Assessments With Purpose

  • What is the difference between formal and informal assessment?

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    Formal assessments are the systematic, data-based tests that measure what and how well the students have learned.  Formal assessments determine the students’ proficiency or mastery of the content, and can be used for comparisons against certain standards.


    • standardized tests
    • criterion referenced tests
    • norm referenced test
    • achievement tests
    • aptitude tests

    Informal assessments are those spontaneous forms of assessment that can easily be incorporated in the day-to-day classroom activities and that measure the students’ performance and progress. Informal assessments are content and performance driven.


    • checklist
    • observation
    • portfolio
    • rating scale
    • time sampling
    • event sampling
    • anecdotal record

    Characteristics of good formal assessment:

    • should be able to answer the questions: What does the student know? How competent is the student based on the targeted learning outcome?  How much knowledge and skills has the student attained and retained from studying a specific lesson/course?
    • should be valid (should measure what it’s supposed to measure) ;
      • should be able to measure the student’s knowledge of the intended content
      • should be able to provide strong evidence if the student has achieved the learning objectives/outcomes; should be aligned with the objectives and outcomes
    • should be reliable (should provide consistent results)
    • should be well-timed (should give students ample time to answer the test and demonstrate what they know
    • should be comprehensive (should cover all areas/topics taught)
    • should be easy to administer
    • should be apt for the intended purpose and target audience
    • should be able to provide information that can be used for comparisons(comparing student’s performance against national standards like in standardized tests; comparing students against other students like in norm referenced tests  or comparing students against pre-determined criteria like in  criterion referenced tests)

    Characteristics of good informal assessment:

    • should be valid and reliable
    • should be fair (should give students with diverse backgrounds equal opportunity to do well in the assessment; should have clear procedures for scoring and interpretation ; should make use of set criteria and rubrics)
    • should be relevant (should be pertinent to the content as well as applicable to real life)
    • should be appropriate to target population
    • should be practical and appreciated by students; should be able to motivate students
    • should be able to provide feedback (to improve student’s performance; to modify instruction and teaching styles; to re-teach if necessary; to apply necessary interventions and accommodations)
    • should be constructive (should be able to point out strengths and weaknesses of students; to provide direction for improvement)
    • should be clear (should manifest true purpose of assessment; identify target behavior/skill)
    • should be unbiased (should maintain objectivity; record only what is actually observed and heard without missing the minute details)
    • should preferably be interactive (should elicit response and interaction from and among students)
    • should be timely

    Informal assessment cannot completely replace the formal assessment. We need both, as one complements the other, in depicting accurate pictures of our students.  We can use either type (depending on the intended purpose) to improve teaching and learning. The type of assessment we should use should match the intended purpose of the assessment. For example, if we want to assess the students’ academic achievement and compare it with other students, then we can use the formal assessment. If we want to use assessment to monitor students’ progress and help them maximize their own learning, or use assessment to improve instruction, then we can use the informal assessment.

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  • Are students aware of their results, and how do they use the information?

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    Students are made aware of their results as quickly as possible.  In some situations, students confirm and finish an assessment and immediately are able to see their score.  Other tests, like the ACT, take a few weeks to get results.  Other formal assessments can bring results over a longer timeframe, depending on the system used for scoring.

    A point of frustration for teachers in the past was student testing apathy, and how to motivate students to give their best efforts.  Students had no reasonable sense of "why" it was important to provide their highest degree of effort.  Until...  

    It turns out, students are competitive on many levels; academically, socially, athleticly, internal and externally.  When provided healthy, sustainable, and purposeful challenges by teachers, students rise to accept, meet, and surpass expectations.  Teachers use goal-setting to give students locus of control, and they go deeper by listening to student voice.  Teacher-student conferencing to help students understand accomplishments and establish next-steps occur consistently, in order to demonstrate growth.

    Talking + Conferencing + Goal Setting + Relationships + Purpose = Growth

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  • How are results used by teaching staff?

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    Using Assessment Results to Plan for Instruction

    If assessments benefit the child, then testing should be linked to learning experiences and instruction. If they are to be fair and authentic, they include all types of strategies that provide a comprehensive picture of each child’s progress and needs. The teacher selects the assessment methods that are relevant to the information needed and uses the results in planning for curriculum and instruction. This assumes the teacher is concerned with individual rates of learning and is prepared to address individual differences. The learning activities that are available in the classroom and through teacher instruction reflect not only curriculum goals established by the school, but also how each child can best achieve these goals.

    Using Assessment Results to Report Progress

    Just as we need multiple assessment strategies to assess students, these assessment strategies should be used to report how the student has developed and learned. If the assessment system is comprehensive, the method to report the child’s progress should also be comprehensive and provide many examples of how the child demonstrated growth and achievement. Parents receive limited information from reports that rate a child average, above average, or below average. Likewise, a report that indicates progress is satisfactory or unsatisfactory tells little about the student’s learning experiences and accomplishments. Rather than a snapshot of progress, a comprehensive picture should be conveyed.

    Using Assessment Results to Evaluate the Instructional Program

    The assessment process includes evaluation of the effectiveness of the teacher’s instruction and the activities and materials used in the classroom. The teacher uses assessment information to determine whether instructional strategies were successful for students to learn new concepts and skills or whether new approaches are needed. The teacher might ask the following questions about the success of instruction:

    Were the students interested and engaged in the materials or activities?

    Did students demonstrate a deeper understanding of concepts as a result of an instructional activity?

    Was the activity the right length of time? Too short? Too long?

    What changes might be made to improve the effectiveness of the activity?

    With this type of evaluative reflection, the teacher demonstrates that assessment should focus not on student achievement, but rather on how well students progress and the role that the quality of instruction has on growth. If some students need additional opportunities to learn information and skills, the teacher considers how more varied activities might accomplish the goal. Should the concepts be incorporated into different types of activities, or should they become a part of a continuum that includes a new direction or focus? Students need many opportunities to learn new skills, and encountering concepts in new contexts provides meaningful routes to understanding and the ability to use what is being learned.

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  • How do you shift public opinion on testing?

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    The era of No Child Left Behind challenged public educators to bring every single student to a proficiency rating of 100 percent.  That changed with the Kansas College and Career Readiness Standards, which places emphasis on student learning and achievement in specific, targeted skills.  In other words, the days of "teaching to the test" are in the past.

    USD 232 made a paradygm shift in mindset, as well as what that means in relation to student assessments.  Are tests important?  Without a doubt.  However, the way we choose to frame the resulting information looks not solely for achievement, but more importantly, for student GROWTH. 

    Are we still testing?  Yes.  However, we do so with purpose, for teachers to gather data for making sound instructional decisions, and with the understanding that a single score is a snapshot, and not the end of a student's full academic and social-emotional story.

    So how are we shifting public opinion on testing?  We strive to assist parents and other stakeholders in the concept of holistic education, considering the whole child.  From kindergarten readiness to high school graduation and postsecondary success, we use assessments as one indicator of student development and preparedness.  That is how teachers in USD 232 succeed in blending results data with best practices to bring optimal educational opportunties to all students.

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