a good balance between teaching, learning, and testing. Each year, the time spent on formal testing and assessment in Lower School could be accomplished in one week. We choose to spread the testing over a two-week period to minimize the stress on our students. By comparison, one of the larger school districts in our area averages more than six weeks of testing each year. In a conversation with a teacher from that district, she lamented the fact that they have great data from the testing, but not enough time to effectively use that data to properly inform their instruction.
Again I ask, how much testing? Enough to inform instruction but not so much that it interferes with the time necessary for teaching and learning.